I never really know what to expect when I pick up a Nintendo title now days. It seems like about 70% of the time I’m holding pure gold that will enable me to have many fun times with my beloved console and the rest of the time I’m just throwing money at a familiar brand. PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond is one of those titles that I pick up with hesitation – yes it does have Pokémon on it and yes this does make me smile like no adult ever should, but I’ve been burnt before and I’m aware someone of my age is probably not the target audience for this instalment.
The very first thing I want to say about this game is more of a prayer I want to send to the great Nintendo gods on behalf of all that is good in the gaming world. Please, thumb sticks are one of the great steps forward in console gaming, they’re comfortable, allow for fluid movement and the Nunchuck has a rather nice one available for use. I do think that it’s nice of you to allow for some games to only require a Wii Remote, but I would’ve slapped a Cleffa right in the face if it would mean that I could use a thumb stick for this game. PokéPark 2, much like its predecessor, uses the Wii Remote held in a horizontal fashion to control Pikachu and his pals in the world. The 1 and 2 buttons are used as confirm and cancel buttons, as well as attacks, sprinting and jumping. Shaking the Remote will activate another attack or a speed boost depending on context and the B trigger centres your camera or targets the nearest Pokémon. The controls themselves are simple and easy to remember and really quite good for younger players as long as you can get past the thumb cramp of the D-Pad.
Once again we join Pikachu and his pals in a robust and colourful world where Pokémon live in peace and intend to play their days away in the sun. You start being led by your pal Piplup to go play on the beach with the other Pokémon, when you overhear about a magical place called ‘Wish Park’ where apparently there are games and free cake all the time. Piplup, being my kind of Pokémon thinks that free cake sounds like a great idea and suggests that the two of you should definitely check the place out. At this point you are introduced to the currency of the game ‘Berries’ which can be earned by doing just about anything in the world. Apparently this free cake isn’t so free and to get to Wish Park they require ten of your precious berries and once handed over you are granted entry to this wondrous and magical place. Something about the area isn’t quite right though, and all the Pokémon in the area seem to be under some sort of trance. Thus the adventure begins to find out about the mystery that is Wish Park and possibly even save the world along the way.
Regardless of gameplay there’s just enough fan service to keep most Poké-maniacs sated. The cast of Pokémon you actually control is limited to just Pikachu and the Black/White starters, but the Pokémon that you can befriend are a nice mix from all the games and even the ugliest have been animated to be unbearably cute. I actually squee’d when a Caterpie did a happy dance after becoming my pal and even uglier Pokémon such as Conkledurr manage to look adorable when in context. Even loading screens have the Pokémon you control doing ‘naww’ worthy actions and watching other Pokémon play or fight in the fields will make any fan a little happier than they probably want to admit.
If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to Pokémon games, the term ‘catch’ seems to have been replaced with ‘befriend’ and it is your objective to ‘befriend’ as many Pokémon as you can to open portals to your next missions. To make friends with a Pokémon the usual method is to defeat it in a battle, or chase it down. Battles are a nice change of pace from most Pokémon games, having buttons allocated to different attacks and being able to use type advantage and tactics to defeat your foes. I feel once again that if only the nunchuk was involved and more buttons allocated to attacks it could become a really good battle system, but for now it’s fun, but fairly average. Chase is exactly as it sounds and you run after a Pokémon and catch it within a set time limit which at first is absurdly easy, but after a while Pokémon will begin attacking you as you do so and it can become quite a challenge. On rare occasions playing hide and seek, finding an item or other Pokémon, giving a gift, or taking a specific photo can be other requirements of friendship, but most of the time it’s all battle or chase. Luckily the other things that berries are used for is levelling up your Pokémon moves, health and speed, so if tasks are proving difficult you can always level up and try again later. The sheer numbers of Pokémon there are to befriend do make this process a tedious one, but if you’re really good at shaking a Wii Remote you won’t need to be too diligent in this.
The other two main gameplay mechanics used are Treasure Hunts and Attractions. Treasure hunts I personally thought were excellent. Unfortunately there is only one for each area but I feel like if expanded on and with some tweaking I’d be happy to play an entire game just made of these. They’re little platforming areas, where you change between your Pokémon to use their abilities and get past puzzles to eventually find the treasure. I thought they were a really nice touch albeit a bit simple in their current form. Attractions are a big selling point for younger players. Essentially they are motion control based mini games that have the player aiming or shaking the Remote in a Carnival Game type setting. The beauty of this is that after defeating an attraction you unlock the multiplayer version of it and although none of them are brilliant, I can definitely see kids having a lot of fun with them with friends. Both additions are nice as they mix up the incredibly repetitive befriend gameplay and although the story mode only took me 9 hours to complete, I think without them it would have been a bit of a struggle to keep going.
The sound helps add to the overall cripplingly adorable nature of PokéPark2. Pokémon speech is largely conveyed through text, but their cries are still heard now and again reflecting their emotion. The music changes depending on the zone you’re in and if you’re doing a battle or chase the theme will change to emphasise the situation. The Battle theme is an incredibly mild sort of soft pop rock which made me feel as though the Pokémon fighting must’ve thought it was really intense hardcore music to go along with their fights made the whole event somehow even cuter. I wouldn’t say there’s anything revolutionary or brilliant about the sound but it does get the job done and again for pure fan service it is nice to hear the Pokémon’s cries just like in the anime.
I’m left still not really knowing what to say about PokéPark2 Wonders Beyond, it definitely has its ups and downs. If you’re an older player you’re going to have to be a pretty hardcore fan to get through the repetition and general overly simplistic game style, but I think it’s just right for younger players. It really brings together a popular franchise with game play that is simple and fun enough for kids to enjoy, whilst instilling the values of friendship, working together and free will. When I think back to myself as a fledgling gamer there weren’t many titles that could excite me more than Pokémon and from what I’ve seen that’s increasingly true today. Combine that with its relatively cheap price tag for a new Nintendo offering and I’d say that PokéPark 2 is a pretty great option for any beginner Poké-masters in the making.