Pokémon Black and White: The Experience
The Pokémon Black Version and White Version Tour is currently traveling throughout malls in the contiguous United States. The first stop was on February 5, and it runs until March 20. The event allows Pokémon fans to test out first-hand Pokémon Black and White versions prior to general release, purchase event exclusive merchandise, participate in a scavenger hunt, and receive a once in a lifetime chance to view the latest Pokemon movie, Zoroark: Master of Illusions, in theaters. I was fortunate enough to attend one of its recent weekend stops.
The Pokémon Black and White Tour is a wonderful experience, and one that should not be missed under any circumstance. The event is a once in a lifetime experience like no other with the chance to meet fans (new and old) that share one commonality: Pokémon!
Whilst traveling the nation the tour makes a stop at two different locations each weekend, staying both Saturday and Sunday for the event; with the exception of the New York stop, which is planned for Friday and Saturday. The work and energy put into an event of this size is extreme; there is even a traveling work force that attends each and every event. Since it would be very costly to transport a full event staff, only five staff members travel between each location and the rest of the workforce is hired locally. To give an idea of the work that goes into event, the staff begins preparing for the event up to two nights prior, setting up almost everything. The one exception to this is the merchandise at the Pokémon Center, which is set up one night before the event. Moving onto the actual event, the tour is scheduled to start when the mall opens for business and runs until the mall closes. The starting point for the event is the Information Booth where free tickets are given out for one of the five showings of Zoroark: Master of Illusions, in addition to free information booklets (pictured below) regarding the tour which includes a scavenger hunt called the "Stamp Rally".
Tickets for the showings of the thirteenth Pokémon movie, Zoroark: Master of Illusions are very sparse due to the limited amount of seats and popularity of seeing a Pokémon movie on the big-screen for the first time since Pokémon Heroes in 2003. Showings are scheduled for every two hours, starting at 10am and the last showing scheduled for 7pm. Most tickets for the first showing are handed out prior to the scheduled start of the event, with a line forming approximately an hour before. The location of the theater may vary, but the movie is usually shown at the theater most centrally located to the mall. The free ticket grants admission to the theater, as well as a free Jumbo Pokémon TCG card with a ticket stub. In theme of the movie, the card is appropriately titled Zorua and Celebi in the likes of previous movie promotional cards. The movie run time is approximately 90 minutes uncut, including the complete credits.
The focal point of the event without a doubt is the Stamp Rally and the most popular out of all the activities. The objective of the activity is to locate all the Stamp Rally booths to receive one of the five required stamps: Reshiram, Zekrom, Tepig, Snivy, or Oshawott. The information booklet serves as a guide for the stamps, with a hexagonal space for each of the five stamps as well as a "Prize!" space. The five locations chosen for receiving stamps are the Information Booth, Video Game Experience, Pokémon Center, Activity Zone, and GameStop. The choice of the stamp locations are very obvious, as to get foot traffic through the Pokémon Black and White demo area, to receive better sales on merchandise in the Pokémon Center, and customers for GameStop to receive the Pokémon Black and White Mall Tour's Celebi. After receiving all five of the stamps, a queue is set up around the Activity Zone to receive a chance to spin the prize wheel with the opportunity to win a Unova starter-themed prize: one of three starter stylus, a phone charm, a set of patches, or a single 6” plush of choice. At the Activity Zone there is the choice to watch the Pokémon anime, do the "Pictures with Pokémon!" activity, or take a picture with the Unova Starter Pokémon at scheduled times. There is a sole area dedicated to watching the newest season of the Pokémon anime, titled Pokémon: Black and White after the games, with a continuous play of In the Shadow of Zekrom! and Enter Iris and Axew!. The most inventive of the activities located at the Activity Zone is the "Pictures with Pokémon!" where a staff member scans a card, then takes a picture with a green screen for the background. This featured the ability to go online and choose one of three possible backdrops. The final activity in the Activity Zone was the ability to take a picture with either one of the three Unova starters, and in very special circumstances a chance with all three starters at once! The times varied throughout the day, with about 15-minute increments with each starter. Located near the Activity Zone, there are inflatable Reshiram and Zekrom to take pictures with as well.
