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Get ready for Japan's next wave: Pokemon

By ROBB GUIDO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 1998


The North American invasion of Pokemon has begun, even before its Sept. 28 release in North America. Within a few months, Japan's newest monster superstars could be the most popular phenomena around American homes.

Already, Pokemon can be seen on a Beetle Tour, which stopped in the bay area recently. Bystanders saw a '98 Volkswagen Beetle painted up like Pikachu, the most notorious Pokemon character, as well as a preview of the video game to go along with an array of promotional toys. Pokemon the Animated Series will air at 7 a.m. weekdays on WTOG-TV.

In November, Nintendo will kick off a Pokemon promotional campaign in conjunction with KFC. The game company is pouring $25-million into the KFC venture in hopes of bringing American Pokemon fever to the same level it has reached in Japan. In 24 months Pokemon has become a $4-billion Japanese industry and has spawned hit comic books, a card game and a blockbuster movie, the second-highest grossing film in Japanese history.

* * *

For years Nintendo has been promising a disk drive add-on for the Nintendo 64, and for years consumers have waited. Well, the American version of the High Density Disk Drive may still be on hold, but there are hopeful signs coming from Japan.

According to the Nihon Keizai newspaper, Nintendo will launch the N64 disk drive in Japan next June. The drive will allow Japanese players to update their games via the Internet or by copying data to disks through terminals at Japanese convenience stores. No release date was mentioned for the American version of the drive, and it is very likely the product won't be released over here at all.

Nintendo's plans for the drive were delayed when the N64 failed to meet expectations in Japan, falling behind both the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. The HDDD was slated for release this year, packaged with Pokemon 64, but that idea was scrapped, and Pokemon instead will be released in cartridge format to help boost system sales.

* * *

Nintendo's Gameboy was celebrated for its therapeutic qualities in Harper's Bazaar's Top 20 list of stress-relief products . . . 989 Studio's fantastic NFL Gameday 99 went on sale Aug. 26, just in time for football season . . . NFL Blitz for the N64 will be the first console game compatible with a coin-op machine. Players can save self-designed plays from their home version and transfer them via the N64 memory cartridge to NFL Blitz 99 arcade machines . . . Nintendo announced a price reduction on some of its most popular N64 games, including Goldeneye and Diddy Kong Racing, which now retail for $39.99.

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