This review originally went live in 2016, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the game's arrival in the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack N64 library.
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. How was this done? Game Freak launched a new set of games – Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal – in the late '90s (or early 2000s, depending on the region) and this of course meant a slew of new monsters to catch and train all over again. This also yielded new sets of trading cards, a new series of anime, new merchandise, new manga, and everything in between. It's a formula that's continued to work ever since, 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's different about Pokémon Stadium 2 compared to its predecessor? Having the second generation of Pokémon makes it a must-have and winner altogether (due to it being this writer's all-time favourite gen), but to many this alone surely couldn't warrant a purchase — although now it's available for free on the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pass. We've covered the ins and outs of Pokémon Stadium in our review of the game, and its successor contains most if not all of the same features the original had.
With that in mind, Pokémon Stadium 2 might 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 that 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 means that the N64 sequel also benefited, thus deeper and more intricate battles can be had. 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, means that battles are more ferocious than before. It's like taking a game of chess and adding even more rules to it, which opens the floodgates for plenty more battling techniques and strategies. The game's Free Battle mode has also been improved from the first Pokémon Stadium, in that different arenas can 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 doesn't have a story, 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, 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.
Following the lead of its handheld main series counterparts, Pokémon Stadium 2 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.
At least in the N64 version in the game's single-player modes, there's a conscious effort to keep the integration with its Gold/Silver/Crystal counterparts by rewarding the player in nifty ways to better their handheld adventures. For example, if the Elite Four segment of the Johto 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. As expected, the GB Tower also makes a triumphant return to Stadium 2 and offers 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. 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.
Similarly, The Pokémon Laboratory allowed 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.
Fortunately, Stadium 2 does have the Mini-Game Park where you can play through 12 different mini-games (three more than its prequel). These games are arguably more enthralling than the last batch and can be played in a more competitive mode called Mini-Game Champion, where players compete to earn enough coins to become the victor. Fans of Mario Party are likely to appreciate the inclusion of event-based mechanics, such as the leader having to give away their coins to other players should they lose.
New to Stadium 2 are quizzes where the player races against the clock to see how many Pokémon-themed questions they can answer in 100 seconds. This 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. One thing to note is the special functionality that allowed players to use their own Pokémon from their Red/Blue/Yellow/Gold/Silver/Crystal adventures within certain mini-games. In 'Clear Cut Challenge', 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 we miss on NSO.
There are several more new features in this sequel. Earl's Pokémon Academy is a great way for both novices and veterans to learn new battle skills in lectures, and then demonstrate these 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 where you can (or could) look at your room from Pokémon Gold, Silver, or Crystal in 3D. This area can be decorated with plushies, posters, and more. Stadium 2 also contains "Mystery Gift", a feature where a girl could give each Game Boy cartridge (Gen II only) a gift once per day. It's yet another great feature that makes Pokémon Stadium 2 the perfect complement to the main series.
With everything Pokémon Stadium 2 has going for it, it's arguable that Pokémon Stadium 1 still shines in the soundtrack department. Stadium 1's music when selecting Pokémon to use in Free Battle Mode was grand and exciting, and got players excited for the battle ahead, whereas Stadium 2's is a little mundane and often made us drowsy when waiting for our sibling to assemble a team back in the day. Other than that, unless you deem yourself a "Genwunner" (a term coined for 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.
Pokémon Stadium 2 takes the formula that made its predecessor so great and betters it with its slew of new Pokémon, the inclusion of both Johto and Kanto regions, and fresh features. 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 stand out as a pretty great sequel. It's fair to say we haven't seen a comparable 3D Pokémon battling experience like the last of the Stadium series, but here's hoping we see a true Pokémon Stadium 3 (or something or the sort) on a future Nintendo console.