Monday, March 11, 2013

Pokemon Death Snap


Ahh, the 90s. Life was so simple back then, for my generation. There was the Game Boy, the Nintendo 64, Animaniacs, Freakazoid....these things were all the highlights of my day, especially if I was doing them with a friend. I wasn't really into computers at the time; my family had dial-up and a shitty Windows 95, which made everything so frustrating. No, my farthest exploits into the digital world involved me and my Nintendo 64. Super Smash Bros., Super Mario 64, Starfox 64, Mario Kart 64, and Pokemon Snap were my favorites.

After I had thoroughly rooted out every secret in these games, the only one that kept my attention was Pokemon Snap. I constantly went through every level trying to get the best possible shot of all the Pokemon featured in that game. What intrigued me was the realism in that game. In all other Pokemon games, everything was synthetic. You couldn't walk amongst the Pokemon and see how they interacted; you could only have them in a ball or following you around. One could argue that Hey You, Pikachu! was more interactive, but in the whole, only certain words are recognized and the scripted non-realistic events gave that game a disgustingly synthetic feel. The first-person 3D view of Pokemon present in Pokemon Sap gave everyone who grew up in the 90s something they could only dream of: a chance to live in a realistic Pokemon world.

So, eventually, we moved to a new house and got a PS2, DSL, and a computer that could run Half-Life, and I moved on the bigger and better things, but would often look back fondly at the simplicity of my childhood. My N64 and all the games were put in a forgotten corner of the basement. This brings my story to more recent events. About a week ago, I was at my friend's house. He is one of those people who are well-equipped and has many things: Wi-Fi, several computers, iPods, a Mac, a drum set, a piano, a Widescreen HDTV, surround-sound, guitars, a PS3, and whatnot. He was one of the people I liked to whoop in Super Smash Bros. back in the day. Anyway, we were hanging out and he had something he wanted to show me. He powered up his Wii and one of the channels was Pokemon Snap, which he proceeded to load. He had recently downloaded it from the Virtual Console. As soon as I heard the fast theme song and camera flashes, I was overcome with an intense wave of nostalgia - something I rarely feel these days - and really wanted to play that game. My friend loaded it up and selected continue.

For everyone unfamiliar with Pokemon Snap, the premise is that Professor Oak needs someone to photograph all the Pokemon on some island with many different environments. As you get more pictures and higher scores, new tools and levels become available to you, such as the apple, which acts as bait, the pester ball, which irritates Pokemon, and the Pokeflute, which wakes sleeping Pokemon. The player controls Todd, a character from the anime, who is riding in a buggy on a set track. The buggy moves at a constant speed, and it is from this buggy that you must take pictures. There are 63 of the original 151 Pokemon in Pokemon Snap. The levels, or 'courses' as Oak calls them, range from a beach to a volcano to caves and rivers. The island is a very diverse place, but even with my extensive playing, the darkest parts had eluded me...until recently, that is.

So, Professor Oak said "welcome" in his very creeper-ish voice recording. I always found it funny how the game had about one word of pre-recorded voice per two or three sentences the text box showed. Reliving our childhoods, we took turns playing a level and seeing who could get the best score. Soon, I had to go home, but I really did not want to stop playing Pokemon Snap.

When I got home, I went down into my basement and dug out the old N64, along with a musty-smelling cardboard box full of all the old cartridges, controllers, memory cards, and rumble packs. God, I missed this system. I hooked the RF cables up to the TV in my room, popped in Pokemon Snap, and shifted the Pokeball into the on position. A little more back-story here: when I got my N64, the Hey, You Pikachu! model was massively on sale at Toys R Us, and my mom decided to get it, as it came with the game. When you turn it on with the Pokeball switch, the Pikachu's cheeks light up, also, his foot acts as the reset switch. It's pretty cool. Anyways, when I turned the console on, the screen remained static. I pulled out the cartridge and checked the chip. Sure enough, it was covered in this black gunk. I spent half an hour getting that nasty stuff off. It was at this point I first noticed something strange: after the substance was removed, the chip was red with black rectangles along the surface, which I assumed were meant to be contacts. None of my other games had this black stuff, and their chips were light brown with the gold-ish contacts.

There were other oddities with this particular cartridge. There was no Official Seal of Nintendo on the label or anywhere on the cartridge. These are on all N64 carts, and most other Nintendo products from this era. Another thing was that there was no black label on the back that usually contains the typical "DON'T PLAY YOU'LL GET SEIZURES," kind of thing. The front label was also slightly off-center. These should have been red flags, but I am a pretty lax guy that just takes things in stride so I didn't really care. At this point, I thought the game was ruined by the goo and discoloration, but  I put it back in for the hell of it. To my surprise, the Nintendo logo popped on the screen. We were back in business.

So, the load screen came up and the upbeat theme song and camera flashes were playing just as they did earlier at my friend's house. It was then I noticed several visual distortions, which I thought were due to cart damage. There were three purple vertical streaks a few inches wide that went all the way down the screen, one on each edge and one down the middle. They were darker in the middle of the streaks, but you could see past them somewhat. I didn't mind that much; it was minor inconvenience.

Next, I pressed start and to my surprise, I found that there was no continue option. I guess my saves had been deleted by battery failure. All of those hours and hours of hard work and completion were gone. Oh well, I probably would have started a new file anyway.

