06 Oct 2021 3:36 PM +00:00

We Need Pokémon Pinball Mobile, and World Flipper Confirms It

The Gameboy Advance was my absolute pride and joy as a kid. It may not have offered up the grand quests of big 3D console releases of the time, but paired with mainline Pokémon games, a never-ending supply of Yu-Gi-Oh titles, and its enticing portability, it fed my need for fun and adventure more than any home console could or likely ever will.

The cartridge I'd stick in there more often than not was Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire. And if the recent release of World Flipper has convinced me of anything, it's that Pokémon Pinball Mobile needs to happen.

The original Pokémon Pinball came around when the PokéCraze was first kicking off on the original GameBoy and GameBoy Pocket. Knocking balls around and catching randomly spawning Pokémon was a great way to spend some time in a waiting room, but its single level and the systems' black and white or pea-green screens struggled to replicate the draw of a bright and noisy pinball table. But the way it mixed pinball with the fun of collecting Pokémon was a natural fit that's still a blast to play today. So why did it die after only two major releases?

Though the sequel only had two tables, Pokémon Pinball's gameplay loop kept it from growing repetitive – and even when it did, I didn't care. With a PokéDex spanning over 300 creatures and some really tricky Legendary boss battles locked behind good, long runs, fully completing it was a feat I imagine next to nobody ever managed. But I'm sure they all had a heck of a time trying.

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A side-by-side comparison of boss fights in World Flipper and Pokémon Pinball.
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It was light on the RPG elements – you couldn't train up and use a Pokémon to help your next run –but it didn't matter. The mostly random nature of which Pokémon would show up next made it not unlike a modern mobile gacha game. And that's why the RPG/pinball mashup World Flipper has me dreaming of the day The Pokémon Company works out that its long-dormant series could be the next Pokémon megahit.

World Flipper hasn't been some monolithic success. Sensor Tower data shows it pulling in $400,000 in Japan through August after two years of operation. Having the gameplay allure of one and the brand recognition of another could be just the ticket, however. At its heart, Pokémon Pinball was about completing a collection, and Pokémon GO has proven that the world still wants that.

Now, I hear you. Pokémon Pinball Mobile? Why does it have to be a "cash grab" mobile game when the originals were single-purchase titles? Because of the scope. When did you last see a pinball machine that let you play it endlessly for free? An essential part of pinball is attempting to keep the ball on the table, knowing that letting it slip through the flippers inches you closer to either losing your score, coughing up more dough, or walking away from its shiny lights, blaring sounds, and satisfyingly simple mechanics.

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The Duskull stage in Pokémon Pinball makes a case for holiday-themed events in Pokémon Pinball Mobile.
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But listen – Pokémon Pinball Mobile makes sense! I'm not suggesting you actually deposit a coin into your phone every time you want to play. We have energy systems for that. But having that option can help capture the original allure of the classic game it builds upon. Mindlessly batting balls around the same two tables in the hopes that one of the 84 Pokémon you still need might show up is hard when you've already seen 200 of them. But with a mobile release, time-limited events and content drops can keep players homing in on only the latest batch as the months and years go on.

Picture it: for the first post-launch Halloween, Ghost-type Pokémon from the Kanto region could appear more frequently, with the infamous Marowak Mother ghost dropping in as a boss battle stage in Lavender Town's Pokémon Tower. Next year, spooky Pokémon from Johto or Hoenn regions arrive instead, with a table representing the Ghost-type Ecruteak City gym or Mount Pyre. We can envisage Pokémon GO's tried-and-true update schedule to easily picture what years of Pokémon Pinball Mobile action would look like. Even Mario Kart Tour marks big holidays in a similar way.

But how else would the much-loved Pokémon Pinball gameplay adapt to serve a new generation? Not that the original series was boring, but it was virtually impossible to "complete," making it more frustrating than it was rewarding as time went on.

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Pokémon Pinball Mobile could incorporate RPG elements from World Flipper to aid in catching Pokémon.
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By incorporating RPG mechanics from World Flipper or the ability-based twist of Pokémon Shuffle's puzzle antics, the theoretical Pokémon Pinball Mobile could have Pokémon on the table attack you, threatening your run with shields, ball control, and nasty barriers. If the day's Pokémon spawns fit a theme, bringing the right Pokémon for the job can help overcome their challenges. You could charge your Pokémon's skills by scoring points or hitting markers on the board, then bash through the wild Pokémon's defences, making it easier to catch the blighter before it runs back, eluding your collection.

Since Nintendo relaxed its platform and franchise rules a tad, we've ended up with a ton of the Big N's characters all over mobile, and Pokémon has been a major contributor to that. Notably, they've largely followed a trend: Pokémon Shuffle squared up against match-three games like Candy Crush and Puzzle & Dragons, the delightful surprise of Magikarp Jump spoofed AFK/clicker games, Pokémon Masters is a fantastic gacha RPG, and Pokémon Café Mix – which is soon getting a second chance at life – had gameplay similar to Puchiguru Love Live and Yokai Watch: Wibble Wobble. Both of which shut down, I might add.

With how many Pokémon spin-offs have landed on mobile out of the blue in recent years, it's only fair that Pokémon Pinball gets another time to shine. Pokémon Snap got a second lease of life this year, after all. And while a theoretical Pokémon Pinball Mobile would ideally suit a portrait phone screen, we've seen games like Ikaruga and a Flip Grip controller turn the Nintendo Switch quite literally on its head with stellar results.

And hey, if Nintendo wants to make a cardboard pinball machine Labo kit, I won't say no. Heck, you could even build a dedicated Pokémon Pinball machine out of old wood, a verticle monitor or TV, and a Nintendo Switch dock. Come on, Nintendo.