UK REVIEW--PokePark Wii is a world apart from the role-playing games at the core of the Pokemon megafranchise. There are no humans and no pokeballs. In place of Pokemon battles, there are infrequent, sporty minigames. Instead of capturing and collecting Pokemon, you, as Pikachu, roam the park befriending them. This is a free-roaming Pokesafari punctuated by controller-waggling park attractions, often in the form of races or time trials. There's not a lot in it for an experienced gamer, but if hanging out with adorable Pokemon is all you ever wanted from a Wii game, look no further.
The skeletal plot on which the game's action hangs involves Pikachu retrieving the 14 shards of the broken sky prism, thereby saving the PokePark--a Pokemon-only theme park--from destruction. These 14 prism pieces are in the paws, claws, and flippers of the keepers of the park's 14 skill game attractions, and they're not giving them up until you've beaten the target scores. To do so, you open up each of the park's themed zones (Meadow Zone, Lava Zone, Haunted Zone, and the like). These usually have you perform simple fetch quests, making friends with the park's inhabitants as you go.
Befriending Pokemon often equates to playing a 60-second game of tag with them, though there's the occasional game of hide and seek, trivia quiz, or pitched battle. Battling other Pokemon is a two- or three-button affair at most (run in a circle, head-butt, thunderbolt), though as you progress you can purchase upgrades for Pikachu's dash and thunderbolt, as well as buy his iron tail melee move--one of the few things for which the Wii's motion control is required aside from the park attractions.
That the skill games are simple is fair enough; no one ever demanded depth from a minigame. That they are very easy is defensible too because it's clear this is a game intended for very young or inexperienced players. But they're not a great deal of fun, either--never more imaginative than an icy slope slalom or baseball-style boulder-batting challenge. And they're not especially well executed, with sluggish-feeling motion control and humdrum presentation. There's a target score to beat in each and special bonus targets for each Pokemon who can undertake them, according to their aptitude for the game in hand. This is where your growing collection of PokePark friends comes in: You can take part in a skill game as any Pokemon you've befriended, so you'll need swift friends for races, avian friends for midair obstacle courses, and so on.
The time spent between skill games is more charming, if no more challenging. Roaming the park and collecting new Pokemon in Pikachu's book of friends is modest, leisurely fun reminiscent of an Animal Crossing game, particularly in the Beach Zone and Meadow Zone. You can pick up berries, the game's currency, by head-butting trees and crates; you can add loungers and parasols to the seafront by recycling bottles washed up on the shore; you can grab pictures of Pikachu in action with the game's photo-taking mode, in which you can take 30 shots per roll of film before offloading any you want to keep onto an SD card. These photos are an amusing sideshow but, unlike in the N64's Pokemon Snap, they aren't scored or rewarded in any way. The Pokemon themselves look exactly as they should (that is, adorable) and the environments are attractive enough, except for the odd low spot, such as the drab Cavern Zone. The shimmery Ice Zone, on the other hand, with a glowing aurora and a festive ice tree to decorate, is easy on the eyes. To their credit, the cheery tunes that are included on the soundtrack for each of the zones don't grate on the nerves.
There's no multiplayer of any kind in PokePark. In a kid-friendly minigame collection such as this and on a console with some great party-type games in its back catalogue, this is a glaring omission. Letting four players each pick a Pokemon and compete could have been a star feature and added plenty of value for families; without it, value has to come just from the length of the single-player experience. At least the single-player experience isn't too short, though. An adept player whizzing through the story might take seven hours, but if you gotta catch 'em all, it'll take considerably longer.
PokePark's best feature is the Pokemon themselves. They look and sound just right, and the game musters appeal on that alone. It's a pity, though, that there's not much for the critters to do but wander through the park zones, eat berries, and play the occasional game of tag. The lack of two-player or online functionality still further suggests a lack of ambition. Very young Pikachu fans will be entertained, and the difficulty seems well calibrated for them, but this theme park won't thrill anyone else.