Pokemon Stadium
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 04/30/1999
    • US 03/06/2000
    • UK 04/07/2000
Score: 70%

This review was published on 02/24/2016.

Pokemon Stadium is a role-playing game published and developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in Japan on April 30, 1999, North America on March 6, 2000, Australia on March 23, 2000, and Europe on April 7, 2000. The game is known as Pokemon Stadium 2 in Japan, because it's actually the second game in the series. The true first game came out in 1998 on the N64, but it was never released outside Japan. Due to that, Nintendo pulled a Square by releasing the sequel in the West as if it were the first game in the series, effectively lying to their international audiences. Shame on you, Nintendo! I'll continue referring to the game by its Western title, because old habits die hard. The other notable thing about the game is that it came packaged with an accessory called the Transfer Pak, which hooked up to the backside of an N64 controller and had a singular slot for Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. This accessory was used to transfer the critters from Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow on the Game Boy to Pokemon Stadium, where they could do battle in full 3-D. Unfortunately, Pokemon Stadium lacks the adventure of the handheld titles, being nothing more than a battle simulator. Despite its mixed critical reception, the game sold like hotcakes, likely due Pokemon being in the name.

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Unlike the Pokemon games on the Game Boy, Pokemon Stadium has no real story mode to it and no big world to explore. It's just a series of menus and modes that'll lead you to various types of turn-based battles involving the titular Pokemon. The battles themselves follow mostly the same rules and mechanics as the handheld games, except they're way flashier due to the N64 being vastly more powerful. Fights take place in entirely 3-D environments, complete with polygonal Pokemon models that have many distinct attack animations. Some animations do get reused, though, which might seem lazy, but you've got to consider that this game has all 151 of the first generation Pokemon. Fitting all those character models and animations into a single N64 cartridge is quite a feat. The battles are also really cinematic, with dynamic camera angles that pan around the Pokemon to add a dramatic effect. There's even a fully voice acted announcer that will commentate on the match, though he can be a bit on the annoying side. Thankfully, you can disable his voice in the options menu. Annoying announcers aside, the fights sure are fun to look at.

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The first major single player mode can be found in the stadium. It's here where you enter tournaments to challenge computer opponents to Pokemon duels. There are a number of cups, each with their own difficulty level and special rules. The rules will often have restrictions on what type of Pokemon can be used, based on factors like their level, height, and weight. These restrictions can spice things up, but they're mostly irritating. Another big mode is located within the Gym Leader Castle. Here, you fight all eight of the Gym Leaders from Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, plus the Elite Four. This is pretty similar to the tournaments, except there are far less restrictions. If you don't have any Pokemon of your own, then you can rent some. The rentals generally aren't as good as the Pokemon you can get in the portable games, though. You can have up to six Pokemon in each team, but are only allowed to pick three of those per battle. Honestly, there's not much else to say about these modes. They're merely a series of battles, back-to-back, and it gets dull after a while. The same could be said for the whole game, really.

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Free Battle is the mode to go for multiplayer fights. In Free Battle, up to four actual human beings can challenge each other to Pokemon battles, using either rental Pokemon or ones uploaded from their Game Boy games. Since battles can only be fought one-on-one, anything higher than two players will result in a tag team match. That's to say, some players will wait on the sidelines until the baton is passed on to them, at which point, they'll switch in. In a regular one-on-one match, both players can have six Pokemon, but in tag team matches, each player in a team will get three Pokemon. Due to the nature of the game, tag team matches are sort of pointless, but they're there if you want them. Free Battle is a good tool for competitive Pokemon between friends, and this is probably the best use for Pokemon Stadium.

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When you're weary from all the Pokemon battles, you can go to the Kids Club to play some mini-games. These are kind of similar to the mini-games found in the Mario Party series. All mini-games consist of four players, but if there are less than four people, then the remaining slots will be controlled by the computer. The controls and rules are different for each game, so a screen explaining them will appear just before players start playing. There are nine mini-games in all and they involve Pokemon doing all kinds of crazy activities. Such activities include a sushi eating competition with Lickitungs, a literal rat race with Rattatas, and Simon Says with Clefairy. The mini-games are a fun diversion, but that's all they are.

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Surprisingly, it's possible to play your copy of Pokemon Red, Blue, or Yellow in Pokemon Stadium using the Transfer Pak. This is because Pokemon Stadium actually has an emulator built inside it, though you can't use it to play any other Game Boy games. You can access this feature through the GB Tower mode. Besides being able to play the portable Pokemon games on the big screen, there is one other benefit to this. After beating some tournaments in Pokemon Stadium, you'll unlock a speedup feature that can be used when playing the portable games in the GB Tower. The feature is similar to the turbo function prevalent in so many other emulators. As for the purpose behind this, it's to make the tedious grinding aspect of the portable Pokemon games a little more bearable, especially since you may need to build a whole new team for use in Pokemon Stadium. It's a neat novelty, but nothing to get too excited about.

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There are a couple of other oddball features available in Pokemon Stadium. One of them is a gallery that lets you snap pictures of Pokemon in various poses and backgrounds. These pictures could then be printed out as stickers at something called a Pokemon Snap Station. To put this into context, Nintendo released another N64 game shortly before Pokemon Stadium came out called Pokemon Snap. In order to promote Pokemon Snap, Nintendo did this thing where the cartridge could be taken to certain stores to print stickers that were snapped within the game. In North America, people would do this at Blockbuster, whereas folk in Japan could get the pictures printed at a local convenience store named Lawson. So yeah, that's why this function exists in Pokemon Stadium. Of course, none of this can be done anymore, so this dubious feature is moot for anyone playing the game today.

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This isn't a full RPG experience. It's important to know that before going into it, otherwise you'll definitely be disappointed, like most people were back when the game first came out. In fact, Pokemon Stadium hardly even counts as a game on its own, as it feels incomplete if you don't combine it with one of the Game Boy titles. The whole thing really is just an excuse to see Pokemon in 3-D. The one advantage this game does have, however, is the Pokemon rental system. While not all the Pokemon are accessible in this way, this system allows you to quickly assemble a team and jump right into the action without having to do any level grinding; something the original games were notorious for. If only there were more to it all.

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