The Pokémon franchise is perhaps one of the most successful video game brands out there (Ed: correction—second most successful, behind Mario), and the name Pikachu is pretty much synonymous with Pokémon as a whole. The latest spin-off from the main series, PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond, is more an RPG platform game that features Pokémon, rather than a true Pokémon game. Let’s take a romp in the PokéPark to find out what it’s all about.
The original PokéPark: Pikachu’s Adventure was a 2010 Wii game featuring Pikachu in an adventure through PokéPark (itself based on a real attraction) to find the pieces of Sky Prism. The sequel, Wonders Beyond, sees you once again taking Pikachu on an adventure, this time to save his friends from the awesome-sounding, yet evil Wish Park. Of course, what sounds like a small task eventually becomes something that threatens the entire PokéPark (thus making this game a true fulfiller of the RPG “everything is dire and the destruction of the world is imminent!” trope). Throughout the game, you can switch between Pikachu, Oshawott, Snivy, and Tepig, allowing you to play with the strengths of each character. Oshawott, for example, is the only one of the quartet who can travel through water, so any bodies of excessive wetness requires switching characters, while Tepig allows you to bash through boulders.
In essence, Wonders Beyond is an RPG platforming game with a few minigames dotted here and there (mostly in Wish Park). The majority of the time you spend playing will be doing one thing: making friends. To do so, you need to find out what the various Pokémon want you to do in return for their friendship. Mostly, you’ll be doing one of the following two activities: “catch the Pokémon”, or “fight the Pokémon”. And you’ll have to do this a lot to be able to befriend other Pokémon. Not all of the Pokémon need to be chased or defeated to be befriended, thankfully. Some simply require things—or occasionally other Pokémon—to be fetched, while others require small favours. You can’t skip over the “let’s make a whole stack of new friends!” aspect of the game, either, because you need lots of friends to open each portal to Wish Park.
Wonders Beyond also features a multiplayer component outside the solo campaign, where any of the minigames that you unlock in Wish Park can be played against other human opponents. Since the game isn’t precisely brimming with minigames in the same way that, say, Mario Party is, this mode has limited appeal.
The game is, of course, syrupy cute, and if you have no tolerance for cuteness levels that would make even Lord Voldemort melt into a pink, heart-shaped puddle, then you’ve got no business playing Wonders Beyond. It’s cute even for a Pokémon game, and that’s saying something. The only way that this game could be more cute is if it included My Little Pony, Care Bears, and a healthy dose of lolcats. I found it all endearing, really, but that may just be me. In fact, I found myself playing this game a lot more than I promised myself I would. Not because of the plot, but more the enjoyment of playing a game based around making friends instead of killing. Sure, you have to beat half of them up, essentially grinding their faces into the dirt and yelling “Make friends with me! Now!” But it’s still friendship.
Life in PokéPark isn’t all sunshine and roses and friendship, though, especially when it comes to controlling the game. Given that the game is in a 3D environment, you’d think “ah! Perfect opportunity for the ol’ Wii Remote Nunchuck combo!” You would think that, and you could not be more wrong if you were trying to play the game using cucumbers and walnuts. Someone, probably someone displaying the kind of wisdom reserved for the aforementioned cucumbers, decided that the best way to control the game would be to turn the Wii Remote sideways and use the D-pad and 1 and 2 buttons. Does this make sense? Not really. Does it make the game easy to control? About as easy as having an intelligent philosophy discussion with a bunch of tomatoes. This method of control becomes a complete disaster salad when you need to chase other Pokémon around, because the same savant decided that, to add a burst of speed, you need to shake the Wii Remote. So let me get this straight: D-pad to move, 2 to jump, and waggle to put on a burst of speed. How many hands DO I have, precisely? I can understand that perhaps the controls were simplified because of the game’s younger audience, but at least the option of Nunchuck would have been nice.
On the other hand, there’s a lot to recommend to Wonders Beyond. My kids loved it, and discovered enough of an interest in Pokémon to start watching the TV series. The music in the game is enjoyable, and the environments are varied enough that you know exactly where you are just by looking. For the Pokémon fan, the game features Pokémon from all generations, but you’ll find that the majority of them will be from the new Black and White set.
My overall impression of PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond is generally favourable, although I have a bit of a gripe with the control. The game is cute, friendly, and reasonably accessible to younger players. Adults (and probably people who aren’t into Pokémon) might find the game somewhat repetitive, but for kids, it’s a definite treat.
Final Score: 6.5 PokéPrawns out of 10
Developer: Creatures, Inc
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Release Date: 23 March 2012
Age Rating: PG