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Review #389

PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure
Developer: Creatures, Inc.
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Action (Open World/Sandbox)
Release Date: 11/1/2010

It’s been a long time since Creatures Inc. actually made a video game on their own. Sure they developed the Pokémon Trading Card Game, but think back. What was the last video game they made without the help of HAL, NSD or Game Freak? Oh that’s right. The Mother/Earthbound games, back when they were called Ape Inc. So you would think that with all the supposed legions of loud annoying Earthbound fans, that this game would have received SOME kind of attention from them.

Well, that’s because the “legions” of Earthbound fans supposedly clamoring to Nintendo and Creatures Inc. are actually in the high three to low five digits, depending on if you’re counting alias addresses they use to spam their petitions and requests for a re-release of the game (Which is deserved because all the Mother games are quite good, but the fanatical devotion this game supposedly has is largely overblowen). A horde of Mother fans is a video game urban legend in the same way that people thought Shen Long was a hidden character in Street Fighter 2. Unfortunately for Creatures Inc., even Pokémon fans (and reviewers…) didn’t give this game too much attention. Stateside, neither Nintendo nor The Pokémon Company even attempted to market this game and most reviewers ignored it. You would think since Pokémon is currently Nintendo’s biggest overall franchise in terms of income that they’d have pushed this, but this is the same company that decided not to localize THREE DIFFERENT POKEMON RPGs for the WiiWare. Sigh.

On paper, PokéPark seems to be a winner. It’s the first ever open world Pokémon game, complete with real time 3-D action battles, mini-games, some light RPG elements and it fulfills the single biggest request Pokémon gets for their video games – using the Pokémon voice actors instead of MIDI noises. So is there something inherently wrong with PokéPark that Nintendo didn’t push it, or was this yet another blunder by The Pokémon Company International, that has managed to make continuous foul-ups that range from switching the voice actors of the anime, botching the release of the collectible figure strategy game to a legendary degree, closing the Pokémon Center both in NYC and online, and not supporting the Pokémon 151 effort, keeping fans of Creatures Inc. and Pokémon in general in the dark about a game that basically met the requests of long time and LOUD fans?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

Unlike the real life PokéPark, which was an amusement park in Japan which had Pokémon themed rides (including the infamous Pikachu ride that has turned into an Internet meme due to the opening of it looking like female naughty bits ), the PokéPark in this game in a human free area where Pokémon come to play and engage in various contests. The park is divided into several zones, like any amusement park, and there is even a rumour of something called the Sky Pavilion that Pokémon have heard of, but have never seen.

Well, it turns out the Sky Pavilion is realm and it is powered by love and happiness (Yes, really). However, there was a big fight between the three rules of the PokéPark and the park was plunged into darkness and fascist dictatorships. Yes, really. Because of the sheer amount of negative emotions, the Sky Prism that keeps the Sky Pavilion aloft has shattered and the pieces have fallen across the park. Mew has recruited Pikachu (It is unclear if it is Ash’s Pikachu, but since it’s voice acted by Ikue Otani in this game, we will say that it is) and his friends Piplip, Charmander, and Chikorita (One starter from each of the first three generations. A marketing decision FYI) to enter the PokéPark, collect the prism pieces and discover why a cloud of negativity and anger has consumed the leaders of the PokéPark.

Eh, it’s not Shakespeare by any sense of the imagination, but the plot is serviceable and kids will enjoy it. You end up spending the rest of the game making friends with nearly 200 Pokémon, engaging in several dozen mini games and trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the PokéPark. It’s a better story than the generic “You are ten years old, so your parents are making you travel the world by yourself to engage in cock fighting.”

The bulk of the game is travelling through the world. You’ll open one zone at a time, but you have free reign to do what you want and advance the plot in your own time. Maybe you just want to collect a ton of berries in mini games. Maybe you just want to play a specific TYPE of mini game. Maybe you want to “friend ‘em all.” Maybe you just want to get the game over with. Regardless there are a ton of options as to what to do. Here now is a list of all the different mini-games/quests your Pikachu can encounter.

