A monster in your pocket? Yeah, that's what they all say! Is Nintendo's cult hit any good?
Incomprehensible Japanese games tend to get fairly short shrift on the coverage front in 64 Magazine, on the not unreasonable grounds that only about six people in the country have the slightest interest in buying them. Pocket Monsters Stadium, on the other hand, is getting more attention than the average mix of wibbling anime characters and screen after screen of squiggly Pittmanesque writing. The reason for this is very simple. It's by Nintendo.
More to the point, it revolves around what, if Nintendo gets its way, will be the Next Big Thing around the world, following in the footsteps of the Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers. Remember them? Pocket Monsters have been a massive hit in Japan, despite zapping dozens of kids into comas, and now Nintendo wants to repeat that success everywhere else. Stranger things have happened. If a fat plumber and a kid with pointed ears can become international cash cows for the Big N, why not a banoffee-coloured chinchilla who fires lightning bolts from his butt?
The various Pocket Monsters have been, in the words of Eighties poncey-haired one-hit wonders Alphaville, big in Japan for quite a while now. Thanks to the runaway success of the Game Boy games, Tokyo is in danger of being crushed by Pikachu dolls, and the rest of the little beasts can be seen staring out from any product capable of having a transfer slapped onto it.
Pocket Monsters Stadium is I Nintendo's attempt to rub off some ef their animalistic franchise's success Op the N64, which in Japan has had the same reception as David Beckham had in England after the World Cup. The game comes with the 64GB (see page 52) through which Game Boy monsters can be loaded into the N64, but for those without the polychromal cartridges, Pocket Monsters Stadium also has a set of monsters within it.
Annoyingly, if you don't have the Game Boy Pocket Monsters games you can't engage in any of the training options that are a major part of the success of the GB titles. The limited selection of creatures in Pocket Monsters Stadium (there are 150 in the 68 titles) all have pre-set attacks and special powers, which don't seem to be changeable. Seeing everything the game has to offer is dependent on you owning all of the Game Boy titles.
The combat in the Game Boy games was designed to be fairly simplistic, since a GB link cable isn't exactly up to Quake 2 plus ISDN levels, and Pocket Monsters Stadium follows suit. Once you've selected a team of Pocket Monsters, or Pokemons as they'll be called over here, they enter the arena (there's a massive choice of - gasp! - two! Woo-hoo!) to fight. Although Pocket Monsters Stadium claims to support up to four players, only two people can fight at once.
Paper Beats Rock
Saying that the fighting in Pocket Monsters Stadium is simplistic is a bit like saying that Titanic made a few bob or Noel Edmonds is not widely liked. Even though all the text in the game is Japanese, it only takes a few minutes tv get the hang of what's going on, as all the moves correspond to controller buttons, helpfully shown on-screen. A takes you to the attack moves, selected with the С buttons while holding R, and В lets you switch monsters if уоu're running low on hit points or facing an enemy that your current choice finds hard to damage.
I've Got A Monster In My 'Pocket
In an example of what Nintendo Chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi calls "nurturing, trading, collection and addition," or what the more cynical might refer to as "milking the public until their nipples bleed, " the Game Boy Pocket Monsters game are available in multiple versions. In order to see all the different monsters, you need to buy all the different versions of the game, which to date are Red, Green and Blue, with Gold and Silver on the way.
The Game Boy games are a kind of RPG, where the objective is to explore the landscape and build up your collection of monsters by beating them up when you find them and catching them in your balls. Monster balls, that is. Once you've caught a monster, it can be trained to build up its fighting powers and pitted against other trouser-bag beasts. For those who can't read Japanese (that'll be most of us) the RPG is barely comprehensible. Although the walking around and fighting parts are easy enough to understand, talking to characters is, unfortunately, a fairly important part of the game. Training up a monster is rather nightmarish as well, with a mystifying series of menus appearing, prompting much random pushing of buttons.
Several hours play, with the help of a guide from one of the many Pocket Monsters sites on the Internet, didn't reveal anything terribly thrilling hidden in the game. The whole appeal comes from the two-player fighting aspect and the trading of, monsters, and it's hard to imagine anyone over ten getting excited by what is basically technological Top Trumps. If you really want to see what all the fuss is about, it's probably best that you wait until the official launch of the games next year - at least they'll be in English!
