Oh boy, I'm writing this while on an emotional high from the exciting news about Pokémon that was just revealed today! Not you know, the announcement of some new games for the Nintendo Switch and mobile phones, but the far cooler discovery and release of the Space World demo of Pokémon Gold/Silver from 1997!
If you do not follow me outside of the Worlds of ZZT Twitter, you may be unaware that I am a big Pokémon nerd and a big nerd for pre-release versions of games and seeing what changed during development. So today was pretttty much Christmas.
Of course, I had vague plans today of "play something for Worlds of ZZT", and so I opted to take a look at how the ZZT community reacted to the U.S. release of Pokémon through their own fan games!
There are a pretty decent amount of them out there, with four games named some variation of "Pokémon", and then an extremely dedicated duo making their own more originally named Pupémon series consisting of five(?) games as well.
The original Red and Blue games were released in the states in Fall of 1998, a time when it seemed like there was a noticeable uptick in quality. 1998 brought us Teen Priest, Burger Joint, Pop, Gem Hunter 2, and quite a lot of games that while not considered outright classics, generally are looked back on fondly enough.
Except every single one of these Pokémon fan games is definitely a mess. To be fair, most ZZT games are, and even the more entertaining conversions of existing properties like Quest For Glory. These Pokémon titles meanwhile, are definitely a notch below the typical community output for this era.
At the same time though, it's not all that surprising. Pokémon hit at a time when I was dead center in its target audience of 10 year olds, while the big names releasing 1998's hits were generally 16+. The Pokémon games for ZZT definitely skew young, and in this era when I had just personally discovered the community, there wasn't really a big interest in the actual Pokémon series.
So let's take a look at Burakthebest's half-anime half-red/blue half-ignored Pokémon Twin Pack!
Before I can even start, I run into trouble. Burak strives to respect the branding and has named his files POKÉMONN.ZZT and POKÉMONX.ZZT. The ZZT executable is notably not a big fan of special characters in file names and the world list doesn't display them properly.
It also can't even load them. I had to rename the files to get them into a more ZZT friendly state, though oddly enough the sidebar seems to have no issues with the same character that the file list has.
The title screen has a cramped representation of the series's logo and a lot of bombs that promptly explode and cover the screen in colorful breakable walls before clearing out and leaving the logo on a black void.
The bottom of the screen has a looping message explaining that this is version 1, it was made by Burakthebest in 2001, and it cites "Super Tool Kit and Code Red 1" as sources. It will become clear why Alexis Janson's Code Red is specifically mentioned later on.
The game begins with an opening message explaining what's going on. If you are unfamiliar with the games, this is not a very good introduction at all, but you also probably weren't the person expected to play this game.
Unsurprisingly, ZZT is not anywhere near capable of handling a considerably complex RPG game like Pokémon. There are not 151 monsters here. There are not even 15. A lot needs to be cut. Instead of 8 badges, there are only two. Instead of "Gotta catch em' all", there's "Gotta catch one".
I do love when games include little teasers for other games the author was working on because they never exist. Burak seemed to have big plans for this game and wanted to create games based on the then contemporary Gold and Silver sequels, as well as Christmas and Simpsons themes variants?
I desperately want to play POKÉMON v.s. Simpsons, but alas.
Most ZZT conversions suffer the issue of ZZT's strictly divided rooms making it difficult to accurately represent source material, but since we're dealing with an original Game Boy here, instead the opposite often happens and we get boards with massive amounts of empty space. Yes, this is a very empty bedroom with a very big bed, but there wasn't exactly a lot in the player's bedroom in Red/Blue either.
I would wager that Burakthebest owned a red Game Boy. Taking it gives the player 10 points.
The first floor is equally sparse, with Ash's mother sitting at a table. There's not even a TV showing Stand By Me!
Around the time this would've been made, external editors wouldn't have been commonly used, which means that centering things on a board required properly planning where they'd fit on the board. Burak takes the approach of just starting in the top left, and it's killing me to look at this not even close to being properly centered content.
Pallet Town is also surprisingly inaccurate, but who's got the time and patience to make all that stuff when we want to get to acquiring a Pokémon and getting into some battles. Oak's lab has some wild window placement.
Burak is 100% committed to putting that accent in Pokémon every time. This required using numpad keycodes to get ZZT to produce the glyph. It's interesting what was important to them. I do remember being young and being pedantic with the things I enjoyed as well however. I definitely would make sure to write out "The Legend of Zelda" and not sully its good name by calling it "Zelda 1". Got to respect that trademark!!
The lab is even more empty than anything seen yet. There's not even the dark blue background to blend things into the sidebar.
So, in the anime, Ash was supposed to get a starter from Professor Oak, but overslept and the only Pokémon left was a Pikachu that wasn't meant to be given out. In the games, the player just tries to walk into tall grass and Oak stops them and gives them their choice of Pokémon back in his lab. Twin Pack blends the two together, as apparently Ash is supposed to get his starter today, but this can't happen until he makes a break for it.
