Review by Relle

Reviewed: 09/29/04

I will not quote the Pokerap, I will not quote the Pokerap...

Kabuto, Persian, Paras, Horsea--

Damn it! Unfortunately Espeon never made it to the Pokerap, which is a shame because it's my favorite critter. Well, there's also Linoone, who made the noble sacrifice of letting me use all my HMs on it, but still. Anyway! Pokemon! Who hasn't heard of it? Show of hands? Show of Pokedexes? Show of Pikachu keychains? Right, then. Pokemon, the long-standing and long-lasting 'fad' Nintendo came up with some years ago with a simple catch-phrase: "Gotta catch 'em all!" Damn right, I gotta. After so many games, so many similar versions, spin-offs, quests, Pokemon, attacks, I often question why I and millions of others aren't tired of it yet. My theory? Those flashing lights are really subliminal messages. Yeah.

But seriously, where would we be without Pokemon? We wouldn't have so many weird and potentially dangerous creatures to capture, train up, then unleash on an unsuspecting populous. We wouldn't have journeys filled with adventure, evil half-competent and all-stupid crime organizations that could be foiled by one grade-school kid. And most importantly, we wouldn't have Espeon. Puts things in perspective, huh? Yep.

So, as I finally get off my ass and write this review standing up, I will start at the most obvious of places: the end.

"YOU'VE BECOME A POKEMON MASTER!"

But first, you have to save a scientist, climb a mountain, traverse forests and deserts and dark caves, beat up the above-mentioned criminal organization and save the world. And before all that, you must overcome gender confusion and a slight touch of amnesia. And by that, I mean you must choose to play as a boy or girl and name your little animal trainer wannabe.

As with the previous games, you begin as per normal. You're a kid. You want a Pokemon. There's a professor with Pokemon. Therefore, he must die. But, on your way to buy an icepick, you find he's beset by a wild Pokemon. What to do, what to do? Well, said scientist has a backpack with three said Pokemon, so your job is to choose your partner and beat up what looks like the Scottish dog from The Lady and the Tramp. From there, your journey begins rather the same as the other games. You must battle eight gym leaders to gain entrance to the Final Four and become that thing I screamed out earlier. You must marvel at how seemingly large animals can fit inside pocket-sized balls.

For the time being, I'll go on the assumption that whoever's reading this has no idea what Pokemon is and has long since decided I'm rambling in tongues. So, here's how it all works. Wild Pokemon are found in wild grass. This means battles are random only in certain parts of the map. Whatever's in the forefront of your team of six Pokemon goes out first. Fighting is simple, turn-based, and done by selecting one of up to four attacks your Pokemon has memorized. The Pokemon spit flames, water, electricity and weird energy balls, damage is done, and a new round begins. Get a wild Pokemon's hit points in the red, and you can toss out a pokeball to capture it and add it to your menagerie. You then train up your Pokemon so you can beat rival trainers, defeat gym leaders and acquire badges, and as always, take down national criminal organizations.

So that's the gist of it. It sounds simple on pixels, but combine the Pokemon types, their respective strengths and weaknesses, the hidden EV and IV points that correspond to their stat growth, the fact that they can only learn four moves and you must choose which ones are best, level versus type, TMs and HMs and all this stuff that just builds and builds on what was once a very simple concept.

However, it's not the difficulty that grabs you. This game is something of a beginner's RPG. The challenges are not that hard. The trainers are mostly pushovers. The gyms are somewhat of a problem. With that said, there is so much depth to this game that often it scares me just how much Nintendo can fit in one little cartridge.

Aside from the great depth in raising your Pokemon, breeding them, teaching them moves and all the hidden numbers and stats related to everything else, you could be five years old, not know a thing about the inner workings of the game, and still win handily. The game is not meant to be a full-bodied work-out, moreover it's supposed to be fun. A key detail you need to know is the types. All Pokemon have types, and Nintendo's added a few since the early games. Fire beats Grass, Grass beats Water and Stone, and so on and so forth. Every Pokemon has its type, its weakness, its strength. Knowing these things provides you with an easy path to victory, or defeat. Set your level 15 fire type against a level 10 water type and that turtle-shaped squirt gun has a damn good chance of kicking your smoldering ass.

