The foremost meritorious accomplishment of the Pokémon franchise is its capacity to consecutively pulverize any generation gap-spawned barriers to smithereens like a recently awoken Snorlax stumbling over into a withering tree. No matter how cutesy or childish these games may appear on an external level, the deeper elements of obsessive strategy and real-life social interactions that accompany them allow players of any age to put aside egotistical, prideful reservations and embrace one of the most habit-forming video-game series of all time. Over the past decade or so it’s become quite apparent that the problematic detail regarding non-mainline Pokémon titles is that they typically place depthless gloss above core gameplay mechanics, resulting in third-rate experiences that serve only as pre-nap entertainment fodder for budding grade schoolers. Sometimes it works, as in last year’s simplistic yet addictive Pokémon Rumble Blast, but both 2010’s PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure and now PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond fall victim to an overdose of bubbly sheen; a near-toxic imbalance of fan accommodation and actual enjoyable playable content.
PokéPark 2 asserts itself instantly with the same kind of visual strengths that drew Pokéfanatics into the earlier Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium games: bringing loyalists’ favorite Pocket Monsters to life on a larger screen in colorful 3D. In PokéPark, the emphasis is on platforming, mini-games, and less intensive RPG elements. Lamentably, that surface sheen quickly reveals its shallowness as the dull story, confined controls, and lack of replay value combine to yield an end product that verges on bringing shame to the triumph of Pokémon Black/White. Like its predecessor, PokéPark 2 offers an inviting world full of five generations of Game Freak’s creature creations to muck about in, but unlike the perpetually memorable act of choosing a Grass/Fire/Water starter companion before setting off on your quest to catch them all, it’s missing a similar central hook, a device that provides bait for players to care about the spotty narrative. Using Pokémon Black/White’s mascots, Reshiram and Zekrom, respectively, as catalysts, PokéPark 2’s tale is one of mystical wish granting, trance-inducing pastries, and villainous forces that seek to enslave Pokémon for apparently no other reason than to give you something to fight against as numerous rounds of tedious carnival-style side tasks are thrown in your path. Some of these mini-games, like obstacle courses and target shooting, are generally well executed and lightweight fun for first few occasions, but they become extremely repetitive in rapid fashion when the variety of gameplay fails to alter in difficulty and further entice.
To its advantage, PokéPark 2 takes a much more streamlined approach than Pikachu’s Adventure, implementing an effective, to-the-point tutorial that doesn’t outstay its welcome. In addition, the short-term mission goals are clearer and well defined, eliminating some of the bumbling around aimlessly prompting repeat chats with NPCs that plagued the original PokéPark. Sadly, the revamping of the control scheme doesn’t follow suit. The absence of the Wii’s Nunchuk attachment is very nearly a fatal flaw; while the horizontal usage of the Wiimote is initially passable, the constrained two-button setup and contracted ease of movement with the D-pad soon becomes incredibly bothersome. If the Nunchuk had been efficiently utilized in the vein of the Wii’s Super Mario titles, the heavily detracting areas of PokéPark 2 would conceivably be less of a strain on the overall matte happenings.
The majority of PokéPark 2’s gameplay consists largely of switching between Pikachu and Pokémon Black/White’s starting three (Oshawatt, Tepig, and Snivy, whose special abilities are necessary to progress through certain terrains) as you recruit fellow Pokémon via platform-hopping, the aforementioned mini-games, and, of course, field battles. These testable showdowns are paramount to the prosperity of any Pokémon chapter, and PokéPark 2’s form of critter-on-critter combat just isn’t up to par. The indispensable strategic components are all but stripped away, leaving only the most basic silhouette of rock-paper-scissors, attack-spamming maneuvering to outwit opponents. Collecting items (mainly berries, the game’s primary form of currency), is a feature that aims to add a layer of durability to PokéPark 2, but ultimately feels tacked on and bromidic due to the rank of importance these collectables have to enhancing the skillsets of your Pokémon. PokéPark 2’s four-slot multiplayer mode is a welcome enrichment (the previous game is a grievously solo endeavor) that mirrors that of standard Mario Party outings, and while it’s great to see subsidiary gamemakers Creatures Inc. correcting their previous errors, only a minimal amount of extraneous thoughtfulness while crafting these scenarios (online support?) could have made them a new mainstay at off-the-cuff gaming gatherings.
As should be the case with any sequel, PokéPark 2 is an advancement over Pikachu’s Adventure, with the developers taking note of selected fanbase gripes and placing Band-Aids accordingly. Predictably, though, this breed of quick-fix augmentation is rarely beneficial, with the introduced tweaks being so inconsequential that the game is fundamentally interchangeable with its forerunner. Faster than one can hum the opening bar of the Pokémon theme song, PokéPark 2 achingly exposes itself as nonessential to any gamer over the age of 10.