Was the Most Frustrating Pokémon Spinoff Game Just Ahead of It’s Time?
Pikachu isn't a very good listener.
Voice assistants have broken their way into every facet of our lives. Our phones, cars, and sometimes refrigerators now respond to our vocal commands in ways that are sometimes useful but mostly superfluous. But wouldn’t it be better if there was a children’s mascot you could spend hours yapping with instead of the cold, calm voices born out of tech monopolies?:
25 years ago, Nintendo was technically ahead of the curve with Hey You, Pikachu! for the Nintendo 64, offering a few unique and janky talking mechanics that fit the spirit of the Japanese company’s trial-and-error approach. Unlike other games that rely solely on button presses to input commands, this mostly forgotten spinoff used a special microphone only featured in one other game: an arcade port of a train simulator. But instead of blowing whistles, in Hey You, Pikachu, you speak commands at the iconic electric mouse as you go on adventures and play games.
When you speak into the microphone, it creates a bubble in-game that floats over to the pocket monster's giant twitching ears. But this Pikachu is wild and has yet to be turned docile from time spent inside the endless void of a Pokeball so it won’t always listen to what you want it to say. At least, that’s the game’s logic behind the mediocre voice detection software that doesn’t always pick up commands even when you want it to.
Hey You, Pikachu is challenging, but not in fun ways. Those crappy voice controls make giving Pikachu even the simplest of commands a lesson in chaos. If you want to pick up a fruit, he might just choose to ignore you entirely, often loafing around like a monster that’s too high a level in the mainline games. Pikachu can even just fall asleep mid-task, forcing you to yell into the microphone to grab any attention, which isn’t exactly fun.
And don’t dare try to get creative and have Pikachu perform objectives like you’re playing Baldur’s Gate 3. On one level, you’re tasked with taking care of some Caterpie while you wait for their parental Butterfree. However, all you can do is shock trees to drop fruit. Pikachu doesn’t seem to care about these defenseless bug-type Pokémon, ignoring his responsibilities and your commands at least half the time.
Though the game has often been ranked among one of the worst spinoffs in franchise history — right alongside forgotten titles like Pokémon Dash and Pokémon TV — it has had a lasting legacy. In 2017, Pokémon partnered with Amazon to give Alexa devices the ability to answer your questions as Pikachu. This removed most of the device’s functionality since it could only respond with its name, making ordering toilet paper or ordering a pizza a guessing game. In June 2023, the service was shut down.
Hey You, Pikachu! isn’t a very good game, but maybe it was simply ahead of its time. Voice recognition technology in the 64-bit era was still fairly janky and has come a long way with the help of that scary buzzword AI. It’s unlikely we will ever get another game like it since the Pokémon Company has moved far away from creating odd spinoffs. But its legacy (and the frustration it brought) remains important to any kid foolish enough to ask Pikachu to not throw papers around the room.