A couple months ago, The Pokémon Company released the weirdest little app called Pokémon Smile – a “game” that encourages children to brush their teeth by bringing Pokémon into the equation. Obviously I’ve been using it myself, despite not being a child (at least, physiologically).
Pokémon Smile is a strange thing – it watches you as you brush your teeth, and then rewards you based on how effectively it thinks you brushed. And I would like to put an emphasis on the “thinks” part, because it’s not great at determining how well you’re brushing your teeth. Quite often I’m brushing at full force, and it still relays the message “you’re doing good – but brush a bit faster!” It will also randomly lose sight of me, although my head and face have not moved from center-screen. I think it has problems understanding that one’s grip on their toothbrush will change depending on what area of the mouth they’re currently focusing on.
But aside from that massive issue with the main functionality of the app, it’s otherwise pretty neat. The reward for a good brush sesh that I mentioned before is the chance to catch a Pokémon. More effective brushing will also improve the style of poké ball you’re given to throw. At first, I was only scoring regular old red-and-white poké balls, but as I learned how to appease the app’s sensors, I quickly graduated all the way up to a master ball nearly every time. Every once in a while, I’ll slip up and only get a premier ball. I don’t know why that’s the second-best tier. Canonically, a premier ball has the same catch rate as a poké ball.
Anyhow, while the goal of this app is to promote a healthy teeth-brushing regimen, there are obviously some other, more complusion-triggering goals to strive for. Like, completing the pokédex, for example. Pokémon Smile only contains the original 151 monsters for the moment, but it wouldn’t surprise me if following generations were added in future updates. I for one am eagerly awaiting more Pokémon, as I am fascinated by the prospect of seeing how each and every monster is represented in Smile’s adorably derpy art style.
You can also collect hats for your mirror image to wear, and stickers to paste onto screenshots that the app takes automatically as you brush. These prizes seem to be handed out based on certain milestones, but nowhere do they tell you what the parameters are until you’ve achieved them. So that’s annoying. Not that I really care, because I’m never going to change out of the default Squirtle hat, but it would be nice to be able to chase the full hat collection. Stickers I care about even less because I have no interest in keeping and/or sharing photos of myself brushing my teeth.
It might also be worth mentioning that when you first boot up the app, you’re given a half-dozen Pokémon to choose from to be your partner. I picked Squirtle, because common sense, but I find it very strange that you’re not able to change your partner without completely resetting your profile. Again, not an actual problem, but it’s an option that I think should be offered.
Probably the thing that I like most about Pokémon Smile is a tiny little detail that most people would probably miss. As you brush your teeth and catch more Pokémon, the game will award you medals. In addition to making you feel like a big shot, each medal will add a new instrument to the theme that plays on the main menu. I adore that little touch, and it feels really special because you really don’t see it used very often. The only other games I can think of that do the same thing are Yoshi’s Island and a couple of the Paper Marios. Honestly, the thing that keeps me setting up Pokémon Smile each night during my bathroom routine is the desire to claim that next medal and find out what new instrument is going to be layered into the music.
As a game, I don’t think there’s any real reason to recommend Pokémon Smile to anyone outside a parent who’s frustrated with their kid’s resistance to tooth-brushery. But me, I’m a Pokémaniac, and this particular product comes in at the low price of free, and requires very little commitment. So there was really nothing to lose by trying it out, and in the end I’m confident that I’m giving my teeth a much better brushing each night that I did in the pre-Pokémon Smile era. Now if only there were a sister app to encourage habitual flossing… That‘s something that would really make my dental hygienist smile.