At first thought to be a Game Boy emulator, the 64GB has -disappointingly - turned out to be nothing more than an adaptor through which Game Boy saved data can be read by the N64. Since ours was on loan we didn't try to pull it apart to see what was inside, but its translucent back gives you a peek at its innards.
The 64GB does, at least, let you play the RPG part of the Game Boy Pocket Monsters games, letting you see (or at least wonder) why Pocket Monsters has been such a hit in Japan. If you've got four players, each with a 64GB and their own copy of the Game Boy title, they can pit their own unique collection of monsters against each other. If you're a fan of the game then this'll probably be heaven for you.
However, Nintendo's decision to make the 64GB only compatible with Pocket Monsters, and not Game Boy games in general, is truly bizarre. If you want a proper RPG, rather than the junior portion that is Pocket Monsters, being able to play Link's Awakening on the N64 would have been much better!
And that, believe it or not, is pretty much all there is to it. Obviously Western players will need a bit of time to discover what attacks each monster has in its repertoire, but simple trial and error is a fairly good way of doing things.
The attacks, and the monsters themselves, do look very good. Even the basic selection of Pokemons has plenty of variety and they're all well-animated with a reasonable amount of character. While they're waiting rounds they all have their own little jigs, and each attack has its own animation and visual effect. Some of them look pretty spectacular, like the fire breath or the psychedelic energy wave effects. There's practically no character interaction, though. Even when one monster leaps bodily at the other, you never see the two actually hit. Just the recipient reeling from the impact.
What the combat boils down to is a version of 'rock-paper-scissors'. You pick J an attack, your opponent picks an attack. If youYe lucky; you get to go first and inflict a terminal blow on the other guy. If you don't, you just go back and forth until one of the fighters bites the dust. Once you've seen all the monsters and all the special effects it gets very boring, because that's literally the whole game. Back and forth and back and forth and... snore.
Pocket Monsters Stadium most closely resembles the battle scenes of Final Fantasy VII (or, if you want an N64 equivalent, Quest but without the tactics, surrounding storyline and exploration that makes the whole thing interesting. While it might be fun for young kids (who, to be fair, are the target audience for the whole Pokemon thang) anybody over the age of ten is going to become very bored very quickly.
The biggest problem with Pocket Monsters Stadium is that it essentially turns the all-plwerful N64 into the world's most «pensive Game Boy peripheral. Wlat seems like the fun part of the whole locket Monsters experience -exploring the RPG world, finding and capturing the monsters and then customing them with your own unique set of attacks and powers -requires tm Game Boy titles, leaving the N64 to run subgame which, graphics aside, could have been written in BASIC on the ZX Spectrum. If this is Nintendo's idea of the brave new future for the N64, i'll stick with Turok blowing the heads off raptors, thank you very much.
2nd rating opinion
Graphics are superb, animation sequences are nice, but there's no gameplay! There is no skill involved and the animation soon becomes repetitive. It's an RPG without the storyline and all in all about as intellectually fulfilling as watching paint dry.
Pokémon Snap DownloadsPokémon Snap download
Nintendo has come out with some bizarre concepts for games recently, but this has to score fairly highly on the weirdometer. A David Attenborough simulation?
Pokemon Snap (no, we're not going to cave in and put that stupid accent over the 'e'- what are we, French?) is a photo safari game, but with Nintendo's current cash cows the Pocket Monsters--Pokemons? Pokemen? -- instead of real animals. The objective is to travel around Pokemon Island and take pictures of the 150-odd species of binary beasts in their native habitats. The more interesting the picture, the more points you score, so you need to work to draw the creatures out of hiding.
Some of the Pokemons can be brought into the open by leaving food for them and waiting for them to investigate it, giving you the chance to snap them with your Nikon. Other animals respond better to other means, like playing music to make them dance or, for the more cruelly inclined (heh heh), bunging rocks at them so you can grab a picture as they flee in terror.
Pokemon Snap was originally meant for the 64DD, but like practically all of the titles intended for Nintendo's still-unreleased peripheral, it's now been transferred onto cartridge. Japanese gamers will be able to take their cartridge down to the shops, plug it into a special machine and get their snaps printed out as stickers, but nothing's been said yet about how Western players get to view their photo gallery. Hopefully the cart will have built-in memory.
Pokemon Snap is certainly in a genre of its own (unless you count PC stuff like Deer Hunter or Natural Fawn Killers, only they blow the animals away instead of photographing them) but it's another Nintendo non-game. Will it succeed in gameplay-fixated Britain?