The Top 7... gut-wrenching choices

The choice: You expect a big, tough, game-changing decision near the end of most titles, or at least the halfway mark. One franchise, however, has the cruelty to stump players before they’ve actually begun. Picking a Pokémon starter may seem like a simple thing – an innocent, childlike preference for penguins over monkeys, or green over blue – but the long-term complexity and far-reaching impact are enough to give even grown adults a headache.

The paralyzing thought process: Special attack, elemental resistance, move variety, evolution speed, gym advantage, trading appeal, breeding capability… Why pretend that we know what any of that means when we can haveCarolyn Gudmundson, GamesRadar’s resident Pokémon expert, take us inside the madness instead?

“Well, the toughest starter choice is definitely in Generation I. Bulbasaur immediately jumps out as a frontrunner, because my kneejerk reaction is that a dinosaur is an automatic win. Grass type is also my favorite, and IMHO is the strongest type overall. Bulbasaur’s only drawback is that his evolutions are easily the ugliest of the bunch, and Venusaur has pretty much no charm at all. Evolution should be a time of joy, but I was sad when I finally let my first Bulbasaur (BulboBgns) evolve into Ivysaur.

"Then there’s Squirtle, who always comes off the coolest in the TV show. He was in a gang of badass feral Pokemon called the Squirtle Squad for crying out loud, how can you not pick him? He even wears sunglasses sometimes! And even though he’s a turtle, he’s totally bipedal, which adds another layer of irresistibility. His final evolution, Blastoise, makes up for his loss of cuteness with total hardcore water cannons sticking out of his shell. Being a Water type though, Pikachu can kick the crap out of him any day, which seems kind of shameful.

"Charmander, Charmander, Charmander. He seems kind of pitiful at first because he always wears his feelings on his sleeve (his flaming tail burns according to his mood/health), but out of the three he probably has the coolest final evolution. While Charizard is a dual Fire/Flying type, he has an awe-inspiring dragon-like majesty that’s hard to-….”

That'll do, Carolyn. That'll do.

The aftermath: Pokémon’s developers spend anextraordinary amount of timecrafting and perfecting each game’s starter types. Part of that process is ensuring all three are balanced. Still, when your friend’s Chimchar is evolving faster than your Turtwig, it’s impossible not to second guess. When the internet is flooded withhintsandguidesandFAQson which type is best, it’s impossible not to worry. And when you’re stuck with that creature for the next 50-500 hours… well, that’s as gut-wrenching as gaming choices get.

Here are other games with meaningful choices, dilemmas and story branches that almost made our countdown. Did we miss anything else? Take us to task in the comments below!

May 4, 2009

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