I knew right away, when taking my brave first steps into the monochrome world of Pokémon Red (Blue is for noobs!), that I wanted to live in the same world as Pikachu, Charmander and the rest of the gang. It was a world I personally wanted to explore and be a part of. OK, maybe I was a weird kid but the life of a Pokémon was something I wanted to be a part of nonetheless. It’s been a while, but now I can finally live my (bizarre) childhood dream of playing as a Pokémon and exploring the vast and magical world they inhabit.
Why did nobody tell me it would be so boring!?
Poképark 2: Wonders Beyond is (surprisingly enough) the sequel to the original Poképark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure. Here we find Pikachu and his friend Piplup heading to Poképark to play when they find out about a mysterious Wish Park that offers everything from unlimited play-time to free cake (I guess Pikachu never played Portal). However things soon turn south for Pikachu and his pal as it’s discovered that Wish Park is really just a ploy by some mysterious villain to capture Pokémon. While making their escape Piplup is left behind in the Wish Park.
On your journey through Poképark you will join forces with the starter Pokémon from the Black and White versions: Oshawott, Snivy and Tepig all of which have special abilities to help you on your quest. Oshawott is at home in the water while Snivy is speedy and can jump higher than her friends. Tepig is the brute of the group, with a strong tackle and ground pound attack that also cause damage. Together the group sets out to rescue their friends from the schemers behind the Wish Park.
Friends are the single biggest part of the Poképark 2 experience, and I’m not just talking about the gang of four Pokémon that set off on their quest. You see, for most of the game you will be befriending the over 100 Pokémon (and Pokégals) that are present in the game. To do this you will help them with favours, answer quizzes, play games like chase (tag), hide and seek, and battle (because what better way to make friends?). Now while this may seem like a rather thin idea to base a whole game on, befriending the scores of Pokémon is actually fun, once you get past the monotonous gameplay.
The major issue is that there just isn’t much variety to Poképark 2. You will battle and chase Pokémon so many times that you'll swear you’ve done nothing else while playing. This is a real shame considering that if you look at the separate games on their own they can actually be (dare I say it) enjoyable. The battles in particular stand out as the cream of the crop, tasking you with selecting the right type of pocket monster to do battle with and then dodging attacks and timing your own properly to take down your opponent. You can even recruit one of the Pokémon you befriended to help you out if a foe is proving too much for Pikachu’s thunderbolt.
The game makes use of the Wii Remote held sideways which (to put it mildly) does not work with this game. While the controller not having enough buttons to perform all the actions, and the motion controls being unresponsive, are both valid arguments, my biggest complaint comes against the game’s lack of Nunchuck support. Simply put, trying to control your Pokémon in a 3D space with only the tiny D-Pad on the Wii Remote will lead to many frustrating moments, namely when trying to go from walking to running, or trying to make small, subtle movements.
However I could look over all these control issues if it weren’t for the Donphan in the room, which is the game’s awful pacing. It takes forever for the game to actually get going, and when you finally get a chance to go out and explore the Poképark you have to stop and talk to everyone you meet or complete small quests in order to befriend them. This problem never really goes away and drags the entire experience down from beginning to finish and makes the feeling of tedium that much worst.
There is one area where Poképark 2 shines, however, and that is in its presentation, as the game masterfully re-creates the look and feel of the Pokémon anime we all grew up with. The developers even went as far as to enlist the actual voice actors from the Pokémon TV show to perform the voices of the pocket critters. On a purely visual level the game is surprisingly gorgeous. It’s definitely not pushing the Wii to its limits but the animations and art style are 100% Pokémon. The game also takes the award from Kirby’s Epic Yarn as the cutest title currently available on the console; even the most jaded of gamers will gush at the loading animations of the gang playing or sleeping.
It’s not all perfect in presentation land; the music... well, you could have told me there was no music and I would be inclined to believe you. The soundtrack is so subdued and unremarkable that it actually took me by surprise when it started booming in the mountain region, only to be forgotten again a few seconds later. Furthermore, the Pokémon voices, while well acted, can very quickly start to wear on your nerves.
I never thought I would say that a game is ‘too long’, but here we are. Poképark 2: Wonders Beyond clocks in at around eight hours for a playthrough of the main campaign, and you can add one or two more to that tally depending on how many Pokémon you choose to befriend. The game even features some pretty substantial ‘post-credits’ content, allowing you to continue the story after you save the Poképark. This is a pretty nice way of allowing you to keep playing without having to always go against the final boss, however you’re not really given anything new to do, except chase and battle more Pokémon, which is what dragged the game out in the first place.
If Poképark 2: Wonders Beyond were filling out its résumé it would also mention that it features several mini-games, called 'attractions' in game, that allow you to compete with up to four friends for a high score. The attractions, while pleasant distractions from another round of chase, are all pretty bland and don’t offer anything substantial to the experience. It’s clear that Poképark 2 was never designed as a multiplayer experience, which is a real shame since a co-op mode for the main story mode would be pretty amazing, especially considering your team is composed of four different Pokémon.
There were times that, admittedly, I was having tons of fun playing through Poképark 2. Befriending Pokémon from all five generations, all the while exploring a vast world through the eyes of a Pokémon, made the child in me dance with delight (didn’t I say I was a weird kid?). But when you hold Poképark 2: Wonders Beyond up against all of the other kid-friendly games that the Wii offers, it’s clear that this title dropped the Pokéball.
This review is based on a retail copy of Poképark 2: Wonders Beyond for the Wii.