Flashy graphics, leaderboards and other bells and whistles gamify everyday exercise, enticing the average person to take strides and complete set goals. Despite this, the video game industry seems to be struggling to find something that sticks.
Fitness-based video games mostly consist of an array of Wii games, a handful of Kinect games, and the recent addition of VR in the form of Beat Saber. Each of these options gives you the power to stretch and bounce around your room in an effort to avoid the cruel and cold outdoors.
Tragically, most of these are either outdated or simply not as effective as the activities they try to mimic, forcing players to either move on to the next gimmick or just go for a run like a regular person. However, there is still hope for those wanting the blood-pumping accomplishment of real exercise AND the geeky inclusion of video games to spice up mundane activities- and it landed here in 2010.
The Pokéwalker was released as an accessory for Pokémon’s HeartGold and SoulSilver versions. This Pokéball shaped Tamagotchi harbours your Pokémon of choice via an infrared connection to the game’s cartridge, giving access to a whole side journey for you explore.
The device itself is straight forward. The small screen acts as a window to your Pokémon and three buttons navigate the menu. At a glance, this system is nice and compact, but this neat exterior is just a façade to hide the Pokéwalker’s complex underbelly.
There is a surprising amount to do with the little guy. Two mini-games are accessible right off the bat but require ‘Watts’ to play. The only way to accumulate these ‘Watts’ is by travelling a predetermined number of steps. But before all else, you can only begin your journey after picking one of the 27 courses that gradually unlock over time. Each of these courses gives you the opportunity to capture different Pokémon and uncover various items for you to bring to your main game.
But why use the Pokéwalker in the first place? Well, searching online gave me little to no results for anything similar to the Pokéwalker. The typical assortment of exercise-based game “gadgets” boils down to: various fingerless boxing gloves, weighted fitness belts, push-up bars, resistance bands, and some cute branded pedometers.
There is a good reason behind this lack of physical attachment. Mobile devices are more accessible than ever before, with even the more outdated models having some form of fitness app capable of rivalling the average pedometer. The iPhone 3GS first popularised the feature in 2009 and ever since, every phone, tablet and watch either has a built-in pedometer feature or easy access to the step counter.
The competition is compounded by the avalanche of fitness apps that not only mirror the capabilities of the average pedometer but also gamify exercise with more ease and accessibility than our Pokéwalker.
In 2016, we saw Pokémon take on this wave in the form of Pokémon GO, which outclasses the Pokéwalker literally every step of the way. Catching masses of Pokémon, hatching eggs, collecting items, battling other Pokémon – the game has it all, and on paper, this innovation completely kills our beloved plastic mess.
However, there are some positives to take away from the short-lived success of the Pokéwalker – as it turns out, there is absolutely a market for video game-based exercise regimes. On top of this, sticking to a physical accessory that wasn’t anchored to a phone or tablet and doesn’t require a constant internet connection was a real breath of fresh air.
This alone should show both developers and consumers that it is entirely possible to release a fitness product that has a life span longer than a single year.
The feeling of trading one electronic gadget for another may seem trite, but in our age of entertainment corporate monoliths and the roulette wheel of viral, trendy contraptions, falling back on the cute nostalgia ball was a far more satisfying investment.