Hey You, Pikachu! was released on November 6, 2000 for the Nintendo 64 console to a very lukewarm reception by fans and critics alike. The game utilized a piece of hardware called the Voice Recognition Unit or VRU which was meant to analyze the words you spoke into a microphone (or at least it tried to do so). But, it was not effective and a lot of players ended up more frustrated with HYP than originally intended (it was aimed at younger players which aren’t exactly known for their patience). Despite sharing these frustrations, I very much enjoyed playing Hey You, Pikachu! when I was younger and to this day have fond memories of the game.
Hey You, Pikachu! was more of an experiment than a game, it was also the first of its kind followed by Seaman on the Dreamcast. I theorize that Hey You, Pikachu! was the inspiration behind the communication games that Nintendo later became associated with such as Animal Crossing and perhaps even the precursor (in terms of technology and not gameplay) to some actions games like Binary Domain. While objectively HYP was rather mediocre it was more due to the lack of precision on the microphone which made the game unnecessarily difficult because Pikachu to begin with was honestly not very intelligent for an Artificial Intelligence.
Hey You, Pikachu! starts out with you and Professor Oak meeting a baby Pikachu which becomes attached to the main character. You were given a device that allows you to communicate with wild Pokémon (which is against the lore of the game/anime since its obvious they fully understand human speech) by the professor earlier that day. During this event Professor Oak explains the controls for the VRU. It is at during this moment that Pikachu’s discovery days begin which is simply another name for the rest of the tutorial portion of the game. At this point in the game you are explained the mechanics and majority of the words which Pikachu can understand. But, it’s important to note that the VRU had difficulty understanding lower pitches and as an adult Hey You, Pikachu! was more difficult than I remembered.
The tutorial can last for quite a few in game days (5 I believe) and had events such as caring for baby Caterpies’, fishing, finding items for a picnic, and the player obtains the tool box. Once this tool box is obtained the next portion of the game Pikachu’s Play Days star and this is where the game opens up for the player. It is at this point where I had a blast with the game, and even playing pranks on Pikachu (throwing stuff at his empty head does nothing, but it still amusing to see items bounce off of him). You can go to the beach, water some Oddish and evolve them into Gloom, buy some stuff from Abra’s highway robbery store and even fight a piñata which in Latin cultures (such as mine is a big deal). I even went fishing at the new locations which are unlocked, fishing in this game consist of giving Pikachu commands (as with the rest of the game), but the challenge lies in giving him the correct instruction such as “hold” or “reel” at the appropriate times. Afterwards you can go help a Squirtle search for some missing Poliwag’s which became separated from their mother (and this is actually very annoying because Pikachu doesn’t move as fast when they are trailing him) it’s easily the second hardest challenge in the game right next to the Piñata event. Once I finished the Piñata battle I earned the opportunity to hunt for treasure chests which are opened by casting the move on the signboard next to the chest. While Pokémon can understand human speech they can’t read so you simply tell Pikachu which attack to use such as “thundershock”, “thunderbolt”, and “thunder”. This all sounds very simple and that is because it is a very basic game, but therein lies the enjoyment of Hey You, Pikachu!
At the time of release the Pokémon frenzy was at its peak and a majority of the players who tried this game were older than the intended age group. Hey You, Pikachu! was designed for younger kids and the reviewers who rated this game were all adults working for game magazines since the internet was still not as wide-spread during that time. It’s no surprised it was rated so lowly, but I was only 11 when I first played it and while frustrating at times I found myself enjoy the baby Pikachu’s company. He wasn’t too bright for certain and even when playing the “who’s that Pokémon” game on the N64 Pikachu messed up easily which was testament to his brilliance (or lack of thereof), but it was still enjoyable to see what results experimenting with the game and VRU would yield.
These experiments can lead to very amusing situations such as Pikachu and Charmander passing out due to the terrible meal you’ve helped Bulbasaur prepare for his picnic. You have have Pikachu attack you by mentioning the name of Sony or Playstation. Pikachu can even thundershock the life out of other Pokémon or cook his own food using electricity. Even watching Pikachu become frustrated with his lack of understanding can produce amusing scenarios. This is what goes back to my original point Hey You, Pikachu! was more akin to an experiment than a game. Admittedly it wasn’t a very successful experiment for Nintendo, but they at least tried to create a new type of game. We would later see other games integrate the use of voice recognition software such as Mario Party 6, Seaman, and even games to this day like Mass Effect 3 and Binary Domain which were released this decade utilize the voice recognition system to varying degrees of success.
It was the sweet story of a young boy and his adopted Pikachu, and frankly who didn’t want to own a Pokémon like him while growing up? I certainly would have loved to have my own electricity generating rodent which could kill me if I annoyed him. Pokémon in reality would be extremely dangerous creatures and Hey You, Pikachu! allowed us to safely own this sadistic little mouse. It might not have been a killer app on the N64, but I’ll always have fond memories of my times adventuring with a drunk, and possibly hard of hearing baby Pikachu.
Hey You, Pikachu! was a curious marvel at the time of its release, and while it didn’t achieve what it set out to do it was an amazing attempt in futility for gaming history. The world did not have the required technology for this type of game, but at least Nintendo was willing to try. Hey You, Pikachu! will be ill remembered by many, but to me it will always be an amazing game.
I named my Pikachu Billy Bob.