Nintendo seems to really have found a frequent cycle to their release of Pokémon titles. In just the past year, we saw 5 different Pokémon themed titles hit stores in Japan and 3 in America (whereas Poképark 2 was delayed till 2012 for the states). However, along with the high frequency of releases, a drop-off in spin-off quality has certainly been seen over the years. I remember when the RPGs weren’t the only great titles in the series’ long history of games but titles such as Pokémon Pinball, Pokémon Snap, the Pokémon Puzzle games, and Pokémon Stadium titles were all excellent additions to the series as spin-offs. Nowadays, games that seem to cater more towards kids (and subsequently smell of cash-cow) are littering the Pokémon spin-off market and thus making the traditional RPGs some of the only worthwhile new releases to check out.
That’s not to say that Nintendo hasn’t found some success with some of its more recent spin-offs such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon or Pokémon Ranger but sequels to these games as well as other spin-offs (Poképark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure, Pokémon Rumble Blast, Pokémon Dash, & My Pokémon Ranch) have not only fallen short of a wide demographic appeal but also suffer in the quality of the actual games. It’s one thing to release a bunch of great titles and spin-offs and another to release badly implemented spin-offs for the sole purpose of cashing in on the name; and it’s for that reason that Pokémon has quickly become a split franchise where the RPGs are about the only place where you can find exceptional quality with each subsequent installment.
Reviewing Poképark 2, I knew what to expect this time around, having played through its Wii predecessor back in November 2010 (See my full review). I remembered playing through a significant portion of the game, enjoying its Pokémon aspects but struggling to pump through the slow progression of story as well as the repetitious gameplay. My hopes (as always) are that the sequel both addresses and fixes many of the issues pointed out by critics such as myself so that I can better enjoy the experience (and that Pokémon fans such as myself can begin to look forward to some of the series’ spin-offs). Could Poképark 2 address some of the issues plaguing its predecessor?
Unlike its predecessor, Poképark 2 does streamline the beginning of the game, foregoing the choice of Pikachu’s expressions and the story and the tutorial seemed a tad shorter than in the previous game. The game begins in a similar fashion to the original Poképark where Pikachu is following his friend, Piplup. This time around, they visit a land that supposedly grants your greatest wishes but the dream world has been hijacked by mysterious forces trying to enslave the other Pokémon. Quickly, you learn that you’ll need to clear through multiple dream world attractions before you can save your buddy Piplup from the clutches of evil.
The first thing I noticed when picking up the controls is that there were a few things changed around whereas other areas needed to still be addressed. For instance, the buttons are more intuitively assigned than before, making 1 control multiple moves (dashing, attacking, cancelling in menus) and 2 is for jumping, talking, confirming selections, etc. The new control scheme feels a bit better but the movement of the character is still as awkward as it was in the first game (the delayed running is annoying and the non-instant turning is poorly implemented).
Along the way, Pikachu must befriend multiple Pokémon like in the previous game. To befriend one, you must play a short game with them (such as tag, battling, hide and seek). This is the portion of the game that was so repetitive in the first game but luckily most of the actions aren’t too demanding. The game does improve on the adventure aspects of the adventure, something I was very happy about. With less emphasis on mini-games and more emphasis on exploration, the core gameplay doesn’t stagnate like in the first game.
Stronger Adventure Than Before
One of the ways that the game helps to improve upon exploration is its emphasis on 3-dimensional exploration; what I mean by this is that you can actually climb up some cliffs or buildings and the areas are less 2-dimensionally bound but (there is vertical exploration along with horizontal exploration!). Also, another mechanic that helps to build on the game’s variety is the addition of new party members; rather than just befriending Pokémon, there are also three other Pokémon (the starters from Black & White) that will join your team and can be switched to at any time throughout your adventure. This adds many aspects to the experience, such as different skills for the characters (Oshawott can swim, Tepig can destroy fire obstacles). Also, each of the four playable Pokémon cover the first traditional gamut of Rock-Paper-Scissors type variance in Pokémon (water, fire, grass, lightning) and this has an effect on the game’s battles with other Pokémon.
Speaking of battles, this is another area that was improved upon from the previous adventure. This time around, you’ll have your same typical battles with other Pokémon to befriend them but there are also battles throughout the game that serve more as boss battles. In these cases, you may have to fight off multiple Pokémon to win the battle. Having the ability to switch Pokémon adds the strategy of choosing which one to battle with for type superiority and there are multiple skill trainers at the town this time around (a different one to improve each of the different Pokémon’s skills as well as one for improving your HP and your dash speed).
Other things have been added to the game to improve upon its depth such as a valuable item collection similar to those in the more recent Zelda titles. Throughout the world, you’ll find valuable collectibles (32 different types) that can be traded with other Pokémon for large amounts of berries (the game’s main currency). Also, there are now “important items” that are needed to complete your adventure.
One of my last complaints in the original game was a lack of multiplayer support for the game, seeing as there was a major emphasis on mini-games but no mini-game support. Thankfully, multiplayer has been added into this game, though it’s still a little limited (but any at all is better than nothing). Now, many of the mini-games can be played with up to four players after you’ve finished them in the main adventure. Having the ability to battle your friends in the traditional battles would have also been nice or possibly exploring the world cooperatively but the addition of some multiplayer shows that Creatures Inc. was listening to the critics, which makes me happy J