I started the new game and more strange things began to occur. I found myself in Oak's lab. His features were changed. His eyes were black with no pupils and he had a stern look on his face. That, coupled with the purple distortion that ran along his left half, made him very disturbing. All the text dialogue was normal, but the pre-recorded voice  bits I mentioned earlier were distorted. They came out slowly at low pitch. I was reminded of the demon voices from early shooters like Doom...but other than these things I attributed to cart damage, the game play was normal...or so I thought. All of this was starting to make me a bit uneasy, but I was a man of science. I didn't believe in ghosts or God or Hell, and prided myself in overcoming the irrational fears that many suffered from. Oh, to be young again.

I went to the first course, the beach. There were more visual distortions. All Pokemon had no pupils, just pure black eyes. Also, on the ground underneath where the Pokemon sprites were, there was a purple ring. It appeared even under the flying Pidgeys. The other distortion here was that the sky was a light green and there were no clouds or sun.

The movements of the Pokemon seemed unnatural and cold, like they were afraid of something. I played through the course, but as I took pictures, the Pokemon that were in the frame disappeared. Slightly concerned by this, I didn't take pictures of Pokemon that wouldn't count until later, such as Snorlax or Chansey. As I approached the exit gate, I turned around and saw one of the circles that indicated that a Pokemon was there following me, but there was no sprite. I snapped a picture and was taken back to the lab.

I selected all the pictures for the Pokemon Report, but, strangely, the last picture I took was not there. The rating process went as normal, but at the end, Oak said, "Nice work harvesting." There was a brief pause, and then he said, " let it in didn't you? Well, you know what this means....go to the tunnel."

I assumed that he was referring to the Tunnel Course, so I went to the map and it was now available. As I entered the course, I noticed that I now had all the tools: the apple, pester ball, and Pokeflute. I went through the course and found that it had the same visual distortion as the beach. At the end, I tossed an apple at the Electrode by the rocks and the path to the volcano opened up. The electrode looked like it was in extreme agony, not like the comical explosions seen before. It seemed to be begging for help.

As the traveling cutscene took place, I saw the purple ring with no sprite again. It followed me. Strangely, there was no cut back to the lab after discovering the course like it was supposed to. It just took me straight to the volcano level. A quick survey of the area showed that the visual distortions were getting worse. As I moved forward, the Ponytas and Rapidashes were running, then jumped into the lava and gave off low-pitched screams. All the Pokemon did this as I approached. I finally reached the egg, which blocked the path. You are supposed to throw an apple at it so you can proceed, but I found that my tools were gone. This was problematic, and I took this opportunity to get some dinner. I didn't pause the game because there was no need to. When I got back, I saw the purple ring again. It was in place, motionless, behind me. I also saw something else coming from the distance. It was an Electrode from the tunnel rolling down the path. This Electrode must have been the one I blew up, as it had a look of anger and revenge in its eyes. I could do nothing to get away, so I sat and watched. As soon as it hit me, it exploded, which caused my buggy to flip on its side and go top down into the lava. A travel-like cutscene played, but it was slow with distorted audio. The low-pitched screams of the flailing, burning Todd were heard.

I was back in the lab and Oak looked angry. He said, " You let it get to you, didn't you? Well, you only have yourself to blame." The screen faded to black and the course selection screen came up. Oak was standing alone, and the only option on the screen was "HELLL," which was spelled with three L's. The go back option was gone, so I had no choice but to click on it.

The camera zoomed in on the charred corpse of Todd that's bottom half was under the upside-down buggy. Everything was ultra-realistic, and this was on a pedestal of stone in an endless sea of fire and lava. All of the Pokemon I had taken pictures of and made disappear were floating in the lava, screaming in low-pitched voices. Suddenly, there was a camera flash. The screen swung to a demonic figure with a camera taking pictures of the corpse. After he had a few pictures, he curb-stomped Todd's head and took more pictures. Then, a low-pitched demonic, "Say cheeeeeese," came out of the speakers and my whole room lit up for a second. That scared the shit out of me, and when it was over the screen was dead black and the system was shut off.

I hit reset, because I knew it was just a game and it couldn't hurt me. That stuff was pretty sick, but I had seen worse on the internet. I wanted to see what happened next. As it came on the screen, the menu came up and the only option was to view the album. I hit A and immediately wished I hadn't. The album was filled with hundreds of photos, all of horrific torture and mutilation scenes. Many of these pictures involved children. These photos were not in 64-bit, but appeared to be authentic, scanned photos. At this point, I was overcome with nausea, but it got worse. The game force-scrolled to the end and zoomed to the final picture. It was the picture I had taken of the purple ring without a sprite....only now there was something above it. It was a picture of my dead body floating a foot off the ground. The sickest part was that there was a camera jammed through my head.

The screen faded to black. I was so terrified by the whole event that I broke the cartridge in two and ditched it in two different dumpsters behind restaurants on opposite ends of town. A few days later, I asked my mom if she had done something to my Pokemon Snap game. "Oh, yes..." she said. "When we moved here, I was carrying that box down to the basement and that game fell out and broke. When I went to pick it up, I found that it had fallen into a crack in the crawlspace. I couldn't find it. I'm sorry about not telling you, but I thought you had outgrown that anyway." A lock of shock must have come to my face, because my mom asked what was wrong. "Nothing," I said. "I'm fine." I decided not to tell her.

A week has passed and I am bringing my story to the internet in the hopes that it may help someone else, or at least entertain. I do apologize for the length, but I feel that the details are necessary. What scares me the most is not the photographs of the mutilation or my dead self. What scares me the most is whatever the hell is in my basement that can make a broken game into something so gruesome. Thank God I'm moving out soon.

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