Forget About Mario Party
Pokémon Stadium can be viewed as a bit of a relic. The main thrust of the game came from seeing Pokémon in full 3D colour rendering. Your monsters stepped out of the Gameboy and battled it out in an epic arena. This made experience so much more real than the mainline games could manage. However, central titles now match that experience and the battle system outdated. Is there much point in playing Pokémon Stadium beyond a nostalgic experience? Pokémon Stadium is worth revisiting, but not as a single player experience. Instead, next time you’re playing with friends you should skip the bitterness of Mario Party and launch Pokémon Stadium. In a strange way, it has become a perfect party game.
Let’s start with a strange problem that’s likely one of the main reasons behind it’s absence from virtual consoles. The Transfer Pak and availability of original Pokémon cartridges. Many of us still have our cartridges, and can still transfer our old Pokémon over to Stadium. If you don’t have your cartridge, or have lost bits of equipment over time, you’re left with the rental Pokémon. Even if you still own your cartridge, the monsters on it are a snapshot of when you last replayed the title. Transferring them over to battle seems a little like returning to your old Animal Crossing town, full of guilt. Using your own Pokémon to battle just isn’t the same as experience. The Game boy Tower also falls into this category. It’s nice to play sometimes, but largely superfluous in the era of roms and virtual consoles.
The single player campaign of the game is the Cups and Gym Leader Battle Castle. Both modes serve as a rush of Pokémon battles. The Battle Castle is the key battles of the first generation of Pokémon as a kind of boss rush. The cups are a more free-flowing tournament. Battle after battle after battle, honestly just gets a bit tedious. The Cups are a little better, with more variety in the limitations you’re given but it’s still not an engaging experience. The battle system in Stadium is an improvement on the Red and Blue but it’s still not great. When you play the old system for a while, you realise the value of the changes, balances and additions that have been made.
In the past, a big part of playing these sections was using your own Pokémon. Outdated hardware has meant that you’ll be picking from the generated sets of Pokémon to take on the challenge. Removing all aspects of caring for and raising a team can leave this mode as just tests of proficiency in a battle system you’ve been using for decades. For many, myself included, Pokémon is about a lot more than just the battles. These modes simply don’t hold the pull they once did. Nostalgia aside, they are unlikely to be of much interest as a solo experience.
Pokémon Stadium remains a great experience even with these drawbacks. It has come to occupy a genre that no other Pokémon game has successfully conquered. It’s became a perfect party game. The combination of the mini-games and quick Pokémon battles have made what was a side element of the game into a great multiplayer experience. Specifically, it’s a multiplayer experience that can be picked up and played quicker and easier than anything else in the Pokémon franchise. You need very little prior knowledge of Pokémon, this makes it incredibly accessible. Its gameplay can be done in short sessions, and there’s enough variety to stop anyone getting frustrated.
The quick multiplayer battles lack the complexity of modern Pokémon battles, and they feature a smaller rented roster. This levels the playing field and makes matches with friends easy. This is especially the case when other players may be lapsed fans uninterested in the recent titles, or just don’t have a 3DS with them at all times. The rental Pokémon allow you to jump right back in and the more limited system stops you getting too weighed down in the meta game. These battles are great fun with friends and the simplicity of them works to an advantage here. These quick battles are the best way for a group of players to test their ability battling, without too much organization or prior work. There’s enough there though to keep them competitive and keep everyone pretty well focused on the game, even if their not currently playing.
The second part of Pokémon Stadium as a party game is the best feature of the entire package, the mini-games. They replicate the best of Mario Party but are more manageable in their quantity and without the commitment of a few hours playing a whole board. These games are simplistic enough that anyone who didn’t own the game originally can pick them up with relative ease. This is key if you’re trying to convince a group of people to play an 18 year old game. None of them would scare off non-gamers, and they evoke the kind of game play that made Nintendo the only option for party games.
The mini-games strength comes in their simplicity. Anyone with experience with the game likely has one or two they considered their strong points. This also allows other players to get a look in even if they don’t have that muscle memory. ‘Who’s the best’ can become incredibly competitive, as whichever player is in last position takes control of mini-game selection. In the wrong hands, this can lead to half an hour of Magikarp Splash. But it also works to balance the game and stop players dominating to the point that it’s not fun. The mini-games also get progressively more fun as you play, with people who have never played the game before becoming infuriated by the mention of Snore War.
Pokémon Stadium has taken on a completely different life as a retro title. Rather than its original purpose, it’s became one of the most fun multiplayer experiences available. With a few friends and some beers, it becomes as much fun as Mario Kart. It’s strange how different this is from it’s original intention, but its given the title longevity. Nostalgia is definitely a factor here. But enjoyment doesn’t rest on this, the experience is fun even for those who have never played. It should be central to all game nights with a Nintendo 64 present.
For extra fun, the battles work great with the Pokémon drinking game.