One of the most anticipated events out of the whole Mall Tour was the chance to demo Pokémon Black and White Versions and try it out firsthand. The demonstration starts by entering a narrow hallway lined with four large high definition screens and speakers to watch an eight-minute video. The screen lights up, introducing gamers to the Unova region all while explaining new features in the newest Pokémon game. There is a slight alert whilst the two Legendary Pokémon, Reshiram and Zekrom “fly by” on screen. Another segment shows gameplay video and the introduction of new Pokémon of Unova. The screen fades to black, and a staff member pumps up the crowd by having them yell as loud as they possibly can. Once on the demo floor, there is the opportunity to demo either Pokémon Black Version or Pokémon White Version, with a room full of fifty white Nintendo DS Lite systems to choose from. Both the Pokémon Black and White demos were the same, with the exception of the finishing story based on the finding of the game’s corresponding Legendary Pokémon. No matter which version is chosen, the player character begins in Icirrus City, several feet away from the Icirrus Gym. Most of the variables are randomly generated for each playthrough, such as the gender of the player character, the current season, and the in-game teams. After the introduction to the game, the player is thrown right into Icirrus City with the objective of finding Professor Juniper who is located at Dragonspiral Tower. The character is given a randomly generated starter Pokémon at level 25, a Zorua at level 22, and a Deerling at level 20. It wouldn’t be a true Pokémon game if there weren’t any obstacles, so two rivals, Bianca and Cheren stand in the way. For the first battle, Bianca has the element-weak Pokémon starter at level 15. Once she is defeated the ability walk around and explore is given, but is very limited as the south is blocked off by two non-player characters, the east is blocked off by the ledge of a cliff, and the west is blocked off by another cliff which is only climbable in the Winter season. The only possible option that is given is to go north, passing the blocked Icirrus Gym and eventually reaching a patch of grass with Cheren blocking the path to the Dragonspiral Tower. Cheren has the element-strong starter Pokémon at level 18, in addition to a second randomly generated Pokémon at level 15. After his defeat, Cheren steps aside for entry to the Dragonspiral Tower and, upon entering, Professor Juniper speaks about the Legendary Pokemon as images flash on screen of the tower. The demonstration of the game ends with the chance to receive a pin of either Reshiram or Zekrom while exiting the Video Game Experience.
Last but not least, the coolest part of the event is the Pokémon Center selling event-exclusive merchandise, with a one-time run of Pokémon Black and White themed merchandise. There is a vast array of items including Pokémon 2” figures, 6” figures, 6” Poké Doll, 6” plush, 12” plush, and a variety of Black & White T-shirt choices. The Pokémon two-inch figure choices are Pikachu, Zekrom, Reshiram, Snivy, Tepig, Oshawott, Zorua, or Zoroark all priced at $5 a piece. The Pokémon six-inch figures and twelve-inch plush choice is Zekrom or Reshiram, priced at $10 and $20 dollars respectively. The six-inch Poké Doll and Plush choices are Pikachu, Zorua, Zoroark, Snivy, Tepig, or Oshawott priced at $10 each. The shirts are available in either black or white with the exception of Zekrom on white, and Reshiram on black. The Pokémon T-shirts that are available include Pikachu, Snivy, Tepig, and Oshawott each priced at $20. A collection of merchandise on sale is shown below.
The Pokémon Black Version and White Version Tour was an excellent two-day experience and should have lasted several days longer than just a weekend stay. The event was very well structured and improvements were made by learning from past mistakes. It is really great to have a free local event, but the restriction of needing a GameStop and a movie theater on location really limits the potential stops during the tour. The Information Booth staff wasn’t much of an information source as it was a passing out pamphlets and tickets, as there were very little questions that staff actually knew the answers to. It was very easy to tell traveling event staff from local hires, as the traveling staff all had collared shirts and visible communication devices. There was a drastic difference in the movie between day one and day two of the tour, as day one the theater was ¾ full compared to day two where it was very difficult to find a seat. The movie quality seemed to improve over time on day one, and eventual near-perfection on day two. One problem with the movie times is that they were not strictly enforced, and all five showings never happened on either day I attended. The Pokémon Tour is definitely worth going to no matter what, as it is a once in a lifetime deal and there is never going to be an experience like it ever again.
Many thanks to The Pokémon Company International for putting together such a wonderful event, to the mall staff for their cooperation, and to everyone who helped in the production of this article.