For fans of the mainline series, it wasn't the most auspicious of starts. The opening announcement from The Pokemon Company's recent 11-minute presentation likely had many a gamer rolling their eyes and wondering what the heck the guardians of the Pocket Monsters franchise were thinking by opening their presentation with a free smartphone app designed to make brushing teeth 'fun' for kids.
Fortunately, the crowd-pleasing New Pokémon Snap--arguably the star of the show for veteran gamers--gave die-hard followers something to chew on, and the liberal scattering of other announcements left Pokéfans with plenty to look forward to in the short-term; enough to not get hung up on the explicitly kid-focused opener, at least.
Still, the reveal of Pokémon Smile and its prominent position at the top of the presentation shows just how shrewd The Pokémon Company is. The downloadable smartphone app, which lets you catch over 100 Pokémon through brushing your teeth thoroughly while looking at a phone screen, certainly wasn't run first by accident. It was laser-targeted at a specific audience; not children, but their parents.
The idea that this app is some devious plot to hook very young children on the vast money-spinning Pokémon franchise seems obvious until you remember that this is Pokémon we're talking about. If there's one thing the franchise has never had a problem doing, it's attracting young children to its exciting, colourful world through its various games, TV shows, toys and endless parade of associated merchandise. As a brand, Pokémon is one of the most pervasive on the planet. Kids don't need another app to find out what a Squirtle is.
No, Pokémon Smile is a cunning play for parental approval. Of course, the indoctrination of toddlers is a wonderful side effect for The Pokémon Company--get 'em young!--but acquainting parents with the basics is also essential, and in a positive manner. Pokémon GO might be on every other smartphone on the street, and its ability to get people out-and-about is admirable in a world where the stereotype of the antisocial shut-in gamer persists, but it's still a piece of software that ultimately draws kids' attention to their phone screens and away from their family, even if they're outdoors as a group.
A free app with adorable characters that promotes good gums, though? That's some irrefutably wholesome stuff, right there! Pokémon Smile is the best video game-based promo for dental hygiene since Fortnite got every 6-year-old flossing.
Parents who grew up with the games and can list the entire National Dex from memory, backwards, will no-doubt be duct-taping their phones to the bathroom wall and forcing their kids to interact with this whether they like it or not. These are the sorts of guardians who have been indoctrinating their kids (quite understandably, we might add) with Pikachu plushies and presenting them with Starter Pokémon from the time the baby could focus on an object.
It's the people who have no idea what a Charmander is that The Pokémon Company is aiming for with this delightfully insidious free app. The next generation of Pokémon fans is arguably secure; Pokémon Smile is really aimed at the previous generation. It's a Trojan Rapidash designed to familiarise those with purchasing power with Bulbasaur, Eevee and the Pokégang, twice a day, morning and night (at least).
As Machiavellian gambits go, it's hard to feel too indignant. Spend 30 minutes watching any media designed for young children and the amount of blatant, unchecked advertising going on can be shocking if you're not a parent and don't generally sit down to a couple of episodes of Peppa Pig every afternoon. As sneaky as this is, oral hygiene is important and getting kids into good dental health practices can be tough. If Pokémon Smile gets whippersnappers brushing their teeth, the residual brand knowledge absorbed by attentive parents probably isn't the worst price to pay. Better for all concerned (certainly The Pokémon Company) if parents spend their disposable income on PokéProducts rather than procedures addressing preventable dental issues in the future, no?
After a rather odd opening to the presentation, die-hard fans had several other announcements to busy themselves with, including Pokémon Café Mix, some Pokémon GO news and more info on the recently-released Pokémon Sword and Shield Isle of Armor DLC, not to mention the tease for a further presentation next week. Ultimately, Pokémon Smile is easily ignored by gamers only interested in the 'proper' games. Still, for everyone who turned their nose up at the opening announcement, it's worth remembering exactly why The Pokémon Company continues to prominently highlight 'peripheral' products like this app: Gotta catch 'em all.
Young and old.
Have you downloaded Pokémon Smile yet? Will you be using it with your kids, or even giving it a go yourself? Let us know your thoughts on the app below and tell us what you most enjoyed about the presentation.