That kid's got balls
Let's get one thing straight right at the start - I have watched various Pokemon episodes on television in the interests of education, and I have played through Pokemon Blue and Pokemon Gold for similar reasons. I am not some sort of 'Pokemaniac', but if you are, Pokemon Stadium 2 is just as exciting a proposition as its predecessor. On the other hand, if for some bizarre reason you want to join the ranks of the Pokemon-obsessed with no experience thus far, neither Stadium 2 nor its predecessor is the gateway. Pick up one of the recent GameBoy titles - Stadium is for vets. Pokemon Stadium 2 is a turn-based fighting game. You take your Pokemon and compete in a bunch of tournaments for various prizes. But it's not for beginners. For starters, you will need the Transfer Pak and a reasonably advanced copy of one of the GameBoy releases to get anything out of it at all. Into the Transfer Pak you will plug your copy of Pokemon Gold, Silver, Yellow, Blue, Red or Crystal, and at the start of a battle a little GB icon appears next to your controller so you can select and upload characters from the GameBoy cartridge if you so desire. Stadium 2 consists of a huge game world, featuring the Stadium, your house, the Pokemon Academy, the Pokemon Lab, Gym Leader Castle, GameBoy Tower and the mini-games area. At the Stadium there are four cups to compete in, with up to 251 Pokemon at your disposal, depending on your success in the GameBoy games. When you get bored of fighting, you can go and check out one of the game's other locations. Taking a breather at your House you will see all the details of your home in the relevant GameBoy game. If you have decorated, this will be obvious on the N64 too. If you fancy some adventuring, you can head up to GameBoy Tower, where you can play whichever Pokemon cartridge you have plugged into the Transfer Pak, in gloriously blocky detail on your television.
Things to do and see
Amongst the various other activities are the new Pokemon Academy and the Pokemon Lab. At the latter you can trade, examine and rearrange Pokemon, treating them like a card collection. At the Academy you can view research materials on our little furry friends, or sit through one of Professor Earl's lectures. Each lecture culminates in a test and then a chance to try out the finer points of Pokemon battling in a sparring session, to show you understood the lecture. Other diversions include Gym Leader Castle, which offers plenty of intense battles that reward you with a Dodrio GameBoy for speeding up Gold or Silver when you play them through the N64, and then of course there are also the mini-games. There are plenty of these to go through, so if you do buy Stadium 2 you might want to pace yourself and save a few for the next time you get really sick of turn-based fighting (it happens). Some of the mini-games are simple count-the-Pokemon style games, while others are more involved allowing for up to four-player action. Winning mini-games gives you coins for the Pokemon Casino. Visually Pokemon Stadium 2 is as good as one might expect from the ailing N64, although the graphics are effectively the same as those found in the original Pokemon Stadium. The characters are nicely drawn and the animation is fluid enough, but obviously they look a bit jagged. Presentation throughout the game is very impressive, with friendly menus and interface in keeping with one of the strongest traditions of the Pokemon franchise: cutesy-wutesy-ness.
Losing the flavour
Of course, the meat of the game is the turn-based fighting. Now this is something you are either going to love or hate, but unfortunately it may take a while for you to really start to hate it. The Stadium games are extremely repetitive, asking you to basically take various Pokemon through fights against other Pokemon with different strengths and weaknesses, all in pursuit of various cups, prizes and the like. Often a cup will consist of 32 battles at least, and the competition is ferocious. You will want to groom your Pokemon for quite a while in advance. The problem is quite simply that the repetition doesn't really yield any particular reward. For Pokemon fans, maybe some new cup or trophy would be an incentive, but personally I wanted the equivalent of cold, hard cash. I wanted new toys, basically, and what I got after hours of clenched teeth and blasphemous outbursts was the ability to play one of the GameBoy games I didn't have at double its normal speed. To be fair, victory often does feel like something of an accomplishment, particularly when it's a big challenge like the game's Prime Cup, but by about the three-hundredth battle my patience was wearing awfully thin. The other annoying thing about battling is the commentator. He clearly has been afforded about two bytes of memory for both of his lines, the most common of which is "this Pokemon was badly injured". Thanks for the newsflash, brainiac! Apart from this travesty, which can thankfully be turned off, the game generally sounds okay, with booming sound effects for the various attacks.
My interest in Pokemon Stadium 2 waned after about four hours, and by the seventh or eighth I was sick to death of it. As much as I enjoy the various products of the Pokemon franchise, this is one of those games where you do the same thing over and over and over again, probably just to get the chance to do it once more. High points include the Pokemon Academy and the ability to play the GameBoy games on your television screen, but in practice you will need to have an unhealthy obsession for this game to last you longer than a day or two. Still, if you enjoy it that much, more power to you, but you probably won't have read this review anyway...