1. Pokémon battles. This is really the high point of the game for everyone that has wanted a Pokémon action game that isn’t Pokémon Rumble. Battles last a maximum of 90 seconds and your goal is to get the other Pokémon’s health down to 0. Each Pokémon has two to three attacks they can use. Pikachu, for example, has Thunderbolt, Dash (Quick Attack. Bad localization here) and eventually gets Iron Tail as well. You can raise the strength of these stats, as well as your hit points by collecting or earning berries (XP) and spending them on stat gains which is played out by giving them to a Pokémon that specializes in one of these abilities (Like Ponyta for Dash and Electrabuzz for Thunderbolt) and letting them train you. Battles are short but fun and you can definitely see the potential for this type of gameplay to be expanded.

2. Chase. This is basically a game of tag where you have a limited amount of time to catch up to the fleeing Pokémon and tackle them.

3. Fetch Quests. Self Explanatory.

4. Pokémon Quiz. You have to answer three Pokémon trivia questions correctly.

5. Hide and Seek. A Pokémon is hiding and you have to find it. The closer you get, the louder its voice becomes.

6. Obstacle Hop. Platforming bits.

Then there are the mini-games/quests that are labeled “Attractions.” These mini games involve you having to beat a certain time or score in order to advance the plot. You can play as Pokémon other than Pikachu in attractions, and each Pokémon that is playable performs quite differently from the others. As well, each specific Pokémon has their own unique goal that you can try to achieve. If you do so, you earn extra berries. For example, Pelliper has an attraction where you need to fly through a certain number of rings. There are three types of rings, each worth a different amount of points. The score you need to pass will always stay the same, but the goal differs for each Pokémon. So Pikachu with balloons has a much lower goal that he needs to achieve, because he isn’t a Flying Pokémon and thus his maneuverability is sluggish. Meanwhile Pidgeotto is fast and easy to control, so his specific goal is higher. Here now is a list of all the attractions.

1. Bulbasaur’s Daring Dash – straight line racing event.

2. Venusaur’s Vine Swing – Swing on a vine and then release once you have enough momentum. Try to fly as far as possible.

3. Gyarados’ Aqua Dash – Think Wave Race but with Pokémon.

4. Rhyperior’s Bumper Burn – It’s basically Pokémon meets Beyblade.

5. Salamence’s Air Ace - This is an obstacle course where you fly through a stage. You also need to blow up blocks and targets along the way.

6. Empoleon’s Snow Slide - This is a downhill skiing type game.

7. Bastiodon’s Block Barrage - This is Breakout.

8. Blaziken’s Boulder Bash - Think batting practice, but with boulder.

9. Dusknoir’s Speed Slam – a racing obstacle course.

10. Absol’s Hurdle Bounce – hurdles.

11. Pelipper’s Circle Circuit – as mentioned above. Fly your Pokémon through the rings.

12. Tangrowth’s Swing-Along – This is straight out of the old Jungle Hunt game from the 80s.

13. Rotom’s Spooky Shoot-Up – Third person shooter with Pokémon.

14. Rayquaza’s Balloon Panic – obstacle course on a Rayquaza shaped balloon.

As you can see, there’s a ton of content here. Sure it’s no Fallout 3 or GTA in terms of open world content, but there’s a lot to do and kids will even get twenty+ hours out of this game. The story is passable and cute, so kids will enjoy it and there’re a total of twenty different activities to participate in, each of which plays quite differently from the others. The only thing that keeps this from getting top scores is the lack of multiplayer options with the mini-games. Yes, I know that’s like asking for Oblivion to have multi-player, but so many of these mini-games feel made for two+ players.

Story/Modes Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

PokéPark is a very pretty game. The Pokémon look like they’ve come straight out of the cartoon and they all display a wide range of emotions and animations. Even the loading screens are adorable as they show Pikachu in a variety of actions. You’ll definitely go “Awwww” at some point and there are some hilarious bits throughout the game.

The backgrounds are bright, colorful, highly detailed and well rendered. Creatures, Inc. put a lot of work into the visuals and end result is a very pretty game. It’s always great to see another Pokémon game on the Wii and visually, this is the best yet. Rumble had super deformed “toys” and Battle Revolution left a lot to be desired. PokéPark however, is definitely the best Pokémon has looked on the Wii. It’s not the best looking thing on the Wii, mind you, but it’s still a very pretty game that will be sure to delight children and Pokémon fans alike.

