A couple of weeks ago, during the Pokémon Presents broadcast, we were shown the timely return of Pokémon Snap for us to flaunt our amateur photography skills prompting much fanfare. But, I was much more intrigued by another little project, a little app designed to help children brush their teeth properly and continued proof that any random word can follow the word “Pokémon”.
Pokémon Smile is a free-to-play app for smartphones that teaches correct methods of brushing your teeth while catching Pokémon in the process. It watches you brush your teeth using the front-facing camera on most smartphones, clearing the little white teeth on the screen of what can only be described as purple goop and potentially cleaning the ‘Mon to catch it.
Once you’re finished with your brush, which you can set to different lengths of time, a little Pokéball pops up if you cleaned the Pokémon enough for you to catch. If you have done an excellent job it becomes easier to catch, or the ball will become a Master Ball guaranteeing your catch. It’s simple, sure, but works for a game that rewards brushing your teeth.
There’s a lot of unlockables in the app like the stickers and hats, oh boy the hats. The game will take photos while you brush and these can be decorated with the stickers you unlock as you go, then saved and shared for the world to see. The hats you wear as you brush and are essentially Pokémon sitting on your head while you brush – or eating it in the case of Magikarp.
All of this is presented in an art style so endearing that it’s almost painful. All of the background assets are simple, bright, colourful, and varied. The Pokémon have been redesigned in a fashion that makes them look so goofy and adorable that it’s hard not to fall in love with them immediately. Oh, and the Dex is laid out in an excellent “habitat” style, which I love.
This is all wrapped up in a general app and user interface design so clean and clear that it could very easily be a dentist’s office. Wait, now I think on it, that might have been the point.
Pokémon Smile is not without problems though, and the main big issue comes in the gameplay. Your progress in succeeding to brush your teeth “successfully” is halted (while the timer continues) if the game thinks you aren’t brushing fast enough or it cannot see your toothbrush, which if you’re using an electric toothbrush is constantly because obviously you brush differently.
Before you get up in arms, I am very aware that I’m not the target audience for this app in the slightest. But, it does make it hard to brush my teeth as effectively as the little bouncing Eevee on the screen wants me to, when it doesn’t even register that I’m brushing at all. Also, sometimes a ‘Mon can be clean and sparkly and still aren’t caught, which is frustrating as fuck.
Also, unless I’m missing something, why the fuck can’t I change my companion Pokémon when I brush? I’ve got a Growlithe, and damn it I want my little fire puppy cheering me on.
In many ways, this little app makes me Pokémon Frown, but the results kind of speak from themselves. My teeth are already looking far better than when I started, and I have several Pokémon in the Dex, including a goofy-looking Growlithe. I might have various frustrations, but for what it is, it’s a delightful idea well realised and a now-constant brushing companion.