Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness is the latest creature-collecting role-playing game in the series, and only the second real Pokémon game to appear on the GameCube. That's somewhat surprising, since the series doesn't change much from one installment to the next. Gale of Darkness retains the basic monster-battling formula as its predecessor, but with a longer single-player game and a few minor gameplay tweaks to address some common complaints about the previous game. As a result, the only people who will really appreciate this game are those who are already familiar with the series.
Gale of Darkness takes place five years after the events in Pokémon Colosseum. The story starts off with a massive shadow Pokémon attacking a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean. Turns out that cargo ship was filled with powerful, but dangerous shadow Pokémon. If you played Colosseum, you'll remember that shadow Pokémon are exactly the same as regular Pokémon except that they have "closed the door to their hearts" and have become aggressive toward humans. The group that staged the ship heist is known as Cipher, and as you learn more about them you'll find out that they basically want to collect all the shadow Pokémon to create an army of evil creatures to take over the world. You play as a young boy who also happens to be a gifted Pokémon trainer, so it's up to you to thwart Cipher's plans and purify all the shadow Pokémon.
You'll begin the game with a single Pokémon, Evee, and you'll participate in creature battles with people on the streets, in colosseums, and in enemy hideouts and other areas of contention. Early on, you'll get a device that lets you see shadow Pokémon (as if their shadow attacks didn't give it away). By using that device you can also steal those shadow Pokémon from the trainers you're battling. After catching a shadow Pokémon, you'll need to purify it so that it will open its heart to you and become your faithful companion. You can still purify shadow Pokémon by keeping them in your party and using them in battles, but Gale of Darkness also introduces a new purification chamber that makes the whole purification process much easier.
You can access the purification chamber from any PC in the game, but you have to travel to the Pokémon Research HQ in order to initiate the actual purification ceremony. The purification chamber is basically a series of nine sets of Pokémon arrangements that work to reduce the heart gauge of a shadow Pokémon to zero, at which point they can be purified to become a normal Pokémon. You place the shadow Pokémon on a small circle, and then surround it with up to four non-shadow Pokémon. Based on the Pokémon you use and how you have it arranged, the shadow Pokémon will be purified as it interacts with the creatures around it. You can have nine sets running at a time, which makes it easy to purify your shadow Pokémon in the background as you go about your business.
In addition to collecting and purifying shadow Pokémon, you can also catch wild Pokémon. Don't get too excited though, because it isn't quite like the classic Pokémon games where you could catch any Pokémon you happened to bump into. Here you have to bait the wild Pokémon with treats, then when you are alerted via your PDA that a wild Pokémon is in the area, you can go to that area and battle the Pokémon with the hopes of capturing it. However, there are only three spots to capture wild Pokémon, so you won't get to spend much time hunting around for those rare wild creatures.
All your favorite Pokémon return here, so you can catch 'em all once again. The new Pokémon here is Shadow Lugia, but it doesn't make an appearance until the very end of the story. All the creatures look just as cute and bizarre as ever, and they still have all their familiar moves and evolved forms. Almost all the battles in Gale of Darkness are double battles, meaning that you and your opponent can each have two creatures in play at a time. You can carry up to six Pokémon in your party, so if one is exhausted you can swap it out for a new one. You lose the battle and the game when all your Pokémon are exhausted.
The battles are easy to pick up and get into, especially if you've been following the series. Later in the game the battles can wear on a bit too long, since it takes several turns to eliminate the stronger monsters. Some battles can take several minutes, and it can begin to get tedious when you have to fight several trainers in a row. Usually Pokémon battles are made more interesting by the fact that you can conceivably capture any Pokémon you fight. You can't do that here though, and that takes some of the fun out of the battles.
When you aren't collecting and purifying shadow Pokémon in the single-player game, you can battle your friends in versus mode. Using the Game Boy Advance link cable, you can link up with a copy of Pokémon Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, FireRed, and LeafGreen and import your Pokémon from that game into the colosseum in Gale of Darkness. You can then have up to four-player team battles to see who has the toughest Pokémon. You can play versus mode solo or one-on-one. These battles are a fun way to go back and visit the Pokémon you've collected in past games. But, as mentioned earlier, the battles can wear on forever with high-level creatures. The graphics in Gale of Darkness look about the same as in Pokémon Colosseum. The characters are all bright and cheerful, as are the environments. The monsters themselves look great in full 3D. Although the monsters don't move much, their attacks often look slick, but not overblown, thanks to a modest helping of special effects.
Other than the music, the sound in the game might as well be muted. There is no spoken dialogue, and the Pokémon rarely ever make any noise other than the occasional whine or grunt that sounds the same coming from every creature. There are some battle noises, but nothing that lends any emphasis to what's happening onscreen. The music is standard fare for this kind of game. It remains in the background to give you something to listen to, but there's nothing memorable about most of the music. One of the boss themes is catchy and it livens things up a bit, but there's nothing you haven't heard countless times before in other games.
Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness is a fun, though familiar, trip back into the world of collectible creatures. At about 20 hours for the single-player game, it's a fairly lengthy adventure. The shadow Pokémon capture system does feel slightly limiting, but at least the purification process is a bit easier. Still, if you aren't already a Pokémon fan, you won't find much here to make you one.