After all the groundbreaking success that Pokémon's first generation had, it would've only been wise for the powers that be to capitalise on the franchise's journey to the top. How was this done? Pokémon launched a new set of games – Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal – in the years of 1999-2001 (depending on the region concerned) and this of course meant a slew of new monsters to catch and train all over again. Yes, this also yielded new sets of trading cards, new series' in the television anime, new merchandise, new manga, and everything in-between. It's the formula that's arguably worked to this day, and it was only logical that Nintendo also followed suit in the console department with a sequel on the Nintendo 64 – Pokémon Stadium 2.
But what was different about Pokémon Stadium 2? To this writer, having the second generation of Pokémon within the game made it a must-have and instant winner altogether (due it being his all-time favourite gen), but to many this alone surely couldn't warrant a purchase. We've covered the ins and outs of Pokémon Stadium in our review of the game, and its successor contained most, if not all of the same features the original had. With that in mind, Pokémon Stadium 2 could be seen as a lazy follow-up to its predecessor right off the bat, due to possessing the same game modes and character models (for the first 151 'mon at least), making it seem like it wasn't a whole new game at all. But if there's one thing games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has taught us, it's that a great game doesn't necessarily depend on a squeaky clean, spanking new set of assets, but instead great gameplay to generate a memorable experience. With that said, Pokémon Stadium 2 shines in its intricate detail.
As previously mentioned, Pokémon Stadium 2's core gameplay lies very much in sync with its precursor. However, the enhancement of Pokémon's battle mechanics that Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal brought meant that the N64 sequel also benefited, thus deeper and more intricate battles could be had. Sure, it's nothing like Pokémon of today, but simple improvements such as separating the "Special" stat into "Special Attack" and "Special Defence", the addition of two new typings (Dark and Steel), held items and a larger movepool in general, meant that battles were more ferocious than ever. It was like taking a game of chess and adding even more rules to it, which opened the floodgates for plenty more battling techniques and strategies. The game's Free Battle mode was also uplifted from the first Pokémon Stadium, in that different backgrounds/arenas could be chosen instead of playing on the same old grassy area. And of course, the game's announcer was fueled with even more memorable quotes and phrases that kept the action engaging and pleasurable.
Just like its prequel, Pokémon Stadium 2 does not possess a storyline, and progress is made by winning trophies in the Stadium via its four "Cups", as well as competing in the Gym Leader Castle to earn badges by defeating Gym Leaders. It's the same format as Stadium 1; once both the Stadium and Gym Leader Castle have been conquered, the player is challenged by a rival in battle, and defeating him unlocks Round 2 of the game. Although it's arguably not as cool that the final battle is against a human rival and not something else à la Pokémon Stadium 1, he does possess a powerful team offering a fierce battle. Once Round 2 of Stadium and the Gym Leader Castle have been cleared, the rival is to be challenged again. He wields the same Pokémon, but they're substantially stronger, and taking them out is no easy feat.
Pokémon Stadium 2 follows the lead of its handheld main-series counterparts, in that it offers challengers from both Johto and Kanto regions. The eight Kanto Gym Leaders become available to battle against in the Gym Leader Castle once the Johto Gym Leaders have been defeated. After this, the player is put up against Leader Blue, and finally Trainer Red in one last epic battle. It's a great way for the game to stay true to its handheld counterparts by revisiting its Kanto roots and mirroring the events of Gold/Silver/Crystal's adventure.
Throughout Pokémon Stadium 2's single player modes, there's a conscious effort to keep the game integrated with its Gold/Silver/Crystal counterparts by rewarding the player in nifty ways to better their handheld adventures. For example, completing Round 1 of the game rewards the player with a Farfetch'd that knows the move Baton Pass, and completing Round 2 awards the player a Gligar that knows Earthquake. In addition, if the Elite Four segment of the Johto-regioned Gym Leader Castle is cleared using six Pokémon from the player's Game Boy cartridge, the player is rewarded by allowing them to teach a single move to one of the Pokémon used in battle that it could learn in a previous level. In Generation II, there was no other way of doing this and only became a feature until Generation III's Move Reminder.
As expected, the GB Tower made a triumphant return to the Stadium series, and offered pretty much everything that one could expect if they were familiar with this feature from the first game. However, all six handheld Game Boy Pokémon games (Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, and Crystal) could be played here via the Transfer Pak. A question – how many of you immediately loaded your shiny red Gyarados into a battle as soon as you received this game? This writer certainly did, as well as every other shiny he caught throughout his Gen II adventures (a Donphan and Stantler). The novelty of transferring your very own caught and raised Pokémon into glorious 64-bit representation certainly didn't seem to vanish, and the inclusion of Gen II's +100 'mon (and their shiny variants) played a large part in this.
