Nintendo’s Pokémon Presents broadcast introduced a series of exciting releases for fans of the franchise, including an expansion for Pokémon Sword and Shield and an upcoming new Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo Switch. Among these larger announcements was the reveal for Pokémon Smile, an AR game for mobile in which “children can brush their teeth to rescue Pokémon that have been captured by cavity-causing bacteria.”
Since I have not played Sword, Shield, or Pokémon Snap before, I figured I’d help the games team at Mashable by reviewing Pokémon Smile, which launched on iOS and the Google Play shortly after the Nintendo broadcast.
Also, it was past 10AM and I had a late start in the morning, so I think I was the only team member who hadn’t brushed my teeth yet. The circumstances were perfect, even if my morning routine was not.
I have to admit I approached Pokémon Smile with some condescension. I grew up in the ’90s and currently own a Quip, so I think I know how to catch a Pokémon and brush my teeth, thank you very much. Even though I’d never attempted to do those two things at the same time, I was sure I wouldn’t experience any issues with Nintendo’s little tooth game.
When opening Pokémon Smile, the app asked for the kind of location and demographic information that I’m used to surrendering whenever I download something on my phone — my country of origin, date of birth, and gender identity (Pokémon Smile offers “not listed” and “no response” in addition to boy/girl for gender categories). It also asked me to select a starter Pokémon. Once I admitted I was a 28-year-old female in the United States who would like one (1) Pikachu, please, I was ready to get brushing.
The main game of Pokémon Smile involves following a series of onscreen visual prompts that correspond with sections of a human mouth, presumed to be the user’s. The game tracks brush movements with the front-facing camera to see if players are moving the brush in the right areas and rewards them with the dissipation of purple clouds identified as “cavity-causing bacteria.”
Somewhere in that bacteria is a Pokémon, trapped. The imperative is to free it. (How the Pokémon got inside my mouth is a mystery the game does not explain and still haunts me hours later).
The mouth model in the game provided text-free instruction for where to move the toothbrush by highlighting sections of teeth. My Pikachu was also there, standing in my illustrated mouth to zap away bacteria as I followed the prompts. I could see my own face in the app through my front-facing camera, and was delighted to see that through no initiative of my own I was wearing an augmented reality Pikachu hat. Pokémon Smile counted down from five…and the game began.
“Brush the front of the middlemost section,” Pokémon Smile commanded. “Now brush the back teeth on the left side. Get on top of those right molars. Scrub, baby, scrub!” In addition to the highlighted tooth section prompts, the game constantly encouraged me to “brush faster,” leading to intense toothpaste buildup and the suspicion that I had been cleaning my teeth too slowly for my entire life.
How the Pokémon got inside my mouth is a mystery the game does not explain and haunts me hours later.
Between the purple bacteria clouds manifesting at a rapid rate and the “brush faster” prompts, I quickly fell behind the game’s rhythm. My phone camera, propped on a windowsill, lost track of my face when I stood up straight and my Pikachu hat blipped out of existence when I tried to find the right spot for optimal face-to-phone interaction. Foam dribbled down my chin as I hunched towards the window, but I dared not lean away to spit into my sink — there was a Pokémon somewhere in my mouth and I was going to catch it even if it meant a mess.
Finally, after the longest 120 seconds of my life, Pokémon Smile released me. I lunged sideways to spit and almost missed the final Pokémon Go–style swipe to toss a Poké Ball at the mouth monster. I tossed the ball, certain that I’d get some reward for my struggle, and…did not catch the Pokémon. I don’t even know what it was supposed to be. I’ll never know what it was supposed to be, and yet the logic of the game demands that I accept it had been living between my teeth for quite some time. Who were you, little one? Should I use a Master Ball next time? These are questions doomed to go unanswered.
Then, Pokémon Smile pulled its final trick. It awarded me a sticker for my first tooth-brushing adventure and revealed that it had surreptitiously taken four pictures of me while I brushed. The pictures, which will never see the light of day, were horrible. I understand that this app is meant for children to learn proper oral hygiene, but the image of my stressed out, hunched over face dead-eyeing my phone camera with toothpaste all over my face gave me knowledge no adult needs to know about themselves. I looked repulsive in those pictures, like a dead-eyed, Pikachu-hat-wearing rabies patient foaming at the mouth.
The image below is not one of those four pictures, but I’d be remiss as a reviewer to neglect a gameplay image just because I’m hideous. Click if you must, but I will take it personally.
Luckily, the game gave me the option to decline the pictures and directed me to a setting that turned off the auto-capture feature. Of course, I would only have to use that feature if I intended to use Pokémon Smile to brush my teeth again, so mark my words: I absolutely will.
What? My teeth feel cleaner then the day they grew and I want to see if next time I can catch the Pokémon. It’s not like I can see a dentist these days. Pikachu and I have work to do.