Thanks in most part to the popularity of Pokémon, Nintendo’s Game Boy Color broke all number of sales records in 1999. The recent release of Pokémon Stadium represents an attempt to bring both those now-famous characters and their runaway success to the Nintendo 64, an attempt that succeeds by adding tons of extras without dramatically changing the proven Pokéformula.
The most noteworthy feature of “Pokésta” is evident before the game is even opened - an oversized box similar to StarFox 64, used this time to include the brand-new Transfer Pak. The Transfer Pak features a slot for a game boy cartridge and plugs directly into the back of an N64 controller (making it look even more like a UFO), and also allowing for data exchange between the systems and a variety of other features.
In Pokésta, the Transfer Pak lets the gamer swap his Pokémon from game boy to N64 cart, along with a special Pokémon PC that helps organize monsters and items with menus infinitely better designed than those in the Game Boy title. A special mode even allows for playing Pokémon GB on a big screen and at 2 or 4 times the speed once a special mode is unlocked, an extremely thoughtful extra. The Transfer Pak may not change gaming as we know it, but it is an interesting addition that extends the gameplay options available for owners of the ubiquitous Game Boy.
Pokésta does a fine job of fleshing out a familiar battle system with a series of tournaments and special multiplayer modes. Single-player tournaments use Gran Turismo-like restrictions on the Pokémon that can be entered, meaning you can’t demolish everyone using your level 100 Mewtwo. The Gym Leader Castle mode recreates the series of battles against the 8 Gym Leaders, their sub-trainers, and the Elite Four; all without bothering with the RPG inbetween. Mario Party-style mini-games range from worthless button mashing to some absolute 4-player gems. Prepare to be amazed at how long you ignore the main game for hours and hours of “Ekans’ Hoop Hurl.”
Lapras vs. Onix
Nintendo has completed an amazing array of modes with an equally amazing array of extras and prizes. Not only can rare Pokémon be acquired from beating the Gym Leader Castle mode and added to your collection, but all sorts of bonus modes and special fights can be opened up as well. You can see the accuracy rate and read about the effects of every single attack, take pictures of your Pokémon, find backgrounds and stickers than can be printed at Blockbuster’s Pokésnap stations, and even unlock harder versions of each of the original tournaments. Pokésta is nothing if not incredibly thorough.
The computer AI in these competitions easily outclasses anything found in the Game Boy titles; I was pleasantly surprised to see the computer switching Pokémon and using strategies largely as a human player would. The fantastic multiplayer battles take what seems like simplistic fighting and turns it into a chess match of strategy. If you know which button corresponds to which of your Pokémon’s moves, you can avoid bringing up the menu and hide the moves of your little monsters until they are ready to attack.
The Pokémon themselves are beautifully rendered and perfectly animated, with Charmander’s tail burning brightly and Psyduck shivering with his constant headache. The size differences between monsters are accurate and the battle animations are flashily impressive without taking forever to execute. The only graphical drawbacks are extremely generic backgrounds and the fact that Pokémon don’t actually touch each other, but merely complete their animations from their respective sides of the battlefield.
The only real weakness of Pokésta lies in the sound department, and it is unfortunately quite noticable. Remixed versions of the catchy Game Boy tunes are present, but the Pokémon lack any kind of voices or a single trace of the trademark name-speak that accounts for a large part of their personality. Considering that Smash Brothers managed to include full attack sound effects and name-calling taunts for both the Pokémon included, this oversight is inexcusable. Battle sound effects are standard at best, and the announcer is grating to the point where I avoided playing the game while any sharp objects were within reach.
Overall, Pokémon Stadium is fundamentally an add-on for the blockbuster Game Boy titles, and should you own and enjoy them, then “Pokésta” is a must-buy. That being said, I was surprised at how easily non-Game Boy owners I played with took to the game with the addition of top-level animation and character models. The dozens of included extras will keep anyone busy for days on end, whether a newbie or a Pokémon veteran. Nintendo may have not quite taken their newest franchise to the next level with Pokémon Stadium, but the game does an excellent job of building on the tried-and-true gameplay of the the original.
Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA