Pokemon Mini: A Beginner’s Guide

Presented by Alienjesus

See the other entries in the Retro Gaming 101 Series

When you think of Nintendo handhelds, chances are you think of the Game Boy, which defined portable gaming for the masses. Or maybe you think of one of its follow ups, the Game Boy Color, or the Game Boy Advance. Maybe it’s the ever popular DS line that comes to mind first, or its latest handheld system, the 3DS. Chances are however, that there is one portable games console from Nintendo that doesn’t spring to mind: the Pokémon Mini. Not to be mistaken for the Pokémon Pikachu virtual pets which launched around the same time , the Pokémon mini launched at the height of the Pokémon series’ popularity in the year 2001 in Japan and North America (2002 in Europe), only a year after the release of fan favourites Pokémon Gold & Silver. Evidently, the Pokémon Mini was evidently meant to sell based on the brand name alone. However, there is more to this miniscule console than meets the eye.

Background Info

  • The smallest games console with interchangeable cartridges upon its release (and quite possibly to this day), at only 2.91 inches (74mm) in height, 2.28 inches (58mm) in width and 0.91 inches (23mm) in depth.  The system weighs only 70g including the weight of the battery and game cartridge.
  • Released November 16th 2001 in North America,  Japan a month later on December 14th 2001, with a European release following on March 15th 2002.
  • Retailed at $39.95 in the US, 4800 yen in Japan and £29.99 in the UK. Game cartridges retailed for £15 in the UK and 1200 yen in Japan.
  • All the games commercially released for the system were based on the Pokémon Franchise.
  • Available from launch in 3 colours based on popular pokémon from Pokémon Gold & Silver: Wooper Blue, Smoochum Purple and Chikorita Green.

Pokemon Mini in Action

Historical Relevance:

  • Nintendo’s smallest game system ever, and considered the smallest handheld video game system ever made.
  • Released at the peak of the Pokémon craze, shortly after the launch of Pokémon Gold & Silver.  The system was marketed more as a children’s toy than a serious video game console.
  • The system had a very short shelf life, with its last game (Pokémon Breeder Mini) released in Japan in December 2002 – only one year after the system’s release in Japan.
  • Some of the games for the system appeared in cut-down form in Nintendo Gamecube release Pokémon Channel as unlockable mini games.

Strengths

  • Region Free: Games from all regions should work in consoles from any other region.
  • Size: Fits comfortably in one hand, with most games being designed to be played single-handed.  The console itself is only slightly taller and wider than an original Game Boy cartridge, whilst the games are around the size of a postage stamp.
  • Controls: Features a simple but effective control scheme akin to the original Game Boy, with a cross D-pad and A & B buttons. A C button is mounted on the side of the unit fitting comfortably under the index finger. The system also includes a shock detector allowing you to shake the system to play some games.
  • Battery life:  The console can last for around 60 hours on a single AAA battery.
  • Pick up and play games:  Due to the systems limitations, the games all lend themselves to quick, pick up and play gameplay – perfectly suited to gaming on the go.
  • Homebrew Scene:  Many simple games being developed for the system by homebrewers, with playable versions of games such as Sokoban, Pong and Snake available, as well as a variety of tech demos and very small, playable demos of games such as R-type and Sonic the Hedgehog. Flash cartridges for the system are also available.
  • Extra Features: The system included multiplayer functionality between units using an Infra-red connection, as well as a surprisingly powerful built in rumble/force feedback feature and an in-built real time clock.

Pokemon Mini by Shahid Sarker

Weaknesses

  • Small Game Library: Only 10 games were ever commercially released for the system, with only 4 of those released in North America.  Europe saw 5 releases, and Japan all 10.
  • Monochrome Screen:  The console’s tiny 96 x 64 pixel screen was capable of even less colours than the Game Boy, with only two – Black & White.
  • Poor Sound: The console’s sound chip is very high pitched and not the most pleasant sounding, rather like a Game & Watch or Tamagotchi.
  • Low Tech: The console was released around the same time as the Game Boy Advance, but features visuals and sound more fitting of the Game Boy era or earlier.
  • Price & Rarity: The console can be difficult to find for a low price, with many units costing the same as the system’s original launch price or higher. The majority of the games are also very rare and command a high value.

Game Library
The Pokémon Mini library consists of only 10 games, half of which remained as Japanese exclusives.

  • Pokémon Party Mini: Bundled in with the console, this is a simple mini game package featuring many Game & Watch-like high score challenges, some of which are designed exclusively for multiplayer play. Several of the mono games in this are unlockable in the Gamecube’s Pokémon Channel.
  • Pokémon Pinball Mini: A simple game that’s not actually much like pinball in reality. Using Diglett, you must shoot a ball at a number of targets on screen within a time limit. A cut-down version is available in Pokémon Channel.
  • Pokémon Puzzle Collection: A collection of simple puzzle games with a pokémon theme. Puzzles include tangrams, video jigsaws, block sliding puzzles and a Pipe Mania-esque game.
  • Pokémon Zany Cards: A simple card game featuring 3 pokémon themed games with similarities to Gin Rummy and Uno.
  • Pokémon Shock Tetris: A highly regarded game released in Japan & Europe which commands a high price. The European version is exceptionally rare, with only a few thousand copies thought to exist. This game adds to the typical Tetris gameplay by adding ‘catchable’ Pokémon which are caught by clearing 4 lines at once, as well as an alternate mode which feature 5 block Tetrominos in addition the usual 4 block ones.
  • Pokémon Race Mini: A quirky and simple platforming racer where you play as Pikachu and race various other pokémon along a course. Only released in Japan.
  • Pichu Bros. Mini: Another mini game collection along the lines of Pokémon Party Mini. Only released in Japan.
  • Togepi’s Great Adventure:  An interesting game where you must roll Togepi around small mazes whilst avoiding obstacles and trying not to fall off the edge of the stage. Only released in Japan.
  • Pokémon Puzzle Collection 2:  A follow up to the first game which features 80 new puzzles. Only released in Japan.
  • Pokémon Breeder Mini: The last commercially released game for the system, Pokémon Breeder Mini is also the only one to feature Pokémon from Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. A virtual pet game featuring a decent amount of interaction with the Pokémon and environment of the game. Only released in Japan.
  • Snorlax’s Lunch Time: Not truly a Pokémon Mini release, this game was only available as an unlockable Pokémon Mini mini-game in Pokémon Channel for Gamecube. A fast paced game where you must help Snorlax decide if the item in front of him is edible or not edible.

