Spitting, hitting, and a portable chance to feel the fury

Pokémon Pinball (2000)

Personally I’ve always been a pretty placid type of guy. There’s been a few occasions when I’ve had a healthy fill of drink and lost the run of myself, of course. But otherwise, I’d always regarded losing one’s temper as something that a grown adult shouldn’t do. At least, you shouldn’t throw the head with other people, people who are generally doing their best for you.

I’d say that inanimate objects are fair game for taking out your anger though, so the next time you bang your leg on the table, or your computer is breaking your heart, do feel free to slap or boot it into oblivion. And if anyone complains, just tell them Burkey told you it was OK.

This brings me neatly onto the idea of game frustration, and venting your anger when you lose. This is one of those things that makes games so deliciously unique – and it doesn’t matter if we’re on about computer games, card games or board games – if it all goes wrong and you’re the victim of a perceived injustice, then you’re going to need to express your displeasure. And if there are no puppies nearby for you to kick, then you’ll have to make do with launching the Monopoly board in the air, or making an absolute scene at the poker table and getting forcibly ejected.

You don’t get that from other entertainment mediums, do you? You don’t tear books apart and chew through the pages if the ending didn’t live up to your expectations or if there was a tricky paragraph, do you? And even if you hate a film with every fibre of your being, or find it an aggravatingly average waste of time, you’re hardly going to shout at your wife and tell your cat to naff off once the credits roll, now are you?

Hence my supposedly calm, anger-free demeanour doesn’t tend to last long when playing certain games that push my buttons the wrong way. Perhaps you too have tales of gaming frustration, and if so, I’d love to hear them. For me, gaming anger can often come about from a game that’s almost unbelievably hard. Take the time I once put the Wii Remote in my mouth and bit down hard while failing miserably Donkey Kong Country Returns, in a manner quite similar to Shaun of the Dead sinking his gnashers into the phone when he can’t get the restaurant reservation.

Then there’s those times when you’re a victim of cruel luck, and I’m definitely thinking of Mario Party here, although any game with a random number god can conspire against you at the worst possible time. In the case of Mario Party, the rigged AI aggravated me, losing at certain minigames infuriated me; and when I tried to use the palm of my hand to rotate the Control Stick, only to rip open a massive blister in my hand, I chanced across a new emotion that was the most intense mixture of anger and pain. It went way beyond angst, and it was nothing sexual either.

But I’ll tell you about my most visceral display of dissatisfaction with a game, and it’s a story that I very kindly shared with my friends, only for them to repay me by never letting me live it down. Believe it or not, the game in question was an old Championship Manager game, predecessor to Football Manager. Bet you didn’t expect that, did you? Old Burkey, playing a popular football game? But of course, I wouldn’t have really bothered with FM at all if not for the fact that really, it’s just an interactive spreadsheet simulator.

Anyway I digress, I was a much younger boy playing CM on the PC, so this was before I had any inkling that a game like this could be scripted. Nowadays it’s a running joke among fans, and everyone knows that games like FIFA and PES can sometimes play themselves out like the most predictable tragedy of all time, usually after it takes offence to you running rings around its AI. Suddenly, simple passes become bomb-diffusing exercises gone badly wrong, and even if you did get through on goal, your carefully measured shot on target would threaten nothing, except any low flying ducks nearby.

A similar type of dastardly scripting takes place in CM/FM games, as the many loyal fans well know. Fans will also know that hearing about someone else’s FM savegame is as excruciating and tedious as hearing about their dreams, so I’ll simplify it by saying that my team were merely plodding along in the league, not doing great, but we came to a decisive, important, must-win match. Now, there’s a notorious, hated mechanic in these games where you can have 25 shots on target and 90% of the possession, and still not score, while lo and behold their fat-arsed 40 year old journeyman gets his first goal this century in the last minute. Guess what happened to me?

But you mightn’t guess what I did next. It was clear to me that slapping the keyboard wouldn’t do it this time. Seizing the disc and watching it go nuclear in the microwave would have taken too much time. There was only one recourse left. The disgust in me rose, almost physically, like bile and vomit accelrating towards launch and finally I could contain it no longer. I summoned as much mouth strength as I could and spat an enormous greener all over the screen.

I didn’t regret it either, when the spit began to streak down the screen, leaving a slightly rainbow trail on the CRT monitor, which could have been beautiful were it not the most disgusting thing I’d ever done. I can’t really remember what I did next, but I imagine I sheepishly cleaned away the saliva bomb, and uninstalled the game for my own sanity. Or maybe I did what everyone else does, and reloaded the save to change the course of history. Who knows?

The last game I remember making me exert my frustrations in a most frightening physical manner is Pokémon Pinball for Game Boy Color. I’m not a fan of pinball anyway, especially when the blasted table conspires against you. And God, does Pokémon Pinball conspire against you.

You don’t just see it either, you’ll actually feel it strike back, thanks to the rumble cartridge that the game is shipped on. That’s one AAA battery to feel miserable, not a great trade. I will say that the game’s rumble is pretty meaty, it’ll shake your whole Game Boy something fierce when Pikachu, down there in the gully, is called into action to electrify your ball back into play.

Pokemon Pinball is a game from the days when Pokémon spinoffs were just starting and would never, ever stop. The goal here, of course, is to catch all 151 Pokémon of the time, just like it is in every pbloody game. If they’d released a  Pokémonn fax software you would’ve had to track down all 151 on it somehow.

You’ll catch and evolve Pokémon here by slamming your Pokéball-themed ball bearing into several nooks and crannies across two different tables, Red Table and Blue Table. Everything is Pokémon-themed on the table, and it really tries to follow Pokemon RBY a little too closely, even letting you “travel” to different game locations like Viridian Forest and Mount Moon to catch a different set of Pokémon.

The best part of Pokémon Pinball are the minigames, little two-minute long sideshows that culminate in a cool battle against Mewtwo for mega points. To even get anywhere near this though takes a heap of patience, practice and positive luck, and that means you’ll have to walk the pinball tightrope again and again. 99% of the time, this’ll see you sending your ball down the chute with no chance of return, and no apology either – only a mocking jingle that reminds you of your failure.

On several occasions, this all got too much for me, and I had to take out my pent-up anger on something. Fortunately, I resisted the urge and didn’t throw my Game Boy as a projectile – much – but instead I was raining blows down onto the screen, proper hammer blows, pulling back at the last second obviously so as not to smash the screen. But still, what kind of a monster punches a Game Boy?

This is the kind of deranged nutter that Pokémon Pinball was turning me into, so I took the decision to shelve this game for good, in case one day I really did snap and was sent on a murderous rage by this game. How stupid would I look, citing Pokémon Pinball as the motive in my manifesto? It’s a pity, because I did derive some enjoyment from Pokémon Pinball on occasion. It’s obviously well made, not just a cheap spinoff. But you don’t keep putting your hand into the fire to punish yourself, do you? Unless it’s a small enough flame that a spitbomb could put it out.

21 January 2022

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