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Published April 1, 2010

When the other guys started talking about the Pokéwalker on the podcast, I really didn’t know what to make of it. Pocketstations and VMUs made sense back in the day because they allowed you to take your console gaming on the go (in theory, anyway). However, Pokémon was already a portable experience, and the DS wireless capabilities meant that trading was more streamlined than ever. Why would anyone want an inferior experience when they could play the main game instead? This past weekend in Boston answered that question pretty quickly.

As I waited in “line”* for various panels with Kaz, Nick and Tony, I witnessed dozens of PAX East attendees approaching them to ask for wirelessly transmitted gifts. Now, being our resident Pokémon Master, I’m no stranger to trading, but nine times out of ten, this involves me A) trading via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection or B) trading with myself. I’d love to expand my network (and feel less like a colossal nerd), but there’s a certain amount of preparation that usually gets in the way. Not at PAX though – people weren’t shy at all about exchanging common items.

*Brief aside: the PAX East folks need to do a better job of managing the chaos next year. I heard too many stories of people cutting in line and shutting others out of packed conference rooms.

The instant payoff extends to simple leveling up and catching, too. I flushed so many potential watts down the toilet by not having a Pokéwalker clipped to my belt last weekend. Anyone who has played the Game Boy or DS games can tell you that the series is grind-heavy. Whether you’re fighting wild Pokémon or trying to add rarer ones to your collection, long stretches require you to diligently mash the A button. While skeptics might wonder why anyone would want a game that controls itself, I think the passive play of the Pokéwalker is brilliant and totally justifies its existence. I’m so glad that I don’t have to stare at a screen for hours anymore, hoping that the Geodudes will just let me be. I will unleash all kinds of rage if the next DS sequels don’t take advantage of the device.

The Pokéwalker distills everything I like about the series – trading, leveling up, collecting – into a very accessible package. I wouldn’t want to ditch the full experience, but it’s perfect for morning commutes or bathroom breaks. (You heard me.) I’d actually like Nintendo or Sony to come up with a universal walker, similar to the VMU, that could work with other games. Imagine a Gran Turismo in which you could buy new cars based on your on-foot “mileage,” or a Nintendogs companion that handles the frequent poop-scooping. You might actually see kids playing outside again. And at big conventions, so might the adults as well.

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