Ben reviews the Pokémon game that's going to be a spellchecker's nightmare.
At long last, a Pokémon game that's a 3D RPG. While it's not an online MMORPG, it's certainly a start. Pokémon Colosseum also features the much-pushed "connectivity" via Pokémon trading, using your GBA as a controller to hide your Pokémon commands from fellow trainers, and e-Card support. Unfortunately, without any e-Cards, there's not much I can tell you about that feature, except that it exists in the game (thank you crazy Japanese advertising).
Pokémon Colosseum has two modes. The first is the familiar "Stadium"-style mode, with level restrictions on the various stadiums that you can enter. Some stadiums cannot be accessed from the beginning, and they need to be unlocked by playing through the initial ones that are available. Stadium mode also has a 100-trainer-in-a-row battle mode, called "Battle Mountain". In this mode, it's a complete free-for-all, so Pokémon of any level can enter. It's two-on-two battles all the way, but thankfully you're able to save after each battle. You start with five continues, and can earn an extra continue if you beat a trainer without any of your Pokémon being injured. A continue is lost when your entire team is felled.
Multiplayer is also accessible via Stadium mode. Multiplayer can be played with up to four players, and you're given a choice of playing in either one-on-one or two-on-two battles. This choice is also given to you in nearly all single player Stadium modes, so it's all up to preference.
But honestly, who really cares about seeing the same Stadium mode again when we've got an all-new, 3D, fresh take on the game series? The RPG Mode is the real reason for Pokémon gamers to take a look at this game. RPG Mode sees you playing as Leo, a trainer from the Oore region. Oore is a desolate wasteland with few or no wild Pokémon, and Poké Balls are difficult to come by anyway. The game starts with Leo breaking in to Team Snag 'Em's base to rescue his Espeon and Umbreon, as well as stealing one of their Snag machines. Snag machines allow the trainer to steal (or "snag", as the ever politically correct Nintendo says) Pokémon from opposing trainers.
Battles in RPG mode are ALL two-on-two trainer battles, meaning that there's no ability to run, and you've got to have more planning in your battles because there can be up to four different Pokémon on the battlefield. This is an exciting change in the series, as all your Pokémon captures are now done during trainer battles rather than searching in the wild. With the help of Mirei, your lady friend who can identify Shadow Pokémon, you're searching for all the Shadow Pokémon in Oore to save and restore them to normal. There are about 40 Pokémon to rescue, all of them from Ruby/Sapphire and Gold/Silver/Crystal.
To those of you thinking "Whoo! Espeon and Umbreon! Eevee breeding time!", there's a little hitch in your plan. While it's true, you can breed Pokémon once they're cured of being Shadow Pokémon, quite a lot of the Pokémon (including, surprise surprise, Espeon and Umbreon) are male. Long story short, you'll have to wait until Leaf Green and Fire Red come out (with Ditto) before you can have your Eevee army. In addition, you'll need to first beat the final boss before you can trade with any Game Boy Advance cartridges, so don't plan on bringing level 100 Pokémon over to Stadium to foil your foes.
Graphics for Colosseum are a mixed bag. Some of the Pokémon models (such as Voltorb) are drastically underwhelming, while others (Raikou, Salamance) look incredible. It's really odd. Oddish's faint animation will be pretty ho-hum, while Vileplume's faint is a riot, with it deflating and then giving a final twitch. Attack effects are full of flare and dazzle, with particle effects and smoke. Sometimes, though, slowdown will be blatantly obvious. Watch a Pokémon when the camera is close-up on it and it's just gone into Hyper mode, or an attack that covers the entire screen. To be fair, this does not happen very often, and only those looking for it obsessively will notice.
The art and design of RPG mode is quite nice. While characters seem to be pretty small in the field, the locales are varied and all quite beautiful. Whether it be a desolate area with broken down train, a green oasis with clear running water, a seedy hidden underground town with neon lights, or a flashy hotel with those Slot Machines that everyone in the Pokémon world seems to be addicted to, it's all quite colourful and well textured. There's also a large variety of different characters: Leo, of course, beefy guy trainers, villainous Snag 'Em members, a guy with a disturbingly large afro, and slightly frightening butch female trainers dressed entirely in purple. It's a side of Pokémon you've never seen before.
The music in Colosseum is a welcome change from the usual fare. It has taken on a very Western movie style, with harmonica, bass, guitar, organ, and piano being the most notable instruments used. It's all very hummable, and the battle music is quite catchy. Giant afro guy has quite possibly the funkiest theme music in a Pokémon game to date. Sounds on the other hand, are different. While the game sounds are okay (the familiar Pokémon heal tune is still there), we're still hearing the same Game Boy growls for the Pokémon. These are the same sounds from, at earliest, 1995. That's nearly ten years old. While they've been improved (if you can call it that) for the GameCube, it still sounds quite ludicrous hearing the equivalent of speaker distortion in stereo. Honestly, there's a 1.5 gig disc available! Surely at least some of the Pokémon could have benefited with speech? Perhaps the ones that have the same speech in both languages, such as Mantine?
The gameplay in RPG Mode is decent. While I couldn't understand the story as it was in Japanese, some parts are pretty clear even to those who cannot understand English. I imagine that the localised version would be much more enjoyable. The main problem I found was that some key items (for example, a keycard to unlock a secret lab, or DNA information) are represented in the game world as tiny sparkling dots. One item I'd accidentally walked right past completely. The only way I managed to find it was by wandering around aimlessly and tapping the A Button in time with the music. Talk about blind luck. I imagine that even in the English version I'd still have missed it.
Control is pretty much spot on, having being honed through ten years worth of Pokémon games. Menus are easy to navigate through, and the Shadow Pokémon concept is picked up rather easily. One flaw is that initially you've no idea on how to fully restore Pokémon back to normal, but you come across how to do so about after about an hour or so of play. The only major problem with the game is that Mirei follows you. EVERYWHERE. Most of the time it's fine, but there are some cases, such as if you're in a narrow corridor or stairs, that it can be a problem. Going back the way you came will take you twice as long because Mirei will decide to stand in your way and slowly walk backwards while you try to walk forwards. I see that Genius Sonority was aiming for realism, but it probably would have just been best if you could walk straight through Mirei for easy field navigation rather than restricted movement.
RPG Mode doesn't have the lastability of Ruby/Sapphire, but it's not meant to. Certainly, there's more to be done after the credits have rolled; you can tackle Battle Mountain for a special prize, and you can continue to fully heal your Shadow Pokémon if you like, but after that, your only thing to look forward to is Stadium Mode. Keep in mind that trainer battling is the main focus of this game when considering to buy it.
Nothing I can say will stop existing Pokémon fans from snapping this up right away. Thankfully, it's a fairly decent game, so I'm not too worried about that. To those teetering on the thought of purchase, as I said before, trainer battle is the focus of this game. It would be a shame for Pokémon gamers not to experience this new style of battle, as it's fairly different from the usual Pokémon fare. Who knows, it may even sway older gamers with its decidedly 'older' look.