If you were to ask a gamer about the first game they ever played, they may gaze off into the distance, their eyes seeming to pierce through time and space as they recall cherished memories. However, when I think back to my very first game, I am filled with an odd mix of emotions. Joy, from the good times I had with it, frustration, due to its many flaws, and deep regret from giving both the game and system to a friend as a parting gift.
The game in question was Hey You, Pikachu!, which I received from my parents along with the limited edition Pikachu N64. Anytime I tell people about the fact that I gave that system away, the response has always been harsh. “Screw your childhood friend! That was a Pikachu N64!” For the most part, I agree with the sentiment. From the perspective of my younger self, who was seemingly unattached to worldly possessions, I had kindly offered a gift to a dear friend; but now, looking back as a greedy and materialistic adult, it feels like I had given a prized possession to someone I merely tolerated.
But let’s not outright throw younger me under the bus, that would be a hasty and unjust judgement. My younger self clearly had a lack of attachment to the system, and there was sure to be a reason. If I had to guess, it would likely have to do with the experience I had with the megavolt mouse himself— Pikachu.
If you’ve never played Hey You, Pikachu!, then allow me to briefly give you the premise and share my experience with it, based solely off my memory. The game (definitely) takes place in a post-aPokélyptic world where Pokémon reign supreme and the only remnant of humanity left is you, your mom, and Professor Oak. Oak introduces you (and sells your soul) to a wild Pikachu, and you spend the rest of the game with said Pikachu, learning about friendship, betrayal, and how to (not) make stew.
On its own, the idea is just fairly appealing, but the game had a gimmick: you could TALK TO PIKACHU. As a kid growing up in the midst of Pokémon’s big boom in America, this concept was goddamn revolutionary. It seemed as though Nintendo had bridged the gap between reality and the fantastical world of intelligent animals with destructive superpowers. Just tap a button, speak into the microphone, and bam! You were conversing with Pikachu. I was stoked as heck.
And I was naive as hell.
In most games, it is the player that controls the action. In that sense, Hey You, Pikachu! is quite unlike most games. Rather than the player taking Pikachu out on adventures, Pikachu is the one who is going on adventures; you’re just along for the ride. As you tag along, you can help Pikachu with his shenanigans - or at least try to help - by essentially acting as an advisor to the itty-bitty battery boy.
You do this by holding down a button, filling up a bubble with your words, which then flies to Pikachu when you release the button. Usually, the bubble will phase through Pikachu’s outer layer of skin, muscle, and bone in order to be directly injected into his brain. Sometimes though, Pikachu will use his latent psychic abilities to create a barrier of pure mind power around himself, which causes your word bubble to bounce off of the rosy-cheeked rodent and die in the air, never to be heard by anyone.
That is essentially the extent of your abilities in the game. You can sometimes move around, but you can’t pick anything up or touch anything (you likely lack arms due to some aPokélypse-related incident; if so, good on Pikachu for not bringing it up). Does this setup make for a fun romp with Pikachu? Well, I do remember having fun, but I also remember being quite frustrated at the same time.
Honestly though, describing the mechanics of the game doesn’t rightly capture how it felt to play it. The best way to illustrate that would be through plain old half-remembered stories about the game.
You wake up one morning, hearing a muffled “Pikaaa” resounding through your room. The sun shines brightly as you turn to face the sliding glass door next to your bed. Pikachu stands outside the door, happily shuffling on the grass, as Professor Oak’s disembodied and omniscient voice informs you that “Pikachu has come to play.”
Being a kind and polite lad, you graciously welcome the stubby Pika-person into your room. You decide to start off the conversation nice and slick “Pikachu, I love you.” As a very young boy, your understanding of love is quite general; Pikachu knows this, but is flattered nonetheless, as he blushes and scratches the back of his head bashfully. So far so good. You managed to express thoughts that made you emotionally vulnerable, and Pikachu accepted you for that.
Pikachu begins to wander around your room, rapidly switching between scampering for dear life and waddling with the pace of a sentient rock trying to bring itself to move through sheer force of will. At one point, his eyes latch onto the tissue box sitting on the floor. He hurries over to it and begins flinging tissues into the air with a gleeful smile. You tell Pikachu to stop, and the bubble connects. Pikachu turns to look at you, halting his fun. It’s jealousy that drove you to speak; you just WISH you could fling tissues around your room, but you can’t, you have no arms.
Pikachu knows this. He turns back to the box, and with a smile animated so wide that it didn’t fit on his face, he begins frantically throwing tissues everywhere. When the box is emptied, he begins going around to the tissues already on the floor and flinging them up in the air as well. You run over to Pikachu and try to grab him with your arms that don’t exist. It doesn’t work, but your approach makes Pikachu aware of you. He shifts around to look at you, a tissue still clasped in the tiny nubs that are his fingers.
A short gif from Peanut Butter Gamer, who also knows my suffering.
The yellow flesh-furby stares at you with his head tilted slightly. He holds the tissue up towards you and offers a quizzical “Pika?” Still a bit flustered, you launch a bubble of “No!” towards Pikachu’s frontal cortex, but it bounces off of his mind barrier. Further puzzled by your seeming lack of response, Pikachu brings the tissue back down and scowls at it before letting out a fierce “Piiiii-Kaaa!” A piercing boom resounds in you ears, and you recoil; Pikachu had called down the thunder. Recovering from the shock, you look back at Pikachu, a flaming tissue in his lightning-cloaked hands. All the tissues around him were on fire as well. The floor was on fire. Your house was on fire.
