While the main Pokémon games have rigidly stuck to their tried-and-true formula, the spin-offs have gone into some pretty interesting territory. Rather than focus on the life and tribulations of being a Pokémon trainer, PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond once again lets you step into the shoes of the franchise's lovable mascot Pikachu, and this time he's brought some friends.
The story begins with an oddly serious scene of Reshiram and Zekrom discussing an ever-growing darkness which serves as an odd contrast with the series' usual bright, cheerful tone. After some very cute scenes with Pikachu and his best friend Piplup, players are again blindsided with more drama as Pikachu must find a way to rescue the 'mon being hypnotised and held captive in the mysterious Wish Park.
It's all a bit jarring, honestly. The main bulk of the game is so sweet you'll probably get cavities, but some of the story scenes are actually quite heavy — it's never fun to see Pikachu cry, especially when he's at his most helpless. While younger fans probably won't notice or care, those who are able to fully grasp the story will be more engaged than they had probably expected before popping in the disc.
The first PokéPark Wii: Pikachu's Adventure only let players take the role of Nintendo's iconic shock mouse, but this time the starter trio of the Unova region get to share the spotlight. As the story progresses Oshawott, Snivy and Tepig can be swapped in at any point, allowing them to use their unique talents to help. While it would have been easy to make all four characters play exactly the same and hope players are satisfied with false variety, each Pokémon's skillset is necessary to traverse PokéPark and find all that's tucked away. Oshawott can swim, Snivy can jump high and Tepig is able to bash through certain barriers.
The main bulk of the game is simply exploring and interacting with different Pokémon, who will occasionally send you off to find a lost item or ask you to play tag. The rest will ask you to battle, and there are no menus or turn-based systems to be found here. You'll be jumping, dodging and attacking in real time, which is refreshing for a Pokémon game. If you lose, it's no big deal; you just have to get up and try again.
The graphics are full of life and vibrant; they're good, and not just for a Wii game. The world of PokéPark is well designed and full of colour, and you'll often forget what you need to do to continue the story because you'll be having too much fun exploring. It's a lot of fun to see Pokémon just being Pokémon, outside of Pokéballs and free from the rigours of life with a trainer.
The music is an aural feast as well, with catchy, upbeat tunes adding to the sense of fun and adventure, and you'll often find yourself nodding your head along with the music without realising it. It's the kind of game music where sometimes you'll just stop and stand there so you can listen to it a little bit longer.
PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond is a simple game, but that's not a bad thing. The warm, welcome graphics and fantastic music are the perfect frame for a game of this type. It's simple but it's fun, and at the end of the day that's all that really matters. Those who aren't Pokémon fans probably won't be as enamoured as those who can sing the Pokérap from memory, but for Pikachu's devoted followers this is super effective.