Oak shows up to stop Ash, and then the player can enter the lab where the white wall will be removed so they can proceed to the back.
There are six pokéballs on the table, and I was quite surprised at how many choices Burak was giving me. With ZZT guaranteeing that there wouldn't be a lot of catching, I guess it made sense to try and give some variety at the beginning, encouraging additional playthroughs and all that.
Just kidding, five of them are empty.
You're getting Pikachu and you're going to like it.
Diverging from the games, you still can't leave town even with Pikachu until you show them to your mother. No running away from home permitted.
On to Route 1!
This consists of nothing but your rival, Gary Oak, challenging you to a fight against his Squirtle. Seeing as how the whole concept behind Gary is that he's always one step ahead of Ash and supposed to be "better", having something Pikachu is strong against as his Pokémon is an unusual choice.
The player has to accept the battle or else get an instant game over for being a coward and not a Pokémon master.
To Burak's credit, I definitely remember making Pokémon ZZT games (which I sadly do not have copies of) where the combat was just running around and shooting objects, so getting even a crude RPG system is going to be a bit more true to the series.
As a nice touch, you can also use a Pokédex to get information on any of the currently battling Pokémon.
The way the combat works, is by turning it into a puzzle (and I am being very generous in my definition of puzzle). Select the correct moves for your Pokémon to evade enemy attacks and defeat them with their own. Select the incorrect moves for an immediate game over. It's not good.
This first battle, and only this first battle, has some simple attack animations!
But Squirtle is no match for a Thundershock. At the time, your rival within the official games would have a Pokémon that your starting Pokémon was weak against, (and in the case of Yellow version, an Eevee).
Burak liked these scrolling marquees. There are some words of encouragement while a bunch of other trainers and their Pokémon walk off the board on their own journeys.
It's tough to guess what this large building at the end of the road is meant to be. In the games there'd be the second town of Viridian City, but this is clearly no city.
Its interior offers no real clues either. My personal guess was that this was meant to be Bill's house, the creator of the Pokémon storage system that lets you store Pokémon in a computer that aren't actively a part of your team of six. Here in the Twin Pack, there's no need for such a thing though.
Burak takes a massive leap forward in terms of the Red/Blue/Yellow storyline, bypassing several towns, gyms, and Mount Moon to take the player directly to the Vermillion City gym led by Lt. Surge.
In the anime, the Lt. Surge fight was one that people didn't forget, as the focus was on whether or not Pikachu would evolve or not to better stand a change against Surge's more evolved Raichu. If you're going to borrow a gym leader battle from the anime to include in your ZZT Pokémon game, this is definitely the one.
It was a bit more glamorous of a fight in the anime however.
The Pokédex offers information on Raichu and Lt. Surge's style of training his Pokémon team.
I'm not sure if the "Yeah right!" is meant to be Ash's response to Surge's advice or suggest that Ash is not somebody you should take advice from. (He is not very good at strategy.)
Anybody familiar with the anime episode in question will know the correct choice. The whole conceit of the episode is that Raichu's electric attacks are going to be much stronger than Pikachu's, but by not evolving, Pikachu has the opportunity to learn moves based around their speed.
By using Pikachu's speed as an advantage, Raichu can be caught off guard and left vulnerable. Vulnerable to another physical attack since again, the point of the episode is that there's strategic value to moves that aren't the most powerful.
Oh. Nevermind. Now you're supposed to use an electric attack.
The battle ends with nothing more than this, though the implications are that Ash gets one of the badges required to challenge the Elite Four and become a champion.
But now it's time for the Pokémon Festival!
The festival consists of a few trainers and some of their Pokémon running around. Up top are a Ditto, Machop, and Zapdos playing. Ash can get Pokédex information on any of them here. There is a fight with one of these Pokémon later, and using the dex to obtain information here as a clue for how to handle said fight in the future would be a good idea.
Except, I said "would". The information provided here doesn't help you to figure out how to fight against them later.
More importantly, there's a Diglett just lying around. Let's check out its dex entry.
Sick burns included.
Of course catching it is mandatory. The player is free to ignore the object entirely, but will get a game over later on when the game checks if they caught Diglett or not.
Following convention established in Town of ZZT, there's also a § object used to represent a dragon.
This is a very good find. Dragonite is strong, and my friend.
Alas, the Dragonite already belongs to another trainer who rushes in to stop Ash from catching them.
With that, there's nothing left to see here.
Up ahead is the fireworks show. This is where the whole Code Red showing up in the credits comes from. These fireworks are included in Super Tool Kit and this board itself is a modified copy ripped from Code Red, music and all. The fireworks are cute, and Alexis is credited, but wholesale lifting boards from other games like this has typically been frowned upon.
For once, there's some choice given. Ash gets to challenge another gym, and this time can pick which Pokémon he'll be using for the fight.