Parent Talk: PokePark is designed from the ground up for kids. The difficulty is low, and the story as well as the many characters will bring a wealth of smiles to younger audiences.
Several months after its release in Japan, PokePark: Pikachu’s Adventure has touched down on North American shores. Is it worth the wait, or should we have left this one on the other side of the Pacific?
To date, the Wii has been starved for quality Pokemon games. Pokemon Battle Revolution was a half-hearted follow-up to the N64’s Stadium games, Pokemon Ranch can hardly be called a game, and Pokemon Rumble, while a big step up from the former, left gamers craving a deeper experience. Does PokePark at last deliver on our desires for an A+ pocket monster adventure in the three dimensions? Yes and no, but it’s easily the best of the Wii bunch regardless.
The Pokemon. The long wait to witness our favourite Pokemon brought to life in three dimensions at this level of quality has been long overdue. The character models look wonderful, animations are never stiff or awkward, and every creature behaves exactly as you’d expect. Furthermore, the voiceovers are borrowed from the anime, which is a major plus. Upgrading from Gameboy era blips-and-bleeps and doing away with the deformed, low-polygon Ranch and Rumble models have granted PokePark‘s inhabitants an allure not achieved by previous Pokemon games.
+ Presentation. The game’s production values are modest, but the environments are colourful and pleasing to the eyes, despite lazying about comfortably within the Wii’s hardware potential. Battle moves like Thunderbolt and Flamethrower look snazzy, and each area of the world is filled with characters that bring everything to life. Sound effects are standard fare, but the authentic Poke-speech and gentle melodies wrap the audio package up nicely.
+ Friendship. The child-friendly design keeps things simple, but offers enough to hook those with a mentality for completion. As Pikachu, players must travel various areas of the PokePark, befriending Pokemon and participating in mini-game attractions to collect prism pieces tied to the barebones narrative (essentially, Mew’s Sky Pavilion will fall on PokePark unless Pikachu and friends can repair the Sky Prism keeping it afloat). Outside of the simple, but fun Wiimote-waggling mini games, the central mechanic revolves around making friends throughout the PokePark. This is achieved by playing a quick game of chase, battling, carrying out fetch quests, taking quizzes, and participating in frustrating (but fortunately infrequent) platforming challenges with the various Pokemon residing in the park. The challenges are referred to as ‘Skill Games’. As is routinely re-enforced, friendship is the overarching theme of the game, and players have the chance to befriend up to 193 Pokemon. It’s a satisfying and relaxing experience, even if the mechanics behind the activity grow a bit thin by the end.
+ Stages. The park is divided into ‘Zones’, each having a different theme and connected by a central hub known as ‘The Meeting Place’. The Meadow Zone and Beach Zone are appropriately laid-back, filled to the brim with friendly Pokemon, whereas the Magma Zone features more aggressive Pokemon waiting for a good battle. Each area is plagued with problems waiting to be solved that should be more than rewarding for younger players. Older gamers may be turned off by the simplicity, but Pokefans of any age should stick around to enjoy satisfying activities like decorating an enormous white tree in the Snow Zone and uncovering secrets in the Haunted Zone. The level design becomes more complex as things move along, but is never particularly challenging. This is perfect for kids, but seasoned gamers may be bored at times if they aren’t big fans of the Pokemon universe.
+ RPG-Lite. Amidst the mini-games and friendship-questing are light role-playing elements that add enticement for the adolescent-and-up crowd, and may also be a plesant way of introducing children into the RPG fold. In exchange for berries (the game’s whimsical and edible currency), various Pokemon residing in The Meeting Place upgrade Pikachu’s abilities. Attacks (there are two, Thunderbolt and Iron Tail), HP, and his dashing ability can all be improved. The upgrades also serve a practical purpose. For example, Thunderbolt, which both damages and briefly stuns other Pokemon, receives upgrades to its power, range, and so on, effectively increasing your chance to dominate skill games. Likewise, increasing the speed of Pikachu’s dash is essential to catching up with faster Pokemon in chase games and permits faster transit from one place to another. You won’t max anything out quickly though; as the later upgrades require significant amounts of berries. You must play many mini-games and skill games in order to soup up the yellow mouse to his full potential.
Battle. PokePark is a tease in this regard. As a kid I dreamed of being able to maneuver in three-dimensions during Pokemon battles, dodging attacks while simultaneously dishing out my own. Twelve years later, these prayers have sort of been answered. First, live-action battles are a huge step in the right direction for 3D Pokemon games, but Nintendo has yet to take the concept to the finish line. The downsides are that not many of the Pokemon will fight you, the combat is very simple, and Pikachu’s moveset is limited. The combat is enjoyable (it should have been implemented in a console Pokemon game years ago) and hopefully a sign of great things to come, but left me hungry for more.
– No multiplayer. Seriously? On a console packed to the brim with multiplayer mini-game compilations, I’m surprised that PokePark is a strictly solo experience. One can’t help but think that this is a missed opportunity. The framework is there, so why not have online play with leaderboards, or at the very least, split-screen multiplayer? Either could have significantly extended the replay value, so their exclusion is nothing but a serious oversight.
– Repetition. I love a good game of tag, but not participating every two seconds. Making friends in the PokePark is entertaining, but grows thin as the story reaches its end due to the lack of variety in the skill games essential to acquiring friends. I’m reminded of the first Assassin’s Creed, wherein a repetitive structure marred an otherwise outstanding experience. PokePark’s play is not at all novel or top-tier, so carrying out similar tasks over and over puts taxes the simple design too much. Including a more varied array of skill games would have been a tremendous benefit to the game’s lasting appeal.
Jumping. The controls are clunky to begin with, but when you combine rigid and unintuitive jumping with platform-hopping challenges, nothing but frustration can ensue. Thank goodness that the sections which rely on platforming are few and far between (for the most part limited to a small smattering of ‘Obstacle Hop’), or the game’s playability would take a serious hit.
Is PokePark for you? If you’re a huge Pokemon fan, yes. It’s possible to blaze through the story in seven hours (I took eight, acquiring a few extra friends as I progressed), but after you’re free to mill about, befriending all the Pokemon and acquiring ‘best friend’ status with them (including a handful of secret Pokemon, one of which is unlocked the first time you finish). I would estimate 100% completion of the friend list to take fifteen to twenty hours. Also, players can improve their records in the mini-games and save berries to max out Pikachu’s stats. A few extra features, such as the option to take pictures anywhere from a third or first-person perspective and save them to an SD card are unlikely to see serious use, but are present nonetheless.
PokePark is a fun and laid-back game , and one of the Wii’s best options for children. Older players may scoff at the child-oriented gameplay, but I encourage anyone who’s ever been a Pokemon fan to give it a shot. As a grown man, I thoroughly enjoyed the game, and am confident that anyone with a vivid imagination and an appreciation of youthful storytelling could fall victim to the game’s charm.