Pokémon Battle Revolution
First against the wall.
With this, the first Pokémon game for the Wii, the last remaining member of Nintendo's holy quartet of heavy hitting franchises has finally reached the hand-waggling wonder and ooh, just in time for Christmas as well. Mmm, convenient. However, while Zelda, Mario and Metroid all gave fans many good reasons to be happy, Pikachu and pals can only offer what amounts to a prolonged and expensive advertisement for the DS rather than a Wii game in its own right.
The concept is much as it has been ever since Pokémon Stadium debuted on the N64 back in 2000, focusing on glitzy 3D Pokémon battles rather than the adventuring and collecting of the main series. At least the previous console versions had the good grace to include other things to do beyond endless turn-based fighting, such as mini-games, RPG modes and other assorted diversions. Despite the title, Battle Revolution has none of that and so, remarkably, boasts less features than its direct ancestor from the console generation before last. Instead you get a bunch of Coliseums, set in the vaguely defined resort of Poketopia, and you must plough through tournaments in each and beat the resident Pokémon master. That's it.
Things start with a rather baffling tutorial which teaches you how to use the Wiimote to select things on screen. Seriously. I know that Pokémon has a large kid audience, but if they can grasp the intricacies of the trading card game I'm pretty sure they know how to point at stuff. You're then introduced to Poketopia thanks to Anna, a perky receptionist, who can painstakingly explain absolutely everything about the game in stultifying long-winded text descriptions. But before anything else, she has a very important question for you: do you have a Nintendo DS?
If you answer in the affirmative, and have got Pokémon Pearl or Diamond, then Anna looks very happy, and goes on to show you how to transfer your carefully trained and groomed Pokémon to the Wii so you can see them battling in 3D on your telly. You get a Custom Battle Card, which allows you to select your own preferred roster, and the option to use your DS as a wireless controller. You can also unlock exclusive new Pokémon to be ported back to your handheld, along with other unlockables and extras. Oh yes, it's all VIP treatment, back rubs and free peanuts for the Pokémon faithful.
If, however, you don't have a DS, then Anna's cheery anime-grin barely disguises her seething contempt. For you, foul peasant, she has only a Rental Battle Card. There are two to choose from at the start, each with a pre-packaged selection of six Pokémon. It's not even a randomised selection. You get the same ones each time you start a new game and these Pokémon can't be traded, or levelled up. If you want more to choose from you need to beat the Pokémon masters and take their cards. It's a horrible and insulting restriction that makes the game tiresome and monotonous right from the start, and makes the game a fairly blunt slap in the face for non DS-owners. Anyone foolishly assuming that buying a full price standalone Wii game earns you a complete and worthwhile standalone Wii experience is in for a nasty shock.
So, let's assume that we've weeded out the genetically inferior non-DS owners. What are we left with? Well...not much, to be honest. Even with your own Pokémon in the game, you're still only getting a string of linear and context-free Pokémon battles to work through, with none of the surrounding story or development you get from the DS adventures. There's very little customisation, apart from irrelevant nonsense like changing your character's catchphrases (yes, you can swear - but the game uses the default text when you play online). The game doesn't even give you much incentive to keep playing. There's no real score system, and few opportunities to win or buy new things, so for most of the time you're just slogging through battle after battle because...well, because that's all the game offers. It's got Pokémon. It's got battles. But there's no revolution happening here.
There is online play, which made big whoops in America where this arrived before Mario Strikers, but it only serves to showcase how clunky Nintendo's efforts have been in this area. Each saved game generates its own Friend Code, so multiple players can play using their own Pokémon, but the Friend Codes from your DS game won't work. As the game uses an outdated mobile phone alphanumeric text entry system, rather than Wii's more elegant virtual keyboard, just hooking up or communicating with mates is a hassle. You can battle a random stranger online instead, but with no lobby system, leaderboards or indeed any way of knowing anything about who you're playing, or how well you're doing compared to everyone else in the world, it's pretty much devoid of purpose. And, thanks to the way the game openly discriminates against anyone who hasn't got a DS, chances are you'll end up fighting some freakishly skilled cosplaying Pokémaniac who'll demolish your feeble line-up in ten seconds with their super-evolved menagerie. Oh, that's always fun.
Even the presentation is below the usual polished Nintendo standard. The graphics are decent enough, but the animations are crudely looped and there's no flow from one round to another. Despite the advances in technology since the N64, it's still always clear that you're watching a clumsy sequence of pre-rendered animations, often with jarring continuity glitches. The audio is equally underwhelming. Pokémon just use generic squeaks and honks rather than drawing from the vast audio library of the TV show - while the commentator is generic, repetitive and almost always completely out of sync with what's happening. "It's a stalemate!" he kept yelping, after I'd removed almost two-thirds of my opponent's health with one hit. Well done, you.
Considering how much time Anna the receptionist can spend guffing on about the game at the start, it's amazing how little substance the whole thing has. If you've got a DS, plus Pearl or Diamond, and you've got a sizable collection of Pokémon that you'd like to see rendered in 3D on the TV, then Battle Revolution might be worth the asking price. Even then, you'd have to be a pretty hardcore Pokémon fan. I mean, Mudkip fan art on your walls and everything. But, if that's not you, then this is an entirely pointless release that makes no effort to give you value for money. You peasant.