IGN Review of Pokemon Battle Revolution
Seven years ago Nintendo released a must-have N64 pairing to go with Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow on Game Boy. Pokemania was running wild, and as such the company combined the advantages of both systems to deliver a seamless, deepened experience to you, the trainer. Pokemon Stadium was a window to a larger Pokemon world, including everything from Stadium Mode to storage boxes for Pokemon and items, full-on gym leader battles to earn rare Pokemon that could be transferred from N64 to Game Boy, a picture mode that allowed you to capture your Pokemon on film and print out stickers, and a plethora of multiplayer "Mario Party" style mini-games on top of the ability to play Red/Blue/Yellow on the big screen in single player mode. Now, nearly a decade later, Nintendo has again released a portable/console pairing to its amazingly popular Pokemon franchise. This time around, however, you're getting far less bang for your buck, and what's there isn't nearly as impressive as even the portable experience.
Unlike its predecessors, Pokemon Battle Revolution is less of a true portable/console pairing, and more a gateway to big-screen battles. A common misconception with Stadium-style games has always been that there's very little to experience outside of seeing your prized Poke-pals battle in glorious 3D. That wasn't really the case, though, until now. Rather than offering any of the true hub-like features of its previous games, Pokemon Battle Revolution focuses on the battle aspect of the game, delivering the ability to transfer your Pokemon to Wii via DS, battle friends or random players online via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, or host a Poke-party with up to four DS players in your game room.
If you don't own Pokemon for DS, your experience is going to be greatly diminished, as you'll have to work with pre-made "Passes" created specifically for Battle Revolution. You'll be awarded one when beginning the game, but have no specific choice over which Pokemon you want to use, or how you want to build your team. The six Pokemon on your pass are the only ones you can use with that player. Either pick up the DS version and create a custom pass, or go with the presets.
From the get-go, Pokemon Battle Revolution feels less like a pipeline to worldwide entertainment, and more like a 3D battle demo. After transferring over your DS characters (about a three minute process) or selecting one of two pre-made passes, you'll be on your way. The main Colosseum mode shows a map of Poketopia and the available areas of battle. Once you rip through a list of trainers in one area, a new area will be unlocked, and you'll earn points for your victory. These points can be used to either buy items, which can be transferred to your DS game, or to trick out your trainer appearance for playing online. Aside from that, you can either battle saved passes from defeated trainers and play them in free mode, or head online for the bulk of the action.
Unfortunately, Pokemon Battle Revolution never does show off a considerable amount of depth, as the online experience is as stripped down and basic as the single player mode. Players can opt to either head into random battle with a worldwide opponent or team up with friends for a Pokemon rivalry, but it's never a seriously engaging experience. In worldwide you'll select a level and game type, and then head into random matchmaking. There's no list of waiting players or amount of fighters per stadium, however, so meeting up with an opponent can be a bit of a hassle. We've had matches begin in a matter of seconds, and others take up to five minutes before finally giving us an error code that we can only assume means there was a disconnection problem or lack of competition.
In the case of a disconnection, you'll need to go through the entire Wi-Fi connection process again, re-select your pass, pick the type of fight you wish to do, and then start matchmaking for a second time. Add a few of these disconnection issues together and you've got a large chunk of time devoted to reselecting options and jumping through Nintendo online hoops. It's not exactly the online experience we were hoping for, and a pretty underwhelming debut for the Wii console.
Once you enter into battles - whether it's online or not - the experience is pretty solid, though it's nothing more than you'd expect from a 3D display of turn-based battling. Trainers face off and Pokemon burst from their balls, unleashing visually impressive attacks and knocking each other out one by one. The character models are detailed and look good, as do the general attacks, but Pokemon Battle Revolution still manages to fall into some old, annoying habits. Characters still don't physically interact with each other (aside from the occasional "tackle" attack), as most animations consist of a few steps toward the opponent, the canned attack animation, and a cut to the adversary getting the brunt of the bashing.
Animations are still very stiff, as even a downed Pokemon will return to its idle state post-attack before acting out a knockout animation. It's odd to see your Pokemon get blasted, shake it off and return to a standing position, only to then have the camera cut to a shot of him/her falling down. The overall battle experience looks better, complete with bloom lighting, distortion effects, and shaky cam, but it lacks the feel of a physical battle.
As far as the in-battle controls go, players can use Wii IR or D-pad to select DS-like on-screen boxes, and there's even an option to turn the Wii remote on its side for a NES-like experience. Battle carries on just like it does on DS, with the same fundamental options and tactics available with the touch of a button. In the end, it's simply 3D Pokemon on Wii. In the case of DS-to-DS battle, each player will use the DS's touch screen to choose attacks, though you'll of course need your copy of Diamond/Pearl to play. Why DS mode couldn't be used for local split screen via download play is beyond us.
One of the biggest issues with Pokemon Battle Revolution isn't found in technical shortcomings, but in the lack of motivation players will have when in the game. Online battles result in no post-battle stats and there's no reason to fight, as the game lacks any kind of leaderboards, tournaments, trophies or achievements. Unless you're doing it for the thrill of battle - which some players will be - there's literally no global competitive structure to encourage fights. Why create a game that's about "being the best there ever was" if there's no way to find out when you are? Pokemon Battle Revolution's online offering is simply one-dimensional, as your only option is to pair up with friends or random partners, battle, and then move on to something else. No incentive, no character development, and no lasting appeal.
And despite the game's core appeal to classic Pokemon battles (something we all love deep down, right?), there's just not enough there to satisfy us. Customization such as new outfit items and the ability to add your own catchphrases for in-battle theatrics is nice, but any user-created text is taken out for worldwide battles to "protect" Wii's impressionable audience. General interface is also an impressively clunky attempt, as the game opens by constantly explaining every option and on-screen icon in an attempt to make Pokemon causal-friendly. Like Brain Age and Super Paper Mario, we eventually wanted the game to just shut up and let us play, rather than blabbing on about how it "hopes we have a wonderful time in Poketopia" or insisting on explaining what a "Shop" icon is.
On a side note, text entry in Pokemon goes back to a cell phone nine-key setup, rather than bringing up Wii's built-in text entry mode. It's a small annoyance, but when you're typing in 40-character catch phrases and win/loss responses for your player it's a bit of a pain. Everything in Pokemon Battle Revolution, whether it's one player, multiplayer, presentation, or online just feels like a rushed attempt at getting something Pokemon-related onto Wii, and after over seven years of the series we've learned to spot (and avoid) quick cash-out attempts.
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