4.5

Pokémon Colosseum review
File under Missed Opportunity

The good:

Don't need the handheld games to build a custom team
2on2 battles are the focus

The bad:

Catching Shadow Pokémon is far more irritating than catching regular Pokémon
Poor Presentation
Limited Pokémon available
Boring environments

Summary:

Nobody can deny just how important the Pokémon series has been to Nintendo. They started life on the humble Gameboy and helped secure their foothold in the handheld market. So it's no surprise that the idea of a 3D game in the same vein is enough to send fans crazy. The N64 Stadium games didn't deliver this, but Collosseum hopes to rectify that with an actual 3D Pokémon RPG. Why then, does the game flop so terribly?

Visuals

The signs are already showing merely by looking at the game. The character models aren't particularly bad, especially if you consider how many there has to be, but at the same time they did to be a little bland too. The quality reminds me of a late-generation N64 title, which isn't a good thing when we're so far into the life of its successor.

This blandness doesn't just apply to the characters though. The areas themselves are also bland and boring. When fighting there is little in the background that interests you, to the point that you stop paying attention because there is never anything there to interest you. Even the areas you get to explore don't ever pass functional. They work but they fail to captivate.

However, the biggest graphical sin committed by this game comes from the animation used. The various creatures do move and bounce about, although this does seem a bit random at times. The problem is that there is never any actual contact. Excuse me? I just asked for a body slam. Since when did a body slam involve dancing about and then some flinching animation from the other side? A body slam involves contact, but not in the world of Pokémon it seems.

The special effects are pretty to look at. Lightning bolts, fire blasts and flashy beams are quite impressive to look at. Unfortunately, it takes more than a pretty light show to make the visuals look good.

Audio

Technical limitations aside the handheld games had some pretty motivating tunes, as well as some rather dull ones. Colloseum brings along a similar mix of motivating and dull, but with less success.

The Gamecube is obviously capable of more than the GBA is, and yet there doesn't seem to be too much difference in sound quality. It's there, sure, but the jump isn't as big as you'd expect.

Similarly, there seems to be a lot less actual variation in the tracks. This is likely due to there being fewer areas in general, but it is problematic, especially since the tracks lost seem to be of the good selection.

Sound effects in play are disappointing as well. Attack sounds like fire, water and lightning are all pretty good. The issue is with the monster cries, which don't sound any different than the ones on the GBA games.

Plot

The handheld games have typically been about working your way to challenging the Elite Four while spending some of the free time stopping some criminal organisation. Colloseum puts more focus on the crime fighting part and less on winning a tournament (no Elite Four here).

In fact, Colloseum takes on a more darker tone than the usual Pokémon game, which is quite a refreshing change from the handhelds that simply seem to regurgitate the same story slightly modified with every release.

Your character is a gang member who rebels and leaves, but not before taking a snagging machine with him. Shortly after he comes across a girl who can tell when a Pokémon's heart is closed, which sets the basis for the game. See, there are Pokémon who have had their hearts artificially closed (emotionally, not literally closed) to increase their effectiveness (supposedly). Your task is to free them by using the snagging machine to catch them, then train them to purify them.

There is a plot twist somewhere done the line and some good sequences. For a Pokémon title it's rather good. However, the characters themselves don't really feel all that deep. Your character seems like a complex character (I mean, seriously, an ex-gang member?) but this is never really explored. The girl acts like a glorified radar.

Gameplay

Obviously the main draw of Colloseum is the ability to actually experience a Pokémon RPG in full 3D. Such a premise sounds awesome for any fan of the series. However, there are some pretty fatal flaws that essentially nuke the premise.

Okay, first let's get some details out there. Unfortunately, if you're thinking of doing any kind of exploring then you're about to be disappointed. There are various towns and facilities to look through but exploration is frowned upon. There is very little to see in these areas, and some of the areas are bland and boring anyway. Even worse is how some areas are little more than going from A to B with trainer battles along the way. To be honest, the whole walking around part feels pretty unnecessary at times.

So, what about the routes between towns and other areas? They don't exist. Well, to be more precise you don't get to explore these at all. Travel between areas is done using some rather bizarre looking bike that's on autopilot. Gone are the wild grass areas and looking for wild Pokémon.

All this also tends to make talking to other people fairly pointless as well, unless you're looking for trainer challenges. Most NPCs that aren't trainers will simply be of no use at all. Clues are unnecessary, as it's virtually impossible to not know where you're going.

So, hang on, no wild Pokémon? How to catch new Pokémon then? Well, you remember that I mentioned snagging Pokémon? Colloseum encourages something no other title in the series would dream of even allowing - you get to steal Pokémon from other trainers.

Well, it's not as simple as that. Your mission is to capture and purify shadow Pokémon. Your female friend can identify what Pokémon are of the shadow variety. This means that you can't just go around capturing whoever you want.

