Pokemon Colosseum: A Quick Review by TR Rose

Imagine Pokemon meets The Road Warrior, your adventure set in a post-apocalpytic world where the strongest are in control and good doesn't necessarily triumph. You start off as a renegade outlaw (not a goody-goody little trainer) who turns on his fellow criminals, Team Snagem, and destroys their large Snag Machine (a device that steals Pokemon from their trainers). Swiping the smaller model for himself, your character (we'll call him Seth) takes off across a barren desert in a landspeeder, accompanied by Espeon and Umbreon.

The world is a different place from the other Pokemon games. Gone are the lush forests and bustling cities, replaced by empty expanses of desert and small outposts. Pokemon have become so rare that criminal organizations have taken to stealing the few remaining creatures, turning them into fighting machines by closing the doors to their hearts, and distributing them as prizes for winning battles. These "Shadow Pokemon" are a stronger, more vicious breed of Pokemon who aren't afraid to attack people. Shops don't even carry Poke Balls, since there are no wild Pokemon left to catch. The only Poke Balls you can get are from a shopkeeper who has a few of these "antiques" lying around - he sells them to you because no one else has a use for them.

The character names are uncommon: gone are familiar names like Bill, Ash, and Erika, to be replaced by strange, futuristic sounding ones. The only respected trainers live in a retirement village, old enough to be the main characters' grandparents. In fact, your partner (we'll call her Yuki) is trying to visit her grandpa, Eagun, when she is kidnapped by a couple of thugs because she can see the Shadow Pokemon auras. Speaking of Eagun, he is an old trainer who still trains his original Pokemon partner, Pikachu, and he was once known as the Legendary Trainer. Might this be the Red of the original games? Times certainly have changed.

Official Gyms don't exist any more, and the Elite Four battles seem to be a thing of the past. You can still train in organized areas (like the Pre Gym), but you won't receive a Badge for winning. Mount Battle seems to be the only real training spot in the game, with 100 trainers waiting to fight you. Pokemon Centers exist in the 'nicer' towns, but staying in a seedy hotel is your only choice for healing up in some of the more run-down towns (and these aren't free). Decent trainers will wait for you to ask them for a battle, but some of the tougher customers will attack you on sight - from within towns. All battles are now 2-on-2, which allows for some nice combos.

In the earlier Pokemon games, criminal organizations like Teams Rocket, Aqua, and Magma run underground networks of crime, rarely venturing into the open unless they're concocting a scheme (like taking over the Radio Tower, or provoking a Legendary like Kyogre or Groudon). Here, lawlessness runs rampant. Entire cities are run by criminals, and police are few and far between. Cipher members kidnap the city leaders' beloved Pokemon, insuring the baddies are able to do as they please.

The typical "Pokemon Stadium" mode is available as well for players who want to match their Ruby/Sapphire or FireRed/LeafGreen critters against an opponent. Story Mode Pokemon can be used as well, and there are several different Colosseums to battle in (Pyrite's looks eerily similar to the "Two men enter, one man leaves" stadium of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome). Of course, even the Stadium Mode has its improvements. First off, you can see your character and the trainer you're fighting against (this is true for Story Mode as well), and you can choose between single and double battles. The Pokemon themselves look better than ever before. The attacks are more impressive looking, and even older moves like Surf and Acid have been given a makeover, making them look more realistic. The character design of the older Pokemon is the same as the two Stadiums, but the animations are nicer - in particular, Koffing and Muk look more toxic than ever before. All of the Pokemon react during the battles (Zigzagoon scampers between the trainer's legs, and Ludicolo literally dances the whole time, adjusting his sombrero when he gets hit). They also have better "fainting" animations (Kirlia's dramatics are terrific). Best of all, the annoying announcer (Tracey) is long gone ("They're staring each other down! The trainer hasn't issued an order! What's the matter, trainer?")

Overall, Pokemon Colosseum's Story Mode has a sinister feel to it, and actually plays as a serious RPG. The control and camera views remind me more of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time than a Pokemon game. The music is orchestral, yet there are a few familiar Pokemon touches (the creatures' cries are the same, as are the "healing up" sound effects). The 3D views of the Pokemon (and trainers) are impressive, and a lot of the original games' down-time has been eliminated. Unfortunately, many of the more popular Pokemon aren't Snaggable, and the ones that are can be difficult to catch (I had to reset my game 7 times to get Suicune). On the other hand, this forces players to train and use Pokemon that otherwise sat, forgotten, in their PC Boxes. In order to complete the game, you have to catch, train, and purify all 48 Shadow Pokemon, and many of these are creatures I never played with in other versions.

The real prize, and your ultimate goal, is to catch Ho-oh. But since this Legendary is wild and free, it won't be caught like a normal Pokemon. Instead, you must purify all 48 Shadow Pokemon, and complete the Mt. Battle challenge outside of Story Mode with creatures you purified or traded over. That's 100 trainers in a row, and you can't switch your team mid-way.

Pros & Cons

+ The first 10 hours aren't spent wandering around the forest with a lv. 5 starter, a lv. 2 Pidgey, and a lv. 3 Rattata
- Pokemon are harder to catch, as they often knock themselves out with Shadow Rush. Plus, once you KO a Shadow, it's gone. You can't just go find another one.

+ Quick travel between cities (no more forests!) - No need to Surf, Fly, Cut, etc.
- Fewer areas to train. The Stadiums and Mt. Battle are about it.

+ Can get Legendaries fairly early
- Legendaries are a pain in the butt to catch (but still easier than G/S/C)

+ Captured Pokemon know good moves (including TM moves) right away, and are at higher levels than usual
- Less choice of Pokemon to train (only 48 to catch, and many of these are weak/unpopular - I sound like such a Rocket!)

+ Start off with the two hardest-to-get Eeveelutions
- Can only get one G/S/C starter until near the end of game

+ All Shadow PKMN start w/ Shadow Rush, an infinite-PP Take Down attack that is neither strong nor weak to any type
- Shadows often go into Hyper Mode and you lose a turn calling them back

+ To get additional moves, you have to "open the door to the Pokemon's heart", which takes time and training
- When you Purify a Pokemon, it loses Shadow Rush. For some Pokemon, like Dunsparce, this is the best move they'll ever have.

+ Most Pokemon start at 2nd Evolution, or close to evolving
- Few choices of moves to learn

+ Able to trade with Ruby/Sapphire and FireRed/LeafGreen, and bring new items like the rare Berries
- Must complete Story Mode first

+ The only way to get many of Johto's Pokemon in the Advance generation of GB games.
- Most of them are Pokemon you'll never use anyway. Who actually trains an Aipom or a Gligar, anyway?

Would I recommend this game? Absolutely. If you've ever enjoyed a Pokemon game before, then you'll be enthralled by this one. If you've never tried Pokemon GB games, this is better than any of the previous versions. Hardcore Poke-fans will need to purify the Shadow Pokemon to complete their National Pokedexes. And besides, the jacket-cape-wearing renegade "hero" trainer is too cool. This one's well worth the money.

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