Graphics Rating: 7.5/10

3. Sound

As mentioned in the preamble, PokéPark is one of the few Pokémon games to actually use the voice actors from the cartoon. Previously that’s only happened in Hey You, Pikachu!, Pokémon Puzzle League, Pokémon Channel and Pokémon Yellow. It’s great to see almost 200 Pokémon fully voiced, although by fully I mean three or four sound bites each. Pikachu has roughly two dozen distinct vocal expressions, which made me happy, especially as it is the main character. Pokémon fans of all ages will get a kick out of this and with 2011 upon us, this really needs to become the standard rather than the exception.

The music is the game is basically background noise/elevator music. It’s forgettable but not annoying and you really pay attention to it as you’ll be concentrating on the barrage of events you keep running into. The music is nowhere the quality that you’ll find in the DS games, nor are the tunes as catchy, put it fits the mood of the game well enough.

So an awesome job on the voice acting and a decent job on the music. Overall, an enjoyable package.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

The controls are the real issue with the game. In fact the real problem is you have multiple control variations and none of them are very good. For most of the game you’ll hold the Wiimote like an NES controller, using the D pad to move Pikachu and the 1, 2 and A buttons for attacks. However, Pikachu steers like a tank and his thunderbolt only goes in a straight line and it’s a bit hard to aim. Again, the idea of a Pokémon 3D action RPG is a great one, but the controls really need a little work here. The same is true for the attractions, as each of the fourteen mini-games here use motion controls and again, none of them are very good. Turning is like steering a tank and detection of your movements isn’t the best, especially for a second party Nintendo title.

Now that doesn’t mean the game is unplayable. Far from it. You should be able to beat each attraction the first to third time you play it. What you need to get to pass the event is pretty easy. The bonus goal however can be tricky depending on what Pokémon you use and how good you are at dealing with somewhat annoying motion controls. The game gives you enough time for races and easily achieved scores for other things even WITH the lackluster controls, so you should be fine, but little kids might find themselves frustrated at points.

The game is playable and even with the control issues, it’s still a fun game for what it is, but this pretty much shows WHY there is always another developer to help Creatures, Inc. out.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

Like most open world games, even after you “beat” the game, there is still something to come back to. With PokéPark, you can find the rest of the Pokémon you haven’t befriended yet, or try to beat your high scores with other Pokémon in the various events. This would be great if there was a multi-player element, but there’s not, so aside from completing things, there not a lot of reason to return to the game. It should take you more than a dozen hours to max out Pikachu’s stats, befriend everyone and get through the game, so you’ll get your money’s worth out of the title. That being said, I just can’t see people playing through the game a second time after they’ve completed it, even big Pokémon fans. There’s a lot to do here, and it’s nice that you can do stuff post-game, but the things you can do post game is basically just completionist stuff.

Replayability Rating: 5.5/10

6. Balance

PokéPark is designed for kids, so it’s a pretty easy game – even in spite of the occasional control issue. Even if you can’t make the bonus goal, you’ll be able to do good enough on each attraction to keep the main storyline going and that’s what counts. There’s also some challenge to be had if you neglect leveling up Pikachu’s stats and abilities. For example, you can unlock Torterra in the Meadow Zone. Now he’s immune to your Thunderbolt, being part Ground type, so that means you only have your Dash attack. If you haven’t powered this up, or your hit points, forget about beating him. You’ll have to collect a lot of berries and/or wait until the halfway point in the game to get Iron tail before you’re able to take down Torterra in a fight. You’ll also want to power up Dash as soon as possible for the later stage races where some Pokémon are fast and good as zig-zagging. So even for adults, PokéPark can test your mettle.

Is it a hard game? No, it’s designed for kids, but there are challenges to be had no matter a gamer’s age or skill level, and that means the game can be enjoyed on several different levels.

