Nintendo have been releasing spin-offs to its Pokémon series for almost as long as the series has been around in the west; from pinball, to re-branded puzzlers, to something as whimsy as Pokémon Snap. On the other hand the series has also popped its most famous icon onto voice recognition software and invited players to the enthralling prospect of watching pokémon themed television as a game. Home console based, fully 3D Pokémon games however have been a bit short on the ground, with only the two Colosseum games providing decent, if short-lived, distractions. PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure lets you guide the electric yellow mouse through a pleasure park for Pokémon, whilst trying to befriend and interact with almost two-hundred of the elemental creatures in various skill-games, however is this park a pleasure or an unpleasant poke?
Once a happy place, the PokéPark is becoming rather less friendly since the Zone Keepers – Pokémon who run the various sections of the park – fell out with each other and sealed up their respective zones and banned the use of the attractions. This, in turn, is having a knock-on with the visiting Pokémon, who either decided to leave or became increasingly hostile to others. Mew is none too happy with this state of affairs, as his home in the sky only stays hovering above the park due to the power of the sky prism, a crystal powered by happiness.* The legendary Pokémon recruits Pikachu and friends to enter the park and make the place happy again while recovering shards of the Sky Prism that fell to Earth. The story is pure fluff, plain and simple and doesn’t get any better through its six hour runtime, it is probably serviceable for its intending audience, but that’s about it. The writing comes across as artificial those reared on meatier stories will find the plot a chore to plod through.
PokéPark is essentially a series of minigames set in a relatively large hub world where you meet and greet various Pokémon who will ask you to play so-called skill games with them; while this usually involves either battling or chasing them, other distractions rear their heads in the form of hide-and-seek as well as the occasional three question quiz. Winning these skill-games will – mostly – result in the defeated Pokémon deciding to become you friend; you new friend can then be selected to play one of the attractions in your stead. The attractions are supposedly closed but their keepers have little problem with Pikachu having a go at them to accomplish some task or other.
The game is divided into various different lands, dipping its toes into the clichéd more than not with a lava land, ice world, haunted mansion and a Pokémon stable in the shape of a large cavern complete with numerous Zubats. Environments are filled with the appropriate types of Pokémon, with Spheals amongst the ice and Gastlys in the mansion, etc.
Attractions are the main meat of the game, but even these are fairly limited in themselves. For example, the very first attraction is a straightforward dash to the finish line, yet its base premise is repeated two times, with the latter introducing obstacles to overcome. Other attractions involve running/flying through rings, a take on the old arcade game breakout, or light gun battles. This said, some of the attractions are genuinely fun, with the bobsleigh in the ice world being the biggest standout. Unlike the rest of the game, most of the attractions are controlled via motion, with the dash to the finish-line obtained by thrusting the remote up and down as if you were operating some sort of handcar; or else by tilting the remote in the desired direction.
PokéPark’s most glaring issue is that the game is played only with a wii remote held on its side like you’re using a NES controller. For a wholly 3D game this is sometimes problematic, as subtle controls that could’ve been employed with an analogue stick are hard to translate with a D-pad. Running, for instance, requires tapping the 1 button; yet this is the least of the control issues. While running and jumping are serviceable as buttons, the only real camera control is the B button, which centres it behind Pikachu, unfortunately due to the issue of lining a character up in a 3D space you may find it difficult to get the camera pointing in the direction you’d desire. This is doubly so when Pikachu is asked to navigate a series of platforms under a time limit; jumping from one to the other isn’t easy when you can’t move the camera properly and have difficulty moving in any direction other than forward. Fall off any platform and you start right back at the beginning, add instances where the Pokémon who set up the course starts throwing boulders, etc, at you and it becomes absolutely maddening: the option to use the nunchuk would have been welcomed.
Nevertheless the game is extremely unforgiving, any trial can be retaken as many time as you’d like without penalty, from battles to attractions – as long as you don’t quit the latter. Certain chases require you to upgrade your speed stat and battles can be tricky when the opponent has much more health than you do. Yet for the most part battles are quick and painless – apart from the few ground types you’ll face that are immune to Pikachu’s Thunderbolt – and I caught the A.I. looking like they’d forgotten that they were fighting a rather determined electrified mouse.
PokéPark looks decent enough, but you’ll get the feeling that the game could’ve been released on the Game Cube without any hitches in performance whatsoever. The generic worlds also don’t help the game find much of a unique identity in this regard. Animation is fine and smooth; but everything also has a pristine clinical look about it, which while fine for a cartoon-like series, makes the entire thing seem a little too artificial. At a early point in the game you’re given a camera to take snapshots with, the game saving them to view at your leisure, it’s a cute little thing to save particular moments, but serves as little more than a distraction.
While the portable games continue to torture ears in regards to the 8-BIT calls they still make, it is nice to have another game where you actually hear the Pokémon voice their names, or else make the appropriate animal sounds that they should be making in this day and age. The music however is on a constant loop, bearing reaching thirty seconds at times, unless you can phase it out it will become a constant annoyance. Sound effect are decent, from the thunderous footsteps of a Snorlax, to Pikachu’s paws making different sounds on different terrain, but it mostly nothing outside the expected in this day and age.
PokéPark is relatively easy to recommend to those whose age is still in single digits and who still find Pokémon cute. For everyone else, Pikachu’s latest adventure is quite limited in both appeal and length, and while there’s some fun distraction to be had with one or two of the attractions, the simple, repetitive tasks required to get there will grate after so long. With much better games at the same pricepoint for the system (like the two Mario Galaxy games), the entrance fee for admission into PokéPark is not really worth serious consideration.
*so it’s a mix of the main plot points of The Care Bears Movie, with the Master Emerald from the Sonic series