Join Chet Roivas as he tackles the latest entry into the Pokemon videogame franchise.
I've become hopelessly addicted to some unusual videogames in my time, but Learn with Pokemon: Typing Adventure unquestionably takes the cake. Because of that slightly misleading title it sounds like a dry education tool aimed squarely at pre-teen children, when in actual fact it's a belting - and really rather hardcore - proper videogame. It comes bundled with a keyboard peripheral which could have been almost anything; a drum set, a tablet or a generously buttoned joypad, even. Typing Adventure isn't a rhythm action game, but it never tries to be anything other than a glorified update of that fairground staple 'Whack-A-Mole'.
The keyboard peripheral itself is bloody lovely; sleek and wonderfully petite, it could almost have been designed by Apple. There are no needless lights or switches, just a chunky Fisher Price-style on/off button. With its mixture of grey and baby blue lettering it actually looks like a bit of Wii U kit, and hopefully it will be fully compatible with Nintendo's upcoming machine. A big-screen Typing Adventure sequel would be very welcome too, if only because playing a game like this on a handheld is feasible but somewhat impractical; a stand is included so that you can prop your DS or 3DS up on a table, but during prolonged play, I found it difficult not to end up uncomfortably hunched over it.
Assisted by your guides Paige Down and Quentin Werty, your task in Typing Adventure is to study and log important information about stray Pokemon. The on-screen map mirrors your keyboard, and each and every key represents a new world; O Snowy Path, Hyphen Quarry, Hash Canyon, Caps Lock Museum and so on. In each world, the gameplay is broadly the same; over the course of a minute or so, a raft of different Pokemon bounce towards you at varying degrees of speed. Their names appear beneath them, and you need to type them out before they disappear from view. At first it's a bit of a breeze; the Pokemon appear in front of you one at a time, and the time constraints are far from stiff.
But barely twenty minutes in, things go from inviting to uncompromisingly brutal. Multiple Pokemon start appearing at once and some of them appear for less than three or four seconds at a time. It's at this point that the game starts to resemble a bullet hell-style shoot 'em up: zen-like concentration is essential, and the slightest mistake will kill your multiplier stone dead. Like a lot great shooters, Learn with Pokemon: Typing Adventure is all about scoring the perfect multiplier, and hitting a single incorrect key - even during the relaxed early portion of the game - will send you plummeting back to zero.
If you're a wiseacre fan of Pokemon you're obviously at a distinct advantage throughout, but (initially at least) the same few species keep appearing time after time, allowing you to memorise their names and general appearance. They each have their own distinctive audio cue as well, and if you recognise one of these as soon as you hear it, the game allows you to input the Pokemon's name before it has even appeared on the screen. Later on you have to tackle other obstacles too, such as the devious, fast-moving bubbles that need to be popped before they get in the way of strolling Pokemon, killing both them and your multiplier. Needless to say, there are also a parade of absolutely rock-hard bosses.
It's hectic and dizzying at times, but brilliantly so. The actual "story" mode is remarkably short - if you don't deviate from the main path, you can complete it in around an hour - but the side attractions are numerous and universally enjoyable, and you're enticed back to each completed level by a simple (thought sadly offline) high score table. There is absolutely nothing educational about Learn with Pokemon: Typing Adventure. What prompted Nintendo to lumber it with that title remains a mystery, especially when you consider what a huge success it was in Japan under its original, and far more appropriate, moniker: Battle & Get! Pokemon Typing DS.
Hopefully positive word of mouth will help it find an audience. This is the kind of game that should have been building a formidable cult following right now; instead it's on the verge of vanishing altogether, simply because it sounds like the kind of thing that was seemingly designed solely to make young boys weep on Christmas morning. If there's any lesson to be learned from it, it's that you should never underestimate Nintendo.
Author: Chet Roivas
Position: Guest Writer
By day, Chet also writes for the Zavvi blog. Feel free to check out his other work by [clicking here].