Hey You, Pikachu

    The concept of talking to Pikachu, more or less creating an entire game out of the idea, is seemingly something designed only for hardcore Pokémon fans. To this point, Nintendo makes no false promises about Hey You, Pikachu – “recommended for ages 12 and under” is written right on the front of the box. Regardless of age, though, any gamer should find Hey You, Pikachu an innovative and entertaining game that is hampered by low production values and sloppy control.

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Taking notes from a master chef

    Voice recognition games remain in their infancy, but Hey You, Pikachu does well to integrate voice in more familiar gameplay tasks instead making it stand alone. The game progresses in days, and each day brings a new tasks for you and Pikachu to accomplish together, from coercing Oddishes out of the ground to gathering ingredients for a Bulbasaur chef. After a few days pass, old areas open up to be replayed again.

    And play them again you will, as the clunky control will almost doom you to failure on your first try. For some unknown reason, the game forces the player to try and move, look, and control the cursor with just the analog stick. Chasing after Pikachu and trying to direct his attention to items can be managed, but only after a long period of running around aimlessly trying to aim the pointer hand at a specific item without any manual way to do so.

    Luckily, the tasks are designed so that precision control isn't necessary. Like Pokémon Snap, areas include hidden tasks and Pokémon that can only be found through interacting with just about everything around you. It can be frustrating to watch Pikachu wave at a distant Charmander while you sit there clueless, but it is also very satisfying once figured out.

Oddish is THE RADISH
Oddish steals the scene... again

    The game's oversized box includes a microphone that attaches to the N64 controller and a voice recognition unit that plugs into the fourth controller slot. Holding down the Z or L button activates the mic, represented by an onscreen head icon, and a bubble will appear from the icon that indicates you are talking. Depending on whether Pikachu is paying attention, the bubble may or may not reach him. A small heart indicator on the lower left gives a rough gauge of how much Pikachu likes you. Most importantly, words that Pikachu will recognize are highlighted in red whenever an item is inspected or a task is discussed.

    In terms of graphics, the focus in development was clearly on the Pokémon themselves -- they boast detailed animations and high-quality character models. The outdoor environments they're found in are also fairly detailed, as Pikachu will kick up leaves as he runs through the forest. Unfortunately, the indoor “hub” environment looks like a reject from a 1986 music video, complete with jagged lines that make up simplistic, primary-colored polygons.

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    Despite the presentation and control issues, the game is more than salvaged by the unique nature of the voice recognition gameplay. Once you adjust to the interface, you'll be commanding Pikachu around the field with sure-handed authority and screaming at him to pull in the #$^%!@ fish already, completely oblivious to any of the aforementioned problems.

    Your skill in helping out Pikachu is recorded through points and item rewards, the latter being kept in a spacious toolbox. Should you choose, you can ignore the in-game tasks and simply go to the front yard and hit Pikachu in the head repeatedly with a beach ball, feed him cupcakes, or play an N64 quiz game and give him wrong answers on purpose just to watch him panic. The game also provides an overworld of sorts, allowing you to access different tasks by going out different doors. These open up gradually as you progress, and combined with the number of items you can acquire, allow for needed variation in gameplay.

    In the end, this is a game designed and built around interaction, and it succeeds in that area to an impressive degree. And though it does take virtual pets to a brand new level, it's a shame to see most other factors ignored for the interaction -- especially when that gameplay element is such a unique and worthwhile one. Perhaps some future title can add polish and flair to the innovation present here, but until then, Hey You, Pikachu remains more a promise of what may come than an ideal example of it.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.
Hey You, Pikachu
Developer Marigul
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Simulation
Medium Cartridge
Platform Nintendo 64
Release Date  12.12.98
E3: Hey You, Pikachu impressions and release info
2 high-res screenshots
North American packaging