The Pokémon Laboratory served in exactly the same way as it did in Stadium 1, allowing players to organise their handheld games' PC boxes and access basic information about each of their owned Pokémon, such as moves and stats. 3D world maps of both Kanto and Johto regions could also be viewed, as well as all 251 Pokémon in 3D via the Pokédex. However, it also included the feature of trading, something that its predecessor lacked. Pokémon could be traded between two Game Boy games inserted into two Transfer Paks without the need of a Link Cable, making transfers quick and efficient. This also meant Pokémon that required trading in order to evolve could be done so in this area. It should be noted though, every second gen Pokémon could not be transferred to the first gen of games, as well as any Pokémon with a move that doesn't exist in Red, Blue, and Yellow, Pokémon holding mail, or eggs.
Much like Pokémon Stadium's Kids Club area, Stadium 2 offers a Mini-Game Park where players can play 12 mini-games (three more than its prequel). These games are arguably more enthralling than the last batch, and can also be played in a more competitive mode called Mini-Game Champion, where players compete to earn enough coins to become the victor. The inclusion of event-based mechanics (such as the leader having to give away their coins to other players should they lose) via a dice roll take it further, shaking the game up tremendously. Fans of the Mario Party series are likely to appreciate this mechanic.
Another mode of the Mini-Game Park is in quizzes, where the player races against the clock to see how many Pokémon questions they can answer in 100 seconds. This mode is also available in multiplayer, where players put their reflexes to the test to see who can answer the most questions correctly first. The option to choose the question difficulty means a fun and engaging test of one's Poké knowledge, whether you're a beginner or expert. One thing to note is the special functionality that allows players to use their own Pokémon from their Red/Blue/Yellow/Gold/Silver/Crystal adventures within certain mini-games the Park has to offer. For example, in the "Clear Cut Challenge" game, players are randomly allocated Scyther or Pinsir to use in the mini-game, however if a player has a Scizor installed in their Transfer Pak via a Game Boy cartridge, or even a shiny version of any said Pokémon, they can be used within the game instead. It's a small but nifty feature that helps tie the console game with the handheld series once more.
As mentioned, Pokémon Stadium 2 boasts several more features than its precursor. For starters, Earl's Pokémon Academy is a great way for both novices and veterans of the Pokémon series to learn new battle skills in lectures from a man named Earl, and then demonstrate these new learnings in test battles. The Academy also contains a library, consisting of in-depth and extensive information on Pokémon, moves, items, type match-ups, and egg groups. The player also has their own room in "My Room", where they can witness their room from Pokémon Gold, Silver, or Crystal in 3D. This area can be decorated with plushies, posters, and more, although a Gen II Pokémon game needs to be inserted into the Transfer Pak in order to access this feature. Finally, Stadium 2 contains "Mystery Gift", a feature where a girl will give each Game Boy cartridge (Gen II only) a gift once per day. It should be noted that Mystery Gift must first be activated in the player's Gen II handheld games. It's yet another great feature that makes Pokémon Stadium 2 the perfect complimentary game to the main-series games.
With everything Pokémon Stadium 2 had going for it mentioned above, it's arguable that Pokémon Stadium 1 still shone in the soundtrack department. An example would be when selecting Pokémon to use in Free Battle Mode. Stadium 1's music was grand and exciting, and got players excited for the battle ahead, whereas Stadium 2's is a little dull, mundane, and often got this writer drowsy when waiting for his brother to assemble his team of six back in the day. It's a minor gripe, but soundtracks do play a core part in generating memorable experiences for players - Donkey Kong Country and Ocarina of Time are two great examples of this. Other than that, unless you deem yourself a "Genwunner" (a term coined to those who adore the first generation of Pokémon and nothing else), there's not much else - if at all anything - that the original does that its successor does not.
All in all, Pokémon Stadium 2 takes the formula that made Pokémon Stadium so great and betters it with its slew of new Pokémon, inclusion of both Johto and Kanto regions, and fresh features. Its constant integration with the main-series games almost makes it a must-have for players concerned with the handheld games due to allowing them to receive exclusive prizes and have access to some pretty neat features that compliment their adventures. Sure, most of its assets are taken from the original game, there was no revamp in graphics, and it arguably lacked in the soundtrack department (when compared to the original at least), but it does plenty more to standout as a pretty solid sequel. It's fair to say we haven't seen a quite as complete 3D Pokémon experience like the last of the Stadium series for some time, but here's hoping we see Pokémon Stadium 3 (or something or the sort) on the Nintendo NX.