For the most part, the battling aspect of the game hasn't changed. Cue two-on-two fights, where you pit two of your Pokemon against two others. This seemingly meaningless addition breathes new life into the series, bringing about more strategic combat as you try to handle two different Pokemon at once that often are not of the same type, do not have the same weaknesses and can work together to quickly bring down your little babies. The only downside is these two-on-two battles are not the norm, but the exception. You only get to bathe in their glory momentarily, then it's over. Well, until you find the next battle-crazed couple or set of twins that wants to kick your ass and steal all your money.

That's about the only real change to the game engine. Other (single) battles operate the same as in previous games. In fact, you'll find many similarities and holdovers, most noteably the technicals. And by that, I mean this series has a long way to go before simple sprites and tinny beeps and blips are replaced by full polygonal monsters and a full piece orchestra. It's not the best-looking game you'll find on the GBA (or anywhere...) but it does make an effort with certain minor improvements and water-induced reflections on the world map. There's also...well, that's about it, really. Most of the cart space went to attack and stat data, and as you may have surmised from reading some of the FAQs on this site, there's a lot of them.

Okay, so this game won't wow you with amazing lighting and shadows, and the less said about the lack of volumetric fog, the better. This game is about its slogan. Gotta catch 'em all, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to do so. It's something indescribable, something intangible, but Nintendo has locked onto that something and is jabbing it with the Spork of Compulsion. There's hundreds of Pokemon to find and catch, nearly 400 this time, and while not all of them match up to the original 151 in terms of originality, it's something that will drive you across the Hoenn region in search of these odd little critters to beat up other odd little critters.

They're not just for battling anymore, oh no. Thanks to the magic of hard-to-get-rid-of HM moves, your Pokemon will often help you along the way by carrying you across rivers and oceans, chopping down trees and smashing boulders, lighting up dark caves and even flying you from here to there in an effort to save you the bus fare. Useful little guys, aren't they?

There's more, of course. Catching these Pokemon is only the beginning. They level up. They evolve. They can fly you around the world, swim the deepest depths, and even take part in beauty contests. Er...right.

The fact of the matter is, Nintendo put more into this game than simply a catch-phrase (I make no apologies for bad puns!) As I said, there are beauty contests, patches of soil in odd places to grow berries, a Battle Tower that will test your mettle and your Pokemon-raising abilities, and of course, link battle with another person to see who's got the best team. And of course, because this is a dual-version game, you will have to trade for those Pokemon that are not in your version.

Yes, versions, once again. It's become a staple of the Pokemon series, and even been duplicated in many other franchises. Naturally, depending on which version you picked up, you will have a different criminal organization to thwart (Team Magma or Team Aqua) a different (and new) legendary Pokemon (Groudon or Kyogre) and generally a different experience. Some Pokemon can only be found in Ruby, while others are exclusive to Sapphire. Still others can only be traded in from the new Fire Red and Leaf Green versions, making me question Nintendo's motives in all this.

Oh, yes. Money. However, this is not an indication that you should not kindly fork over your cash to the giant corporate figure. Quite the contrary, the hours of enjoyment you will receive are worth the pictures of dead presidents. If you think you've "outgrown" the whole Pokemon thing, you're quite wrong. There's nothing to outgrow. It's a game. It's fun. It's something pure and wonderful. There's simplicity there that can be enjoyed by even the tiniest tot, while the hidden depth goes miles beneath the surface and can show you marvels for hours if you're willing to take the plunge. So with that said, I will leave you with one final word: did you pet your Espeon today?

Seaking, Jolteon, Dragonite, Ghastly...


Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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