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A Pokémon game where you watch TV is still one of my all-time favorites

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Pokémon Channel was a bizarre concept, but not a bad one

A screenshot from Pokémon Channel Ambrella/The Pokémon Company/Nintendo

The Pokémon series has tapped into so many different genres throughout its 22 years, and few of those spinoffs have stayed a traditional course. You want a pinball game? You got a pinball game. You like roguelikes, so you get a roguelike. You wanna talk to Pikachu? There’s a game where you can just ... talk to Pikachu.

The strangest among these side games is much harder to define. Pokémon Channel for Nintendo GameCube launched 15 years ago, on July 18, 2003, and has since become a curiosity in the franchise’s canon. It’s a console game that revolves around ... watching TV with Pikachu. It’s a lot less meta than it sounds, though. And it’s also a whole lot better — to this day, it remains a personal highlight in Pokémon’s history.

To most Pokémon players, Pokémon Channel probably sounds horrifically boring. Players act as Pikachu’s trainer, and spend nearly all of their time indoors. On Professor Oak’s orders, they watch his TV network beta together, ranging from a shopping channel, a news station and a quiz show. There’s also an exclusive anime called Pichu Bros. that capitalizes on the then-newest Pokémon film, which screened with a Pichu Bros. short ahead of it.

Yeah, you could interact with these stations to some degree. There’s also some overarching plot where Pikachu and the trainer need to recover a DVD for Professor Oak to air on his network, and Pikachu gets mad and blows up a TV at one point. A handful of minigames borrowed from the handheld Pokémon Mini device are also unlockable and playable in-game, which is dope.

Otherwise, there’s nothing else to do. You just sit and watch TV with a buddy you can’t understand. But so much of what Pokémon means to me is friendship, and the ability to actually develop bonds with your team. That’s what happens with Pikachu every time you sit down to watch TV with it. Sometimes it doesn’t want to watch the same thing as you, so you can either ignore him selfishly or cave and switch stations. Other times, maybe he just wants to lie down around the living room. Learning how to work with him and recognize these patterns becomes easier the longer you sit, and finding that wavelength feels like as much of a success as winning a gym battle.

Pokémon doesn’t always have to be so complicated, but the hugeness of its world often allows us to overlook that. Consider that, in the RPGs, you meet as many people who just chill out indoors with a single monster as you do trainers who want to fight you for money and pride. We don’t often get to be the ones who stay in just one town and learn to love just one Pokémon. Pokémon Channel gave us the chance to do that, and only that. There’s no battling and no collecting — not in any conventional sense — but there’s a lot of love. Don’t forget how much that matters to Pokémon too.