It seems lately that the more Pokémon games I play, the more I do not like them. It is not because the newest games do not require a lot of strategy or the fact that they are too easy. There is just no depth to them and I just do not find them all that enjoyable. Yes, I am a bit down on Pikachu and company but the franchise seems to be geared more towards younger and younger kids. Thus the franchise seems to be alienating some of their more mature fans. Take for example the newest Pokémon game, PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond (here on in known as PP2WB) for the Wii. PP2WB is essentially the opposite of what made the other games so good. When I say the “other” games, I mean the turn-based ones for the handheld systems. PP2WB may look, sound and feel like a Pokémon game, it is not a stellar Pokémon game by any stretch.
In PP2WB, you start off by playing as Pikachu who as you all know is the most recognizable Pokémon. Pikachu is hanging around with his friend Piplup in PokePark. All is fine until you pay a visit to “Wish Park”. On the surface this park is a pleasurable area where you can eat all the cake you want but this park is responsible for confining the Pokémon who visit there. It is up to you and your friends to investigate the missing Pokémon and find Piplup who is trapped in Wish Park. Along the way, you gain allies who will help you on your quest while completing mini-games, tasks and battling other Pokémon and enemies.
The start of the game provides a basic tutorial on the controls and game play. Holding the Wii-mote sideways, players press the “2” button to jump and the “1” button to dash/move while the D-pad changes your direction. The camera angle is in the third person view where it is usually behind you. The controls are simple to figure out but not very responsive especially when you try to run and jump to higher elevations. Even just running around and trying to picking up things can be a challenge at the best of times.
In your travels throughout PokePark and Wish Park, you may befriend other Pokémon if you defeat them in battle. As mentioned, some allies are added to your team and become available to use during your quest as each have unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses. You may switch between these characters when you are either prevented from accessing a particular area or need a particular Pokémon in a battle that would be more advantageous. Unfortunately, despite encountering many different types of Pokémon, you end up using just four of the same characters (Pikachu, Snivy, Tepig, and Oshawott). Needless to say, I was disappointed with the lack of characters.
Battling other monsters should be the highlight in any Pokémon game where the rewards include level ups and obtaining new Pokémon. In many of the previous Pokémon games, battle is turn-based where the player may switch between their monsters during the course of a match depending on the need. Special items can also be used to heal your monster or power them up with stronger attacks or defence. Customizing your team so it is well balanced while developing weaker Pokémon are usually part of the fun. This requires some strategy, thought and good use of each Pokémon’s abilities and power. In PP2WB, none of this is the case.
In PP2WB, battles are fought in real time and are timed. There is not a lot of strategy involved and I often used a combination of charge and dash attacks with minimal damage to myself. There is little reward following a battle except for adding the defeated Pokémon to your friend list. There is no upgrade to your stats or developing your Pokémon or the random encounters seen in previous games.
In addition to battles, players encounter mini-games such as shooting targets by pointing the Wii-mote to the screen like a gun and firing with the “A” button. While normally it would not seem that out of place to have a shooting aspect in an adventure style game, it did not really seemed to belong. In addition to shooting targets, you may also play a side-scroller style level where you jump and swim from platform to platform until you reach a determined object (in this case, a hammer for another Pokémon to fix a broken bridge). Again, there seemed to be a lack of consistency in play and a sense that it didn’t belong or really add to the game.
Travelling around the Pokémon world itself is fine in that it seems large and is easily navigated using the handy map in the corner, which marks the place to go next. Unfortunately, the loading times in PP2WB are frequent and long. They are so frequent that it just seems to break of what little flow the game has left. I did not get a sense of freedom to just sit down and wander around the world and encounter random battles in order to pit my Pokémon against others.
In addition to the somewhat high cost ($49.99 at Best Buy), I was surprised to see the amount of memory blocks required to save the game on the Wii (114 blocks). I had to move some of my other save spots/games to the SD card or delete them in order to make room. Clearly this game is a hog for memory.
One of the more positive things I did notice about PP2WB is its cuteness. The game and the characters are kid friendly and really look like stuffed toy animals. That being said, as the Pokémon are often fairly simply in design, the developers could have spent a little more time in smoothing out some jaggedness around the edges of the characters. Still, the maps are thought out well and really gives the appropriate mood such as the contrast between the happy PokePark to the mysterious and slightly sinister aura of Wish Park. The opening sequence looked promising as well so the potential is clearly there.
Sound wise, the music is appropriate for a Pokémon game in that it did not bother me during regular play and is appropriately dramatic during battle. The sound effects, however, can be a little too much especially when the Pokémon squeal or are really worked up. The cuteness factor in this sense has to be toned down a little in that area to make it more playable otherwise it can get annoying. Little kids however probably will not mind so much.
Overall, PP2WB is quite the opposite in terms of what I look for in a Pokémon game. It does not give you much satisfaction in wanting to play or battle with your Pokémon; it lacks the elements that make Pokémon games good; and it gets boring because it is simply too easy. Essentially, PP2WB is a dummied down version of previous Pokémon games. At the end of the day, I would recommend to those who are interested in picking up a Pokémon game to avoid this one and stick to the more immersive and challenging turn-based Pokémon games.