Pokepark 2: Wonder Beyond isn't one of those main games in the series (we've got to wait for the upcoming Pokemon Black and White Version 2 for that), but instead, is a spin-off aimed firmly at children, especially those who are fans of the TV series, and the sequel to last year's Pokepark Wii: Pikachu's Big Adventure. Following a similar format, it's a veritable smorgasbord of smiling faces and happy Pokemon, with a strong focus on the value of friendship. You'd have to have a heart of stone to watch the opening sequence without cracking even a little smile - and although it's aimed at children, that doesn't mean adults can't enjoy it, too...
The story here is suitably odd – a bunch of dark Pokemon are planning to kidnap and hypnotise all the Pokemon in the PokePark, by leading them through a poster into a land called the 'Wish Park', where they'll be stuffed full of hypno-cake and captivated by a dance or two. Why they're doing this we don't know at first, but being the ever helpful guy he is, Pikachu sets off to get to the bottom of things and free all the captured critters, joining up with Pokemon Black & White other starter Pokemon, Oshawott, Snivy and Tepig along the way. These four make up the playable Pokemon in the game, and each has own special skill - whether it's swimming as Oshawott, smashing through big boulders as Tepig or leaping higher as Snivy, and you can switch between each using the A Button.
Despite there being a spooky, impending end of the world scenario overlying the events in the Wish Park (as told by legendary Pokemon Zekrom and Reshiram), PokePark 2 is basically a tale of friendship. In order to open the portals to different regions of the Wish Park, which let you go back, and free to Pokemon trapped inside, you'll need to enlist the help of your friends, who can join you in "wishing" for the way to open – the more friends you have, the easier it'll be to get the portal to open (you have to shake the Wii Remote to wish it open). This "making friends" idea forms the obligatory 'Gotta Catch 'Em All' component necessary for any good Pokemon game, as scattered around the land of the Pokepark are dozens of 'mon, eager to make friends with a Pokemon just like you. The only difference is, making friends here works a little bit differently to real life, as it usually involves taking on a Pokemon at their favourite game, and beating them so badly that they declare their undying friendship. Good losers, these Pokemon. Like the rest of the game, these befriending games are pretty simple affairs - most often, you've simply got to chase them down in a tag-like game of 'Chase', or a Pokemon battle (which usually just involves mashing a button), but sometimes you'll get a quiz, a round of hide and seek, or a 'take me to such and such Pokemon' request for a bit of variety.
By and large, the things you need to do to befriend the various 'mons are pretty straightforward – you may need to wait until you've upgraded your dash attack for a game of chase, or upped your health for a battle, but most Pokemon can be befriended on your first attempt. That said, there was one particular Pelipper who seemed to think himself above us, as try as we might, he would not befriend us. Desperate for a photo of himself soaring through the skies (we should have guessed he was a narcissist from that), he asked us to take a quick snap for him - but despite our best efforts, he refused to even accept we'd taken a photo. Admittedly, our photography skills do leave something to be desired, but a few were as good as he was going to get - yet he turned his massive beak up at all of them, repeatedly telling us he was still waiting for his photo.
It's this making friends that takes up the bulk of the game, and you'll spend a lot of time helping out the PokePark's inhabitants, or searching for secret hard-to-reach areas where chests full of extra berries (the game's currency) can be found. These berries can be used to upgrade your Pokemon's skills and abilities to make them stronger, giving them more HP, making them move faster, or increasing the power of their special moves – all of which will come in handy as you get further through the game and the Pokemon you need to befriend aren't so easily impressed. No matter what you're doing though, you're never left entirely to your own devices, which could be a problem in a game aimed at children like this. Thankfully preventing too many "What on Earth am I meant to be doing now..." moments, there's
always a story to follow, and something you're meant to be doing, so you're never in the dark about what you've got
to do next.
This time round, the focus has shifted away from the theme park style mini-game attractions found in Pikachu's Big Adventure, with more of an emphasis on adventuring and exploring – having only four attractions to clear this time, as opposed to the fourteen or so in the previous game, we are a little bit sad to see the end of the minigames, as the ones we've been left with feel a little bit limited. So the story goes, each region of the Wish Park has it's own attraction that's being used to enslave the visiting critters, and it's up to you as Pikachu and co to beat it, so you can ring the area's bell, and snap all the other Pokemon out of their trance so they can return to the PokePark.
First comes Cofagrigus' Cake Contraption, a dastardly game that prays on the Pokemons' hungry nature (especially Munchlax) – with the cakes in question putting the Pokemon under a trance when eaten. In order to break the spell you'll need to show Cofagrigus who's boss by beating him at his own game, which involves shooting at various ingredients as they appear on the screen – first popping out of holes whack-a-mole style, and then falling from the skies. Beat the attraction, do a little boss fight (by mashing buttons) and everyone will cower at your awesomeness, revealing the path up to the bell you can ring to return the Pokemon to normal. Then, it's simply a case of heading back to the Pokepark, exploring some more, and befriending yet more Pokemon, before rinsing and repeating for the other areas of the Wish Park, where you'll take on a different attraction each time – whether it's dancing along with Lopunny, flying through space collecting gems, or a massive Pokemon brawl.
Basically, each area in PokePark 2 follows the same pattern – arrive in a new area, make friends with as many Pokemon as you can, gain a new ally in the form of Oshawott/Snivy/Tepig, before you all gather round the Wish Park poster and combine your powers to open the portal. Pass through the poster to the new part of the Wish Park, beat the attraction and then the boss, ring a bell and leave, with the now rescued Pokemon in tow.
It's worth bearing in mind too that even though you can play as four different Pokemon during your adventure, Pokepark 2: Wonders Beyond is sadly an almost entirely single-player game - we'd initially thought (read: hoped) it would be four player co-op. While you can play each of the four attractions in multiplayer, with only four attraction to play through, it seems like something of a pointless addition. Or maybe we're just upset that we didn't get out co-op Pokepark game (read: it's probably just that).
But even if you write the multiplayer side of things off, Pokepark 2: Wonders Beyond is a game that ticks all the boxes, for young and, er, young at heart Pokefans alike (for more information on how kids should cope, check the Parental Perspective tab at the top). A fairly lengthy, simple and, dare we say it, fun game to play through, particularly if you're the sort who just has to befriend them all, Pokepark 2 is well worth a look. But next time, Nintendo - full co-op, and more minigames. Please?