Pokémon Stadium 2 Hands-On

The sequel to the popular Pokémon Stadium features nearly 250 Pokémon, new minigames, and a number of other options. We had a chance to sit down with the final US version of the game and saw some of the new Pokémon.

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Pokémon Stadium 2 is the US title for Nintendo of Japan's Pokémon Stadium Gold & Silver. A number of play modes and options have been added since the original Stadium, and the game includes the full lineup of 249 Pokémon.

The majority of the action takes place in White City, where most of the game modes are available, although those of you pressed for time can choose to compete immediately in a level-40 battle using random Pokémon or in an event battle, which is suited to head-to-head competition. Like its predecessor, the action in Stadium 2 focuses on battling instead of the role-playing and story elements of the Pokémon license.

The Pokémon available in Stadium 2 are rendered in full color 3D and tout plenty of over-the-top attacks that sport colorful graphical effects. The arenas themselves have maintained the somewhat drab look of the prequel, with the focus obviously on making the Pokémon look as good as possible. Stadium 2 features colorful showers of light, impressive chrome effects, and other bits of eye candy for the entire Pokémon lineup. Attacks have been altered to accurately represent the way each individual Pokémon would perform them. For example, Dragonite's fly attack is preceded by a frantic flapping of miniscule wings, while Delibird, the over-the-shoulder-sack-wielding bird-like creature, takes flight by flapping one wing up and down in a comical motion.

The mechanics of battles haven't changed terribly much, although some of the additions make battling significantly easier for those of you not familiar with every attack in the Pokémon Game Boy series. Before selecting one of the four attacks for your Pokémon, you can press the corresponding direction on the D-pad to see a detailed summary of the move's effects as well as statistics such as type, strength, and accuracy. While it doesn't seem like much at first, the slicker presentation and more organized feel to the game make it much easier to jump right in and fight with experts and rookie Pokémon players alike.

The single-player gym-leader castle mode has returned, this time with 21 different opponents with level-50-plus Pokémon, including the gym leaders found in Gold and Silver. Besides taking on the gym leaders, you can participate in a free-battle mode, alone or with a friend in single competition or with up to three friends in team competition. The team mode uses a tag-team mechanic: When one player selects the Pokémon battle option, his teammate depresses the appropriate button to toss a reserve Pokémon into the fray. Playing on a random stage lets you eventually unlock new stages to compete in.

Pokémon Stadium 2 presents a number of options outside of the gym-leader castle and battle modes. You can spend time in Oak's laboratory, where you can peruse your collection of Pokémon and examine items you have found on the in-game PC. Arranging Pokémon into groupings of your choice, such as level, gender, tameness, and type, is allowed. Owners of Pokémon Gold and Silver can also read and write mail as well as assign the tasks to one of their Pokémon. The Pokédex has returned, and it's more versatile than ever. You can check each Pokémon's specific data, display a full-screen rotatable image of the Pokémon, and examine a full color map of the gameworld to locate areas inhabited by your Pokémon.

If battling gets boring, you can compete in the 12 new Pokémon-themed minigames. The games are simple to understand but difficult to master, and they can easily be seen as of greater production value than those found in the Mario Party series. The characters are large and colorful, and it's amusing to see them in a very cartoonish game show or in an Olympics-styled competition. The games range from button mashers to revamped classics. In a test of speed, Scythers and Pinsirs time their slashes on quickly falling logs. In a test of reflexes, Eevees enter a musical-chairs-type contest and snatch up fruit when the music runs out.. And in track and field button-pressing frenzy fashion, Pichus generate a charge in the power plant. Many of the games, such as the Game & Watch-inspired egg emergency, carry much of the feel of Nintendo's early days.

A mystery gift is available every 24 hours for those of you with a GB Game Pak inserted, and it can include techniques and relatively rare items. Items can then be examined in the laboratory where they are available for pickup. These items, as well as some of those found in Pokémon Gold/Silver, may be used to redecorate your room, which is accessible in White City. The room looks identical to the main character's room from Gold and Silver, but it can be adjusted to fit your individual tastes, similar to a trophy case in other games.

Getting familiar with all the items, Pokémon, and techniques can be difficult, and anticipating this, Nintendo has included Earl's Pokémon Academy in Stadium 2. You can attend classes at the academy, graduating from trainer to gym leader and then on to four elite classes after answering questions, taking tests, and defeating fellow students in one-on-one Pokémon battles in what can be seen as an alternate and relatively deeper story mode. Casual fans of the franchise will be astounded at the depth of information in the lectures and will come out of the academy with a much better understanding of the Pokémon game. If taking classes isn't your thing, but you have a specific question, you can peruse the library's stacks where the answer to seemingly every question can be found. Diligent study will prepare you for the quiz show also available in the mini-game area.

Stadium 2 is fully compatible with every version of the Pokémon Game Boy series game and features the Game Boy tower mode, where you can play your game on your television set using your N64 Transfer Pak. Stadium 2 lets you trade items between GB carts and send items to and from Stadium 2 for analysis in the laboratory or for trading sessions. Your own uploaded Pokémon maintain their move lists, are a slightly different shade from the set available on the cartridge, and can use attached items found in Gold and Silver.

The opening screen grants you access to the options menu, where individual match rules can be changed, and settings can be altered. Turning the announcer--who makes a return from Stadium--on or off is allowed, for those of you who tire quickly of his commentating. The music and sound effects can be listened to on a wide setting--which seems to spread out the sound effects more than stereo--as well as on headphones or in Dolby surround.

You really need to own a copy of Pokémon for the Game Boy to get the most out of Stadium 2. If you do have a Transfer Pak and a GB Game Pak, then Stadium 2 presents what should amount to an exciting package for fans of the franchise. Check back on our Pokémon Stadium 2 gamespace for our upcoming review.

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