Tech Specs

  • Unit features a real time clock, infra red port for multiplayer and a rumble motor for force feedback during games.
  • Control input includes a faced mounted D-pad and two face buttons, along with one side mounted shoulder button and a shock sensor to detect the system being shaken.
  • Features a surprisingly fast (considering the systems limitations) 8 bit, 4MHz Custom CPU.
  • 96 x 64 pixel monochrome screen
  • Game cartridges up to 512kb in size.
  • Built in support for tile maps (3 configurations of 8×8 tiles) and sprites (twenty four 16×16 sprites).
  • Affordability: Unfortunately, as the system was not a huge success and was released in small numbers, both the system and games command a high price. Consoles sell on eBay US for a wide range of prices, but expect to pay $50 minimum, with prices often stretching to over $100. Games vary greatly in price, but the most in demand titles such as Pokémon Shock Tetris and Pokémon Breeder Mini often reach similar prices to the console itself.

Homebrew

The Pokémon mini has been hacked by a group of coders known as Team Pokémé. After opening up the console, the team developed a flash cart tech demo known as SHIzZLE (viewable here, Warning: very loud video) which features impressive 3D effects, image distortion, lighting effects and sprite rotation, and have since made tools available for developing homebrew Pokémon Mini games. There are several homebrew games available for the system, as well as many demos and projects in development. The majority of these can be found at the website of Team Pokémé, http://www.pokemon-mini.net .

Emulation

  • Several Pokémon Mini titles can be played in cut-down form in the Gamecube game Pokémon Channel, including the Gamecube exclusive mini game Snorlax’s Lunch Time.
  • PokéMini is the most advanced Pokémon Mini emulator, and is capable of being run on PC & Mac. Versions also exist for Dreamcast, DS, Pandora & Nokia S60.
  • Flash carts capable of running Pokemon Mini commercial releases as well as homebrew games on the actual system itself are available at: www.Pokemon-Mini.net, the website of Team Pokémé.

13 Comments

  1. Retrogamer0001 says:

    Kind of a weird choice for an article – bring on the Sega Cd’s Most Valuable!

  2. Anapan says:

    I’ve wanted one since I found out about them 3 years ago, but they’re just too expensive for the novelty factor…
    There’s an emulator for Pokémon Mini for Xbox as well.

  3. ecco6t9 says:

    One would think Nintendo would of ported these games to DSiWare or the eShop.

  4. Jesse D says:

    Another piece of Nintendo history of which I was unaware! I may have to go take a look on ebay tonight :)

  5. samsonlonghair says:

    I thought I knew every piece of Nintendo hardware until I read this article. I never heard of the Pokémon mini before today. I’m fascinated by the novelty of this low-power device. This is very informative.
    One note: you might want to double-check your grammar. Consider revising some of these sentences. Maybe ask a friend to read this article aloud to you.
    Overall, this is a very cool article. Thanks for all the new info.

  6. Alienjesus says:

    Believe me, I’ve noticed all of those errors too. I guess I need to proof-read more!

    I’m glad you found out about something new that interests you though, I chose to write about something more obscure for that very reason.

  7. brendan says:

    I have one of these i got lucky and got one with 2 games for about $25 dollars late last year on ebay but be warned if you come up against some collector of nintendo handhelds or a pokemon fan expect a much higher price but some people will get lucky and find them for cheap somewhere like i did

  8. Poke-dro says:

    I’ve got only one unit but I actually really like it. The screen is easy to see even though it’s not lit in any way with a good contrast. It’s slow to update but this allows homebrewers to pull off some nice tricks fooling the eye into thinking there are more shades of grey and detail than is really there.

    The homebrew scene is tiny but they’re a friendly bunch. Someone always replies to posts and they’re happy to share information and give help.

    Best game, technically, is definitely Shock Tetris though I still regularly play Pinball – it’s addictive as hell!

  9. Dreamstate says:

    I have all of the units and most of the games. A few of the Japanese games are really impossible to find. I think this is just a super cool system for it’s size and what it could do. Nintendo should have made a watch out of one and then ported some Game and Watch stuff to it as well.

  10. Poke-dro says:

    Yeah, G&W games would be a perfect fit for it. Shame that Ninty never open source things. If they opened up the Pokemini who knows what gems could’ve been produced… :)

  11. Eric says:

    Very informative article indeed. To be completely honest I didn’t even know this existed. Keep up the good work!

  12. Black Angel says:

    I saw one of these at a garage sale when I was seven… Had all four US games, too… It was only $10 for system and games, but my mother wouldn’t buy it… God damn you, mom!

  13. Coolcy says:

    I got very lucky today I bought pokemon mini + pokemon party mini far 1.5 dollars!

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