Game of the Month: July 2018
On 27th February 1996 Japan was introduced to what is now one of the greatest selling franchises of all time. Selling a combined 10.4million units in the first year alone, Pokémon Red, Green and Blue took the country by storm. Two years later, after a slight fear that the West would not take as well to these loveable creatures (and a lot of problems with code translation), Pokémon Red and Blue were released in America, Europe and Australia. Fast forward to 2018 and we are being teased about the 2019 release of Generation 8 of the game. From this unique, innovative concept have spawned a whole host of spin-off series, from JRPGs to puzzle games, dungeon crawlers to arcade style fighters. And it is one of these gems that we turn our focus to for July’s GotM.
Pokémon Stadium for the N64, developed with HAL Laboratory, is Nintendo's second instalment in the 3D Pokémon era, bringing one of their most successful franchises to home console. As a follow up of it's Japan-exclusive predecessor "Pocket Monsters' Stadium," a rather flawed entry title with only 42/151 original Pokémon coded as playable characters, Pokémon Stadium delivered one of the N64's best selling titles. The original Pocket Monsters’ Stadium was in fact intended to release on the N64DD, but instead was released on standard cartridge leading to some of the technical discrepancies we see in the Japanese only title. Thankfully Nintendo saw the potential in the game, and so released the 1999 sequel “Pokémon Stadium 2” in Japan, or for us Westerners, Pokémon Stadium in 2000. Confusing right? The success of this Poké spin-off undoubtedly influenced the vast array of Pokémon side games we see today (if we could never mention Detective Pikachu though, that would be greatly appreciated)!
One of the primary attractions to the game is the ability to 'upload' Pokémon from your saved files from the generation I Game Boy releases of Red, Blue & Yellow using the Transfer Pak. This wasn't just the emulation seen with the Super Nintendo's 'Super Game Boy' - although emulation was also achievable to play your GB titles on the big screen. You could physically transfer and store data from the Game Boy games allowing you to trade and battle with your OWN Pokémon in full 3D. One of the menu options also included 'Oak's lab,' a utility used to organise your Pokémon and items from the Game Boy games, as well as trade between carts using two transfer paks and store your Pokémon - effectively giving birth to the first form of what is now the PokéBank.
The transfer pak wasn’t exclusive to Pokémon Stadium, in fact it was a pretty awesome piece of kit. The transfer pal allowed you to exchange data to and from a number of other Game Boy and Game Boy Colour titles. Notable entries include Mario Tennis and Mario Golf, for which you could transfer over all of the GBC characters onto your N64; plugging in Mickey’s Speedway let’s you unlock Huey on your N64; and inserting a Perfect Dark cartridge unlocks variou special weapons including the Cloaking Device, Hurricane Fists, R-Tracker - as well as a cheat code that will unlock all of the game's guns.
The main game - creatively named Stadium mode, sees you battle your way through four different cups each with their own rule sets. Pika Cup and Petit cup are more introductory style battles to get you into the swing of the game, whereas the other two, Poké Cup and Prime cup each come with varying difficulty modes based on the 4 Pokéball types in generation I (Pokéball, Great ball, Ultra ball and Master ball). In a slight change up to the main franchise, the player and the computer both choose a party of 6 to compete with during the cup matches, be it from in game rentals or your transferred Pokémon, but then choose 3 of the 6 to go ahead and battle with.
It has to be said though, few things frustrate me more about Pokémon Stadium than the announcer, talk about a broken record. Thankfully he can be turned off in the options, unlike the only other negative I can note through my Pokémon fanboy rose tinted glasses - and that is the sound quality. Whilst Nintendo can potentially be forgiven for skimping out on sound quality in favour of full polygon 3D models of all 151 Pokémon, hearing the soundtrack and Pokémon cries as though you are listening to them in a tin can does take away some of the shine from fans of the series. Fun fact: it was the first game to introduce coloured Pokémon typing, before their introduction in generation II of the main series, albeit with a few subtle changes like making the type colour of fire Pokémon orange instead of red. It was also the first of the Pokémon game to introduce team battling - a gameplay style not seen until generation III.
Contrary to what Nintendo wanted the main game mode to be, I spent most of my single player time battling it out in the Gym Leader Castle. To truly enjoy the 1P experience Nintendo wanted to link the Game Boy games to this N64 release as much as possible, and they hit the nail on the head with the Gym Leader Castle. By battling your way through each of the Kanto Regions Gyms, and eventually toppling the Elite 4 you were rewarded with one of 8 different Pokémon, including the possibility of another starter, that you could transfer to your game. Looking back at it, this was a pretty neat idea introduced by the developers - it allowed someone to obtain Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle on their GB save file, without having to transfer with anyone else - it’s not always easy making friends! On top of this you have the ability to unlock up to 4x speed up for your Game Boy save file, making what is a monumentally slow walking pace that extra bit quicker - nice touch Ninty.
Put all that to one side however, because for me the most important aspect of the game was the aptly named 'Kids Corner,' because I am in fact a large child myself. Who wouldn't go wild for 9 of the most entertaining and competitive, button bashing mini games I've ever played in local 4 player gaming? I have genuinely destroyed L + R buttons, ferociously smashing them in alternate motion trying to get my Sandshrew to dig faster. Let’s not take away too much from these mini games however, it’s not all ‘who can whack the buttons quicker,’ there’s a pretty fantastic memory game where you have to watch Clefairy’s moves and repeat them on the d-pad with increasing moves on each turn. The games weren’t all button bashingly easy either, some of them tested your reaction times to a T, whilst others put your muscle memory under scrutiny as you flicked back the joystick to precise positions to get Ekans to land on the Diglett popping up.
Often, and particularly nowadays, so much focus is put on graphics and not enough on gameplay - and this saddens me. What we have here never blew the roof of the house, and yeah the audio is pretty diabolical at times, but Pokémon Stadium is jam packed with SO MUCH FUN. Hours upon hours challenging my friends to some good old fashioned couch competition, and for me, that’s what gaming is all about. Fun and a whole lot of awesome memories.