Abe, meet Pikachu

lincoln.jpgAt the end of the day, there were two requests to review “Dr. Mario” and four for “Everybody’s Pokémon Ranch” — so I’ve decided everybody wins! Tonight I picked up the Pokémon title, and tomorrow I’ll be looking at Dr. Mario.

To be honest, though — even though I too was more curious about the Pokémon title than any other, I have to concede that its definitely a rather shallow “game.”

Let me say first however, that buying the game was a breeze. It took no more time to download than any other VC title or updated Wii channel, and as I mentioned before, buying Wii points on my cellphone made the whole process even faster than inputing a credit card number (and billing address, etc.).

Once you boot up Pokémon Ranch, you’re introduced to Yukari, the girl who “created the ranch,” and dreams one day of filling it with Pokémon to live and play with — no doubt a dream she needs your help with. She then transforms into a Mii and enters the ranch, explaining how the game works.

Basically every day you access the channel, Yukari will bring a new Pokémon in. That’s how she wants you to help? Access the channel? Well… okay — the Wii shop description for the game did have a disclaimer: “…this game does not involve catching, raising, or battling Pokémon.” In addition, you can import your Pokémon from Diamond and Pearl into the ranch, but since I accidentally left my DS in LA (d’oh!) I couldn’t test this feature (I will later though).

One important thing about this title is that you DO NOT need Diamond or Pearl to play, the game starts you out with six Pokémon and as I mention you get a new one every day as long as you pop-in for a visit.

You have the option of putting up to five of your Miis into the ranch (Yukari is also always there too), and it’s cute to see them all in farmer-garb. Then, you can uhmm… watch? That’s right, the game “supports” the Wii remote and nunchuck (you don’t need the nunchuck though), but you can’t control your Mii, Yukari, the Pokémon, or the camera. All you can do is focus in on Mii or Pokémon by clicking on them, or selecting them from a list (if they are outside of view). You can’t pan or zoom, but you can press a “come hither” button, that makes the Pokémon or Mii look your way.

The main feature of the channel is that you can take photos to save on your SD card, or send to friends. But as I mentioned the game gives you very little control, so taking good photos is more of a chance game, and that can be fun, but also frustrating if you want a more specific shot. You can also parade the Pokémon that you have in your Ranch (and apply filters based on the trainer that brought them in), and check the Pokémon Wanted billboard, where Yukari will give you advice on catching new Pokémon based on who you already have in your Diamond and Pearl game.

If you let the game sit for a while, the Pokémon and Miis will interact with each other, and the game offers some brief text narratives. Then once and a while, every one will pose indefinitely, during which time you can take some photos, or tell them to quit it.

The graphics of the game are really simple: the backgrounds textures are visibly low rez, and all of the Pokémon’s shapes have been drastically simplified, quite a step back from how they looked even in Pokémon Stadium on the 64.

Overall I was pretty disappointed that Pokémon Ranch didn’t include any fun mini-games I could play with the Pokémon, it’s just a very passive experience. This isn’t to say that the game isn’t fun, I enjoyed taking odd photos of Abraham Lincoln and Pikachu, and it’s always a treat to see Growlith take on J.K. Rowling (Growlith set her on fire, for the record). But in the long run, it feels like the channel’s features could’ve been simply added to the standard Mii channel (maybe for 500 yen instead of 1000?) instead of having a completely separate experience.

Even if you’ve got lots of Pokémon on your Diamond and Pearl cart, and are really anxious to swap pictures of them and your Miis, the lack of game-play included in the title might make you feel like you’ve wasted your money. However, if you are the type that likes to sit and watch screen-savers or games that play themselves, you might not mind the passive nature of the title. It does have some soothing background music, after all.

One more note: The game obviously uses your system clock to add Pokémon, and constantly has the date and time in the corner of the screen, but the game changes from night to day completely arbitrarily — why overlook such and obvious feature??