When it comes to Nintendo handhelds, people tend to recognize and remember only the most important ones. Everybody knows the Game Boy and its various models, the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS. Those who really pay attention will recall the Game & Watch models released. But there is one system that is often forgotten: the Pokémon Mini. This short-lived handheld may not have made much of an impression, but packed in quite a few features that people wouldn’t have expected from such a small system at such a time.
Let’s start by introducing the Pokémon Mini. After all, this is a rather rare handheld! It launched in North America, Japan and Australia in 2001, followed by a European release in 2002. It was a monochromatic LCD system with a directional pad, two action buttons and a single shoulder button. It was available in three different colors (each named after a different kind of Pokémon). It even offered an infrared port, like the Game Boy Color and Advance models, for wireless multiplayer. Only ten games were ever released for it, with Pokémon Tetris only appearing in Japan and Europe and Pichu Bros. Mini, Pokémon Breeder Mini, Pokémon Puzzle Collection, Pokémon Race Mini and Togepi’s Great Adventure only released in Japan.
Where the Pokémon Mini gets notable is with its special features. Motion controls in handheld games weren’t totally unheard of at this point in history. Nintendo had done it before with specific games that had such sensors built into them. Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble is one such example, as it had an accelerometer that had you moving the Game Boy Color to play the game. The Nintendo 3DS would eventually make motion controls an options in games, but it was the Pokémon Mini that built the technology into a handheld first.
Motion controls weren’t used in every Pokémon Mini game. Rather, it only came up in games where it might make sense or the consoles diminutive directional pad could be problematic. In Pokémon Party Mini, you could tap the handheld to match Bellossoms in Bellossom’s Dance. In Pokémon Tetris, you could flick the unit to change the position of a dropping brick. Togepi’s Great Adventure relies entirely on motion controls and is a labyrinth game akin to Kirby’s Tilt ‘n’ Tumble, where you need to move the handheld to roll Togepi through mazes to a stairway.
The Pokémon Mini is also the one Nintendo handheld to have a rumble feature built into it. Both the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS had some games with force feedback. The Pokémon Pinball line, Perfect Dark and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing all had special cartridges that offered the option, provided you popped in an extra battery. Drill Dozer and WarioWare: Twisted used the technology on the Game Boy Advance. The Nintendo DS had an optional Rumble Pak that could be put into the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot to offer the feature with games like Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Metroid Prime Pinball. But the Pokémon Mini was the only system that made reliable use of the feature to enhance the experience or even help someone play specific games.
In most Pokémon Mini games, the rumble function acts as you would expect. It is there for flavor. Pokémon Pinball Mini is one such game where this is typical. The system slightly vibrates as you play and see the ball hitting against flippers. In Pokémon Party Mini, the force feedback is more important. There is a Hitmonchan’s Boxing minigame that involves shaking the system. You know when to stop when you feel it vibrate. Doing this properly causes the Hitmonchan to properly punch.
The Pokémon Mini is a system that has never received the attention or credit it deserves. While it did not last long, it did try new things. This system offered built-in force feedback and motion controls long before they were fashionable. If you can manage to find one of these little guys and a game or two, see if you can give it a try!