What at first seemed like a chirpy but shallow add-on to the Pokeverse began to look alright at about the half-hour mark, and even had me thinking that perhaps there was life after handhelds...
But it didn’t last long.
Okay, so Pokepark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure is very clearly aimed at kids rather than 28-year-old Wellingtonian urban professional upwardly mobile manchildren like me. But still. Even young gamers ought to find this a little bit weak. Just how weak, as always, will be subjective, but the best thing I can say about this game is that it’s not completely worthless.
My favourite non-traditional Pokemon game has to be the N64’s brilliant (or at least brilliantly realised) Pokemon Snap. And there are shades of that here. The premise of Snap was simple: travel around various zones where you’ll find all sorts of Pokemon, but rather than catch them and use them for what is basically socially acceptable cockfighting, you’ll take only pictures (and leave only footprints - is that a Forest & Bird thing? Where I have I heard that?). The premise of Pokepark isn’t much more complicated: travel around various zones where you’ll find all sorts of Pokemon, but rather than catch them and use them for what is basically socially acceptable cockfighting, you’ll befriend them (you can take photos of them, too, if you wish). Oh, and you’re not a human in this one: you’re an electric mustelid.
Mew needs Pikachu’s help in the Pokepark. Once an area of great happiness, where all the myriad Pokemon romped together under slow moving stratus, things have gotten ugly. The Zone Keepers (big daddy Pokemon like Venusaur and Empoleon) shut the gates between the Zones and the Meeting Place. But that goes against the whole Pokepark spirit, so something needs to be done.
Mew lives in a legendary Sky Pavilion, which is powered (and is thusly able to give gravity the bird) by the Sky Prism. The Sky Prism is powered in turn by the happyclappypeacenlove in the Pokepark. Pikachu needs to visit the Zone Keepers, convince them to re-open the Attractions which are the backbone of Pokepark, and collect the pieces of the Sky Prism so that Mew’s crib doesn’t come crashing down.
The story is wafer.
Wii Remote functionality has been kept to a minimum. As you best some of the Attractions (vine swings, running races, snow slides) you’ll have to shake and move a little, but for most of the game you’ll simply get about in the third-Pikachu, holding the Wii Remote like you would and old NES controller. Actually, for many gamers of my generation, this will be quite welcome. You can dash, use Pikachu’s Thunderbolt, and use the Remote to survey your surroundings. Scrappy movement is brought under control somewhat by a camera-centering B button, but overall, getting Pika from A to B is serviceable rather than inspired.
Aside from completing the Attractions and earning Berries (which you can use as payment to travel long distances between certain points, and buy a limited number of upgrades) the core of the game is exploration, minor puzzle solving and making friends with the couple of hundred Pokemon that populate the various areas. Whenever you step up to an Attracion, you can use any of the Pokemon you have made friends with - some with better suited abilities for a particular attraction than others. The rest of it is just about collection; and gamers who are wedded to the traditional Pokemon games for this very reason may find this quite exciting. Then again, maybe not.
Friendship doesn’t always come easy in the Pokepark. Sometimes you’ll have to battle, sometimes you’ll have to play chase (tag) and sometimes hide-and-seek. Depending on what Pokemon you have just encountered and what game they wish to play will depend on how easy it is to get them into your friend index. Slowpoke chose to play chase: easy peasy. Ultimately, it’s all very basic stuff.
Bizarrely, Pokepark does best in the visual department. The Pokemon are cute, well-rendered versions of their handheld-selves. Colours are bright and arresting; the environments feel spacious and their natural calm and beauty allows you to feel a real sense of peace as you wander around. This is a good thing: that sense of peace is what you’re trying to preserve, and even improve on, which is a great mix of very obvious context and purpose.
The music isn’t actively offensive (except at the loading screen, in which it sounds like one of those music boxes you wind up and hang above babies’ cots - and these are frequent, as there is no smooth transition between zones) but some of the sound effects are. Pokemon, as you’ll probably be aware, only know how to say one thing: their own names. Some of these are sort of adorable and winning (Oddish) while others are painful (Spearow!).
There isn’t a huge amount to keep you coming back, so this game is going to be most popular among kids who go straight for the box, collectors who have to have everything with Pikachu’s face on it, and video game journalists who give it 5.8 out of 10 and almost feel bad about it.
Like I said; not worthless.