Let's face it, Nintendo's churned out filler titles before while we waited for the next main instalment in the Pokémon series, and that's exactly what PokéPark Wii: Pikachu's Adventure is. A spin-off from the more traditional Pokémon games, its focus is primarily on meeting and befriending others via mini-games across various zones with different themes. There's nothing wrong with a simple premise, but when the simplicity spills over to the other areas, it's a recipe for disappointment.
The narrative is as follows: If the Sky Prism loses its power it could cause the Sky Pavilion to fall onto the PokéPark, and it's shattered into 14 pieces that have fallen over the land. The park contains various skill games and attractions; beat your opponent at these and they will become your friend. You will also gain berries which you can spend on the amusements or use to improve your stats. Players are eligible to take part in certain games after they have made a specific number of friends, which gives the player a reason to find them all.
Even before you have finished the tutorial at the start you'll know that the somewhat uninspired choice of using a sideways Wii Remote to play a 3D roaming game is going to be frustrating. The B button is used to centre the camera behind Pikachu; since this is the only way to alter your view, the question that will inevitably pop into the player's mind is "How do I hold the controller in a comfortable way over a long period of time?" What appears at first to be a mundane conundrum is actually one of the game's major downfalls.
Although you can point the Wii Remote at the screen and use the infrared pointer to look at your surroundings, this only benefits the player when they are stationary or taking photographs. This unfortunately makes it hard to enjoy the nicely-rendered environments in a spontaneous way.
The game does make use of several motion-control gestures in a few of the skill games and attractions, but there's only so much that you can do with a standalone Wii Remote. Races sometimes require players to shake the horizontal controller up and down to sprint, an air hockey-esque arena will test your hand-eye coordination as well as your reaction speed, and the variations on third-person flight races aren't bad. They're nothing mind-blowing, but at least they're a few examples of how gameplay becomes a bit more varied with engaging controls. Sadly, these moments are about as common as the queen.
Let's move onto the difficulty curve. Well... there isn't one, actually. The game is as straightforward as it could possibly get, with the gist being "meet a Pokémon, beat them at a skill game, repeat." As you progress, your opponents will have higher stats – but so will you. For the more experienced player, the prospect of befriending all 193 Pokémon might seem like a great challenge. Wrong! There are times when you won't have to do a thing other than talk to them before they're begging to be your chum.
The visuals are just about the only positive that this game produces. Characters and objects look suitably well-defined and solid, but the developers could have spruced up the menu screens a bit more. The environments actually carry a level of enticement, it's just a shame that players don't get to explore them in any meaningful way.
The audio is non-intrusive, which works as an advantage as players will be doing a lot of repetitive stuff and the last thing that you want is an annoying soundtrack that just won't go away. The rather dormant sound design does make every zone sound alike, which stands in contrast to the effort that's been put into making them visually different from each other.
Pikachu's Adventure is clearly aimed at the younger demographic, but that shouldn't mean that other gamers should be ignored. Indeed, it is the ridiculously easy and repetitive gameplay that makes this game nothing more than a let-down. We're sure that even younger gamers have higher standards than this. If anyone continues to venture beyond the six hour mark, it's either because they either have to finish a collection once they've started, are nuts about Pokémon or, more likely, are just easily entertained.
Past Pokémon spin-offs have always had an obvious new direction that deviates from the main series, but this time, the change seems to have been pointless. The game requires players to go through what are essentially mini-games in order to progress, but they offer neither variation nor substantial enjoyment. For the most part, it will engage you in a game of tag or a real-time battle. Other kinds of excursions such as races and platform events are few and far between, which gives the impression that the developers put too much stock in its target audience's patience. There's an arcade mode that allows players who want a break from the main game to just play the attractions within it, but building up a list of best times and record scores with different Pokémon isn't enough to compensate the easiness of it all.
For a simple game that doesn't rely on frills, it does what it needs to do – it's just a shame that it doesn't try to be more adventurous, like its name suggests. In fact, perhaps PokéPark Wii: Pikachu's Long-Winded Meet & Greet That Doesn't Seem to End might have been more apt.
Whatever the expectations of this game are in your neck of the woods, we have a feeling that they're way above the satisfaction that it will offer you. Buy it if you are thinking of starting your own Pokémon museum, or if you have youngsters at home who want wholesome yet unsurprising ways to kill thirteen or so hours. It's a shame that a respectable franchise should have something so mediocre tarnish its name, but hopefully this will be a lesson for Creatures Inc. to take on board and realise that if it's going to produce a spin-off it should make sure that it's something they themselves would play.