Capturing a Pokémon involves lowering its health as far as possible without knocking it out (with status changes increasing your chances) and then throwing a ball to hopefully catch it. Pokémon may still break free, depending on remaining health and status. It's all about increasing your chances without knocking it out.

Sounds fine, but Colloseum introduces one massive problem with this system - shadow Pokémon have a habit of knocking themselves out! Unfortunately, all shadow Pokémon come with a move called Shadow Rush. It's a powerful attack but it causes recoil damage to the Pokémon that uses it. Oh, and these shadow Pokémon just love to use this move, so they are far too prone to knocking themselves out, making catching Pokémon very frustrating. Now it's true that some pokemon in the handhelds would also do this, but at least in there it's a small portion of them and if a pokemon does faint it's just a case of walking around until it pops up again. No such luck in this game, as rematching to catch a fainted pokemon appears much later into the game.

Another issue associated with this (though not quite as terrible) is the actual lack of Pokémon around. There are 51 in all (not counting evolutions), which considering the actual number of critters across the various games is rather low. The only way to access more is to upload monsters from the GBA games. Of course, bringing in your pokemon is all fun and all and the games in general thrive off the idea that you need to trade for certain species, but in the other games the selection per game is usually much bigger.

Saving in this game is also something that has been made more awkward than it should be. If you've played any of the handheld versions then you'll know what a blessing it is to have a save system that lets you save anywhere while not in battle. Someone had the idea to remove that convenience, so now we're left with a system that requires accessing a PC to save. Perhaps you're of the mind that "save, quite and reload" tactics shouldn't exist, but when pokemon tend to knock themselves out it's hard not to want to. You remember saving right before trying to catch powerful Pokémon, right? Well, you don't get that here. If you want to redo a battle you have a long trek in wait.

Once you've actually caught a shadow Pokémon you then need to purify it. Why? Because shadow Pokémon initially only know shadow rush as a move, cannot gain levels and will sometimes enter Hyper Mode. In Hyper Mode they may ignore orders, which is obviously a problem. Shadow Pokémon start opening their hearts by participating in battles or receiving items, amongst other things. As they are purified they start relearning moves. Once near completion they must be taken to a shrine to complete the process, at which point shadow rush is forgotten and the last move relearned, and all exp gathered is now added. This is admittedly a cool concept that makes a good twist on the usual formula.

Battles in Colloseum are done with a two Pokémon team from each side, while 1on1 battles are ditched entirely. You start the story mode with two Pokémon to accommodate this (Espeon and Umbreon). At the beginning of every turn both sides issue one order to each onfield Pokémon. After that all Pokémon carry out their orders. Item, call and switch out orders are typically done first. Technique orders are then carried out in order according to each Pokémon's speed stat.

Players have four options to choose from when giving orders. Attack brings up that Pokémon's move list, where you can pick a move to use and the target (if applicable). Every move uses up 1 PP from that moves allocated PP, and they have varying effects and an appropriate type. The effectiveness of attacking moves is determined by types. Fire is effective against grass but ineffective against water. Moves also has a damage rating and a hit ratio.

Some moves offer special effects either in addition or instead of. Some moves may inflict status ailments, such as sleep or burn. Others may alter stats temporarily, like raising attack or lowering speed. Some moves are designed specifically for these while other will have a chance of causing them. There are a lot of options, and some moves will affect multiple targets too, making decisions important to consider your ally.

Pokémon can be switched out for another, but that Pokémon then cannot act until the next turn, so switching out is advised against. Call is designed to bring a shadow Pokémon out of hyper mode, but it is also useful for wasting turns if needed. Item lets you use an item in place of that Pokémon acting. Items can include potions to heal HP, curing items to cure status ailments or balls used to catch Pokémon.

Pokémon also have special abilities that either are always active or active by themselves when certain conditions are met. Such abilities can be to avoid falling asleep, paralyzing enemy Pokémon on contact or absorbing attacks of a certain type. These must be factored in too.

The focus on battles being on 2on2 certainly makes these battles more interesting than the handheld counterparts, although RPG enthusiasts may still scoff at the simplicity. Battles tend to be over so quickly that the status and stat altering moves seem relatively pointless outside of catching Pokémon.

Once the main events of the story mode has been cleared then you can start transferring Pokémon between games. If you have a GBA, a link cable and a GBA Pokémon games then you can trade Pokémon between titles. This does allow you to have more options in any of the games, if only the setup wasn't so costly.

Outside of story mode there is surprisingly very little on offer. There's a mode that allows for some quick battles and the 100-trainer battle (which is just that - 100 battles one after the other). The problem is that these are just quick variants of what is found in the story mode.

Overall

This could have been massive. It should have been massive. Instead the game suffers from some nasty flaws that sullies the overall experience. The battle system works better than the handheld games, but everything else is just too dull and awkward. Even diehard fans of the series would have trouble accepting this.

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