Friday, January 25, 2013

Fire Starting - Black & White

Fire Starting 5 by T Oliver Prescott on Grooveshark We are at the final stop in this mini-series as we hit the release of Pokémon Black and White, March, 2011. My Pokémon pupil had graduated to Pokémon rival. She had leveled up from girlfriend to wife. We had also both evolved into parents. Together, we were packing up our life in Hawaii and moving across the ocean, across the country to settle (indefinitely) in Maryland where we are today. This turned into the closest thing to a true Pokémon adventure I've had in my life. We bought a minivan in order to drive across this beautiful country. Our adventure began in Oregon and would end in Maryland, taking us along the southern edge of the country instead of a more direct route. The Pokémon by our side were our daughter (2 yrs old), our son (1 yrs old) and our cat (6 yrs old).

It probably sounds insane, but it was extremely awesome. We bought a cheap set of TVs to play children's shows which we used roughly half the time. The kids slept the other half of the time. There was never much fussing, and only a few bouts of car-sickness on the first day of our trip. My son was the only one with known limitations. After seven hours of driving, he called it quits and cried, so our journey moved forward seven hours at a time. Each night we'd stop and rest at a hotel, or at the home of our friends and family we got to visit along the way. We also managed to stop at a playground for an hour each day which allowed the kids to blow off some energy and tire themselves out for the journey ahead. At night we would snuggle in our hotel beds and let the kids watch TV until they fell asleep, while my wife and I curled up with our Pokémon games. We were also alternating use of the PSP, a game called Jeanne d'Arc that we both highly recommend.

We made several visits along the way. We got to visit family in California and New Mexico. We made stops to visit old friends in Las Vegas, Tennessee and North Carolina. We spent a day and a night at the Grand Canyon - one of the most amazing and beautiful things I have ever seen. We drove across the Hoover Dam. All in all, this trip was more amazing than we could have ever hoped or dreamed. The only thing that could have been better was if our little Pokémon were old enough to remember it.

The fateful and unfortunate night we spent in Texas was the low point of the trip. My cat, Tama, long ago dubbed my personal Pikachu due to his penchant to cling to my side, slipped out of the hotel room and was never seen again. I had him since he was six-weeks old and he was my best bud during most of my lonely, depressed years. He didn't really like anyone other than me and my children. He was pretty unpleasant toward everyone else and he was something of a brawler. I took too long getting him fixed, so once he got his juices flowing he was out every night thinning out the competition for food and affection from the cat-ladies of Hawaii. He would come home with many cuts and scars from all his dedicated EV training around the neighborhood. He was a tough and mean old boy, but he had a true soft side for me and the babies.
This Fire Starter starts out so cute, but ends up so unfortunate.

I spent the whole night looking for him all over the hotel grounds and the surrounding area. Tama was often known to disappear for days or weeks at a time on his many adventures as King of the Strays. Because of that I felt the likelihood of him turning up when he didn't want to be found was incredibly small. It was with a heavy heart that I made the decision around 8-9am to check out of the hotel and move on. During our searches for him we discovered a huge population of cats and kittens in the area - I mean insanely large. So obviously cats were thriving around there. I knew it wouldn't take Tama long to assert himself and dominate the local scene. I do miss him quite a bit, though. Every time talk of getting another cat comes up, I feel quite sad.

Meet N.
This guy is oddly hard to forget.
In a similar way to Pokémon Ruby, my experiences with Pokémon Black were dwarfed by these events around it. I believe it's a good game, but I don't really remember too much about it. I couldn't tell you any of the Gym Leaders. I don't recall any of the Elite Four. I have no memory of any real rival, but I do remember the enigmatic N character. I also remember some pretty impressive fights against the Legendary Pokémon that were on the covers of the games' boxes - I still can't remember their names very well without looking them up (Zekrom & Reshiram). It's possible that it is a better game than Diamond, but without any concrete memories (and only playing it a quarter of the time I played Diamond) it's hard for me to accurately judge it.

I do recall they added the Entralink, which is Pokémon meets social networking - only a severely limited social network. The basic idea is that you transfer a Pokémon from your game up to the internet, where you are given a space online to decorate and explore. You grow your berries, collect items and meet new Pokémon friends that you can take back to the game. You can also visit other people's spaces and water their berries and things like that, but whether or not you can access your friend's spaces all seemed very unclear and limiting. I don't know the ins and outs of the system because once we were packed up and moving to Maryland, we weren't connecting our games to the internet at all. The service also didn't start right away at the launch of Black & White, so the time we got to spend on there was quite brief. It is an interesting idea and a great new way to connect with other Pokémon players around the world, if only it weren't quite so limiting.

This is how adorable the Entralink is in theory.
All this writing about Pokémon this week has gotten me rather excited about Pokémon X & Y. I'm excited enough that I'm not sure I can wait until October and I may pick up one of the several titles around the house and go another round. Pokémon is one of those great games to carry around with you in your DS, and it is one of the (few) reasons it's nice Game Freak has stayed dedicated to handheld systems for its delivery. It's simply the type of game you can play anywhere for a few minutes at a time, on the subway, or while waiting for class to start. It's so easy to just flip on, play for 15 minutes or so, and flip off.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane through the 5 generations of Pokémon. I'm sorry that I haven't had the time to discuss in any detail the special editions of each generation: Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Fire & Leaf, Platinum, Heart & Soul, Black 2 & White 2. Perhaps the "Fire Starting" series will pick up with these titles sometime in the future. I'm pleased with how much of my life I've covered in these articles, though. Each jump through the timeline has stirred up a lot of interesting memories that I have associated to playing Pokémon. We covered some dark times, and some extremely happy times. Most of these memories I haven't visited for a very long time and it was a pleasure to do so. Let me know how you felt about "Fire Starting" or about Pokémon Black & White in the comments below.

An actual photograph taken of my wife & I on the Battle Subway!

My "Week in Review" column will post tomorrow since I've had such a full week blogging. Next week TOP Gaming will go back to weekly articles. Expect something up on Tuesday!


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