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Video Games

Pokemon Let's Go reminded me I'm a terrible big brother

Let's Go Pikachu! took me on a nostalgic trip through my childhood and hit me like a freight train.

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Nintendo

The day my dad brought home a Super Nintendo, I pissed myself.

It was 1995. I was 5 years old, my brother was 3, and video games were just starting to creep their way into our minds. My brother and I sat shoulder-to-shoulder staring at the CRT TV in awe, staring up at Super Mario World.

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The governing system was simple: If you lose a life in-game, you hand the controller over. But there was a second rule: Going to the toilet also meant surrendering control.

I couldn't have it. I wouldn't have it.

The only sure way to prevent my brother from taking over was to just keep playing, avoiding in-game death and the constant call of nature. Instead of handing the blocky controller over, I theorized a plan based on my limited wisdom: I would piss myself, right there on the dusty, thick pile carpet.

The tactic, I believed, was flawless.

But shortly after my bladder was emptied, dad noticed. He wasn't pleased. His carpet was soiled and my plan was scuttled. Never mind the fact I was sitting in my own filth -- I had to hand Super Mario World over to my little brother, before shamefully trudging off to change clothes. That exchange was more crippling than a urine-soaked pant leg.

In hindsight, it's obvious: I did not act like a Good Big Brother.

The very best (like no one ever was)

By the time the original Pokémon games, Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red, were released on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1998, my brother and I had established the kind of full-blooded rivalry that only brotherhood permits. Pokémon exacerbated this rivalry.

In 1998, I played Pokémon Blue. My brother played Pokémon Red.

Those original Pokémon games were mostly solitary journeys. However, they did have two notable multiplayer elements: You could trade Pokémon and battle other players. In an era before Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the only way to do this was with the cumbersome Game Link Cable -- a simple wire that physically connected two Game Boys together.

The two of us played through Pokémon separately, with an unspoken ultimatum: The first to complete it would be the very best. But in our quest to "catch 'em all", we became indispensable to one another. As we would learn, the only way to catch all 151 Pokémon was to trade with someone who had the opposite version. Not every Pokémon was available in Blue.

Pokémon became one of the first video games that encouraged us to work together. We could still battle -- and boy, did we battle -- but to complete the game, we needed each other. After school, we'd click the Link Cable into the side of our Game Boys and negotiate trades, sending Pokémon across the digital ether and back again, hoping to fill out our Pokédex.

Old wounds

Twenty years later, I'm playing through Pokemon: Let's Go Pikachu! on the Nintendo Switch. It follows the same story as the original Pokemon games, but with updated graphics and new gameplay based on the wildly successful mobile game, Pokémon Go.

Accessibility is key for Let's Go Pikachu!, which does away with many of the more hardcore RPG elements that define Pokémon. It's an obvious effort to lure a new generation of players into the franchise -- some who have grown up only playing Pokémon on a mobile device. 

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This time around, a second player can help you catch Pokémon and battle trainers.

Nintendo

But the key Pokémon formula hasn't changed at all: It's still about capturing, training and battling pocket monsters. The series has consistently managed to stay relevant by ensuring each game feels familiar, homely even, but also wholly surprising.

And that's a good thing! For the majority, including myself, Let's Go Pikachu! will not be their first Pokémon game.

I quite literally grew up alongside the series. I was 9 years old when the original games were released. So loading Let's Go Pikachu! for the first time felt so familiar that a powerful wave of nostalgia rolled over me. It was a strange feeling, and I think I know why.

This time around, my brother wasn't there to help me.

Wet pants

For a long time, I didn't want his help.

My brother and I barely spoke toward the end of our teens and then, once he moved out of home, we talked even less. For a long time, I didn't think much of it. In fact, I excused myself from making the effort to keep in touch, thinking the burden should fall on him.

I was trapped in that Super Mario World mindset of our childhood. Selfishness had me thinking I'd rather piss myself than send him a text message to see how he was going.

So when I was greeted by the familiar face of Professor Oak at the beginning of Let's Go Pikachu! I was surprised that my mind jolted back to our living room and the countless hours we spent playing Pokémon. I remembered the heat of the Australian summer, my brother's steadfast defense of choosing Charmander. I could see the uneven, black-and-white linoleum floors of our kitchen.

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Nintendo

Let's Go Pikachu! may make fans that started their adventure 20 years ago a little uneasy. It certainly tosses some of the core ideas for simpler mechanics. But long-time fans shouldn't worry: That intangible magic that makes the Pokémon series so endearing has not been lost -- rather, it'll hit you like a freight train when you first step back in.

For me, there was one thing missing.

In the past two years my brother and I have spoken a lot more frequently. Most often we text each other about video games. Every now and again we talk about life or his daughter or what our parents are doing. In some ways, it makes me lament the years we spent torturing each other, rather than sitting on our living room floor and playing Pokémon, like we used to.

I hope he buys Let's Go Eevee!, because Pokémon doesn't feel the same without him.

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