A nice pika-place to visit.
Oh, PokéPark, would that the real world were more like you. PokéPark, with your beautifully landscaped gardens, your pristine beaches and manicured slopes, I envy your vistas. PokéPark, where all one need do to make a new friend is play a game of hide and seek, I covet your lack of awkward social mores. PokéPark, where even the most hostile rivalries turn out to be friendly misunderstandings, I long for your simple diplomacy. PokéPark is one of those places where you can't help but see the good in the world, and want to add to it, in that uniquely PokéPark way: by pummeling the stuffing out of everyone you meet.
[image1]Think of PokéPark Wii: Pikachu's Adventure as an introductory RPG primer for young gamers. It's got all the earmarks of an RPG, but unlike most, it's not heavily strategy-based. Sure, Pikachu is given an ultimate quest (find the 14 shards of the shattered sky prism), a world in which to roam (the five zones of PokéPark), and the ability to gather information from other characters, but the focus here is really up to the player. You can go on the quest, or you can just stay and play in the park. Either way, it's an enjoyable romp, and because the player decides how intense the experience gets, the game will attract a fairly wide range of age levels and abilities.
The backstory is both intriguing and easy to follow: Pikachu and three friends are out playing one day when Mew rips a hole in space-time (oh, that Mew) right on the ground where anyone could fall into it. Lo and behold, Pikachu does. Luckily for him, his buddies are from the “if my friend jumped off a bridge, I would too” school. They get separated, but all end up in a place called PokéPark . Mew explains to Pikachu that he needs his help. The Sky Pavilion above PokéPark is in danger of falling unless Mew can reunite the shards of the shattered Sky Prism. Pikachu is charged with locating the lost pieces.
With that knowledge, and a few instructions on jumping, dashing, and firing his Thunderbolt, Pikachu is off and running. Soon he enters the park proper, and learns there is some trouble. The once idyllic place is overrun by an unnamed fear and the five zones of the park have been locked up tight. There is a general unease about the place. Pikachu not only must find the shards, but also locate his friends and solve the mystery of the dark times that have fallen on the park. Honestly, the story is better crafted than you might expect.
Some players might get confused or frustrated because all the information Pikachu gathers along the way comes in the form of the written word, either on signposts or by speaking to characters he comes across. There is also a rudimentary map at the bottom of the screen meant to help Pikachu navigate. I admit that my map-reading development stopped somewhere around the fifth grade, and even I had a little trouble using the map. Luckily, this game is executed so well that an older guardian won't mind if they need to get behind the controls every once in a while. Sometimes, when you play games like this with the youngsters, it's a chore. Not so here, unless the person playing can't read a lick.
[image2]Pikachu starts off in the Meadow Zone, with the other zones are closed to him until he meets certain challenges and makes enough friends. Making friends is accomplished by winning a Skill game, like chase, hide-and-seek, a trivia quiz, or a battle. At first, the game is just repetitive chase battles, but by the time Pikachu reaches the second zone, the way to make a friend starts to vary. With each friendship formed, more Pokémon return to the park, and Pikachu earns more berries, the currency of the game.
Newcomers are opportunities for Pikachu to make more friends and grow his abilities, as each new zone that opens up to Pikachu offers progressively more difficult challenges and higher rewards. By the time he reaches the Cavern Zone, it's downright hard to make a friend. It's dark down there and the Pokémon are a motley crew of unsavory types that are not so easily tagged or beaten. Luckily, Pikachu will sometimes meet a Pokémon that will warn him that he may not be ready for a certain zone until he has more fighting ability or dashing distance. My advice: Heed the warnings. Make more friends, collect more berries, and get some training!
In each zone, Pikachu will find mini-game Attractions, such as races on land, ice, or water, that when completed, allows the Attraction Chief to hand over a shard of the sky prism. For the quest-minded player, beating the Attractions is essential, and selecting the right Pokémon for the job is key. For the more casual friend-making player, they make for a fun distraction and can be played over and over again.
As far as mini-games go, the Attractions aren't the best and the races all start to feel the same, but in the scope of the game, they are a nice addition and definitely help move the story along. There is an Arcade Option on the main title screen that will let you play any Attractions you've unlocked in the game proper. This is nice if you only have a few minutes to play, but if mini-games are your thing, there are better titles out there for you than this RPG.
[image3]As mentioned previously, the game tries to make the experience enjoyable for those not necessarily single-minded in completing the main quest. There is an option to take and store photos of Pikachu's travels that the right kid will get a kick out of. Players can get accessories for Pikachu or bring rare and difficult-to-befriend Pokémon to the park by entering passwords. The game booklet gives you a freebie that unlocks a surfboard, and the other passwords are available on the PokéPark website. This feature makes players feel like they belong to an exclusive group who are in the know, and the girl in me just loves a new accessory every once in a while!
All in all, PokéPark is a solid title that holds up for a range of gamers. With its well-rounded story, variety of things to do, and hidden features, many gamers will find PokéPark to be a good place to spend some time. How do I love thee, PokéPark? Let me count the ways…