Balance Rating: 6.5/10

7. Originality

Well, longtime Pokémon fans got two big things out of PokéPark - they got the voice acting and they finally got 3-D real time Pokémon battles. Both are fun, although the latter could be amazing if paired with better controls and a wider range of Pokémon to play as. Still, it’s great to see that out of all the franchises out there, Pokémon is the one willing to take the most chances in terms of spin-offs and straying from the core franchise gameplay. Sure there are a lot of “sandbox” games out there, but there’s none quite like PokéPark, and certainly none involving Pokémon.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

I’m a big Pokémon fan, and as time goes on I find myself less interested in the turn based RPGs for the DS and more captivated by the spin-offs. Whether it’s a Mystery Dungeon, the latest Ranger game, or even the Pokémon typing game for the DS I have, I love the offshoots. This is probably why I enjoyed PokéPark even while taking issue with some of the controls. I adored being able to do 3-D real time Pokémon battles and if I was able to use other Pokémon like I could in attractions, than I’d be fawning all over this thing, and you would have seen a ton of other reviewers praise it to boot…not to mention a much higher sales figure for the game.

There’s something charming about the game that makes it hard to put down. You’ll find yourself wanting to do “just one more battle” or you’ll see a Pokémon you haven’t befriended yet out of the corner of your eye and before you know it you’ll be tracking it down instead of turning off the game to go work out like you said you were going to five minutes beforehand. I’ve turned on the game with the intention to play for an hour, and I’ll find three have gone by. I guess the best way to describe it is it’s addictive in the same way people find Farmville, Castle Age and Bejeweled hard to put down. The game is simply, constantly rewards you and is something casual and diehard gamers alike can have fun with, even if it’s not a GOTY contender by any means.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Well on one hand it’s Pokémon – the single most successful video game franchise of all time. On the other, it’s a game with very little publicity and although it’s “all ages friendly,” older gamers might find it a little dull since it’s about making friends and playing tag or racing instead of blowing up zombies. That said, many a gamer has clamored for one of the mini games in this title, that of 3-D real time Pokémon battles, and now they have it. This alone would sell the game…if you had the ability to battle as more than just Pikachu. Tweak the controls and build a whole game around that, and you have an easy best seller and Wii GOTY contender. Until then though, you’ll have to make deal with the limited version available here in PokéPark.

Most Pokémon fans will have fun with this game, even if it’s a “one and done” title for them. Young children will love an open world game that’s more towards their skill level and tastes, while older gamers will find what’s here charming. The variety and depth of the game really helps to boost the audience and considering how many RPG and sandbox games are little more than fetch quests these days, it’s great to see a similar game that offers far more, albeit simplistic, variety.

Appeal Factor: 6.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

PokéPark is an odd game. It’s a fun one, but it’s also one so filled with missed opportunity that anyone who plays it will see that the game could have been so much more than it actually was. A fun game full of twenty different quests? Yay! Yet there’s not multiplayer for games that obviously are designed for such. Boo. The first 3D real time Pokémon battles with awesome graphics that look like they were ripped from the anime? Yay! No multiplayer or the ability to fight as anyone other than Pikachu? Boo. Seriously, with a few tweaks and improvements, this could have been an incredible game, winning over even Pokémon naysayers. Instead it’s merely a fun game that is a shadow of what it SHOULD have been. It’s definitely a game any Pokémon fan should pick up, but with a little more effort this could have been something special.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5.5/10

The Scores
Story/Modes: 7/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 5.5/10
Balance: 6.5/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 6.5/10
Miscellaneous: 5.5/10
Total Score: 62.5
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure is one of those games that hints at greatness, but fails to achieve it. It’s a beautiful looking game and it has two things Pokémon fans constant ask for – real time 3D Pokémon battles and all the Pokémon have their anime voice actors. It’s also an open world game with twenty types of “quests” that you can do, ranging from the aforementioned Pokémon battles to mini games like obstacle courses or a Pokémon version of BeyBlade. However the controls are a bit iffy, especially the motion based ones, and the game lacks a multi-player function, which many of the mini-games desperately cry out for. Still, think of it as a more serene GTA where Hot Coffee and “Kill the Haitians” as been replaced with Pokémon becoming Facebook-esque friends with each other after a battle or a rousing game of tag. At the very least, we see that a 3-D action Pokémon game has the potential to be awesome. It’s just not quite there yet.

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