Do you need a tool to help you catch 'em all?
Pokémon Ranch took a lot of flack when it was announced, and then even more when it was released. As one of the few first party WiiWare titles, many were left wishing for a real game from Nintendo. Pokémon Ranch is not a game by any means. If you aren't still playing Pokémon Diamond/Pearl and trying to collect and train various monsters, do not buy this game.
For the sake of argument, let's pretend for a second that someone did buy Pokémon Ranch as a standalone title. Well, every day Hayley (the head rancher) would bring a random Pokémon to the ranch. You would then select five Miis from your Wii system and watch them interact with the monsters. What you'd have on your hands is an interesting screensaver that cost you some precious Wii points. Doesn't sound like fun does it?
Now that that is past us, what will the hardcore Pokémon fans get out of the game? There are actually several useful features. First, as Pokémon are added to the ranch, Hayley will occasionally offer to trade one of hers for one of yours. Most of these trades are for otherwise easily obtainable Pokémon, but they will often know certain moves that would require extensive breeding and planning for a player to teach them. Their levels are usually relatively high, making them instantly usable in battle. On top of those, the ultimate trade comes in the form of the event-only Pokémon, Mew. You'll have to work for this one though, as it requires the depositing of 999 Pokémon in the ranch.
Hayley, the head rancher, is also incredibly useful when it comes to trying to complete your Diamond or Pearl Pokédex. At any given point she will post three different Pokémon she is currently looking for on the ranch bulletin board, along with instructions on where to find them in the DS games. These requested Pokémon are always ones that the player has not yet caught, so working towards a complete Pokédex is only as hard as doing what you are told. These Pokémon also act as the ones that Hayley will be willing to trade hers for, so completing the requests is important if you hope to trade at all.
The other main feature of the game is storage and organization. Strangely, at first glance the organizational features appear to be extremely lacking. You put your Pokémon in the ranch, and you’re then able to sort them alphabetically. In fact, that is all you can do when only firing up the WiiWare application. The extensive organization options don't become apparent until you connect a DS unit and then select the withdraw option. While withdrawing Pokémon, every monster in the ranch lines up. You can then use the DS screen to sort them. As soon as you change one of the many options they will quickly run around re-sorting themselves. This makes it easy to look at your Pokémon by level, strength, hit points, mark, etc.
Pokémon fanatics should find all of the above features extremely useful. The sorting options make it easy to pick a Pokémon that will fill a particular role in a party. Hayley's requests make it much easier to work towards catching them all, without having to rely on constant Pokédex opening and paper checklists. The trades and potential Mew are just added bonuses. As a tool for Pokémon purists, Pokémon Ranch does actually hit the mark quite well.
Visually the game takes on a style reminiscent of basic N64-era 3D. It's hard to say whether this truly was a conscious art style decision or if the designers were forced into using fewer polygons to get the game under the WiiWare size limits. Regardless, I was surprised to find myself liking the style. It was easy to immediately wish for Battle Revolution-caliber graphics, but several of the Pokémon are actually quite charming in this primitive style. Don't get me wrong, some (like Pikachu) just look disturbing, but several others (like Dragonite, Porygon, and Bulbasaur) look great. It's hard not to enjoy watching your Mii sit on the ground as Charizard flies overhead. These moments can be easily captured using the built in screenshot option. All screens can then be saved out to an SD card, and they are actually in .jpg format, so no weird conversion programs are needed (like with Super Smash Bros. Brawl). Check the game profile to see around 40 shots directly from my ranch.
It isn't hard to decide whether or not Pokémon Ranch is a game for you. I've checked on my little guys almost daily since the game came out and I still enjoy it. That said, I think it's pretty clear just how much of a fan I am of the franchise. Only fellow Pokémon fanatics will get a similar level of enjoyment.