Oak tells you that Pikachu needs your help. You follow Pikachu deep into the forest, where you meet with Bulbasaur, who is presumably a chef. Ol’ Bulba needs an onion, a radish, and a potato for her stew. Pikachu draws ancient runes on some parchment to represent the ingredients, and you and your yellow fellow head out into the forest to fetch the veggies.
In the forest, there is an abundance of junk and plant life scattered about the ground. After finding both an onion and a radish, you send a beckoning bubble to Pikachu, who is a distance away, busy being surprised by the fact that an oddish exists and is in the forest. Pikachu joins you, and you manage to coerce your lil buddy into sending the ingredients off via Magnemite, who descends from the heavens to take the veggies away. But the potato eludes you.
That’s no surprise though, potatoes ARE essentially one of the ninjas of the veggie world. They spend their entire lives underground, while appearing to be mere shrubbery to the untrained eye. Your eyes were never trained, but apparently Pikachu’s were. This time it’s Pikachu who does the beckoning. You follow Pikachu’s call to a corner of the forest, where the ball of fur and lightning stands above a plant. As you approach, Pikachu plucks the plant from the ground, revealing a potato, and then offers it up to you with a cheerful “Pika?” You reply with a happy “Yes,” the little rascal had done it! Pikachu eats the potato, and then forms a disgusted expression before running off.
It takes you a moment to recover from the unexpected betrayal. The potato was meant to be for the stew, so that it could be shared among friends. And yet, the gluttonous bean had consumed it for himself, and didn’t even like it. At the very least, you think, Pikachu won’t eat the next potato, assuming he finds one. He doesn’t. In fact, he seems to have given up on the task entirely.
Instead of searching for potatoes, Pikachu enters a dark tunnel in the side of a rock. You shouldn’t be able to fit, but you somehow do, and find that the tunnel leads to a tiny shop run by an Abra. While intrigued by the discovery and the fact that a Pokémon was engaging in commerce, your mind was still set on the mission. Then you see it.
There it is, on the shelf: a potato. The missing ingredient, the last thing ol’ Bulba needs to complete her stew. You calm yourself, clear your throat, and speak with care “Pikachu. The po-ta-to.” Pikachu points at the potato (you gasp). Pikachu is given the potato and lifts it up to the sky with a triumphant “Pi-kaaa!” (you smile with glee). Pikachu eats the potato (...).
Back in the forest, Pikachu picks up a translucent blue marble and sends it off as the final ingredient. Pikachu, Charmander, and Squirtle return to Bulbasaur to consume the stew; it’s so bad that Pikachu fart-launches into the sky. The next time that you end up in the forest shop, there’s a shiny new fishing rod on the shelf. Pikachu eats that too. Probably.
By now, you should have a general idea of what it was like to play Hey You, Pikachu!. There are plenty of other events that you do in the game, but for the most part, they play out in a similar fashion; everything seems to go well, but some miscommunication or unexpected action leaves you unsatisfied. But was Pikachu at fault?
There are two reasons I can think of as to why my experience was so mixed; either the tech just wasn’t ready for the game’s concept, or Pikachu was a complete and utter villain. Claiming the latter is a dangerous position to take. Sure, Pikachu was pretty popular when I was a child, but now? In the present, Pikachu has a power that transcends nations. A simple look at a recording of one of the real-life Pikachu marches and you’ll know: one does not simply defy Pikachu.
So for my own sake, I’ll hesitate to say that Pikachu is evil, and instead make a proposal: Nintendo should create a remake of Hey You, Pikachu!. With the advanced voice recognition and programming capabilities of the present, Nintendo has the ability to produce a version of the game that would make clear whether the frustration of younger me was due to malfunction or malicious intent. Not only that, but a new and improved version of the game would likely be a hit, given Pikachu’s fame.
Nintendo, if you’re reading this: please remake Hey You, Pikachu!, so that my deep-rooted frustration from many years ago can find some catharsis. Also, maybe make a limited edition system reminiscent of the Pikachu N64 to go along with it; if you do, I promise I’ll keep it this time.
I avoided doing research on the game while I wrote this, as a way to keep my stories (mostly) true to memory. However, I did research a bit afterwards and found that some things I said were incorrect.
First off, I discovered that you indeed had the ability to pick things up in the game. This means that my story about a child with no arms was actually a story about a child who was simply in denial or ignorant of the fact that his arms existed.
Also, apparently the game always refers to Pikachu as “it” rather than he or she. This clearly can only mean that Pikachu is either a monster, or a legendary Pokémon (and when you think about the world of Pokémon realistically, there’s little difference between the two).
Lastly, there is a story that I could not find a place for here, but I think should still be told. During the time I played the game, I had a friend who was a compulsive liar. He had told me that he also had Hey You, Pikachu! and that there was a secret event that you could unlock by giving a specific item to a Bulbasaur hidden in one of the areas. If you did this, you would wake the next morning to find your front lawn full of Bulbasaurs, and the leader of the bunch would ask you, “Do you believe in the Bulbasaur clan?” Answer yes, and you were given a Pokéball, which then allowed you to capture Pokémon.
It wasn’t until years and years later that I realized he had made it up. He likely didn’t actually own the game in the first place. While I’ll give him props for coming up with a story that would have a been a literal game changer were it true, I curse him for making me spend countless hours searching for a Bulbasaur that (unlike my Schrödinger arms) didn’t actually exist. Some might say that I was a fool to be so naive, but as a child, I just (naively) believed that people told the truth.
In the end, the moral of the story is that your childhood friends are always the root of your present suffering. To the one spoken of in this note, I have a message:
If you are now working for Nintendo by some odd twist of fate, I request that you make amends by including your Bulbasaur fairy tale in the remake (which I’m sure you will make). Thanks.