Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we take a look at games that have been forgotten by time. You know, February was a pretty big month this year. We got a Nintendo Direct, a big one this time, JRPG fans were thrown a couple bones with the release of Bravely Default II and a demo for an upcoming strategy game called Project Triangle Strategy, we finally got Persona 5 Strikers, a new Ghosts ‘N Goblins game came out, Super Mario 3D World +Bowser’s Fury was released, Fire Emblem Fates celebrated its 5th anniversary (which I do intend to get to at some point), and even Zelda is celebrated its 35th anniversary this month. Even Pokemon had an anniversary event! I guess what I’m saying is that a lot of stuff happened this month, despite COVID-19 still severely limiting us and what we can do, and it seems like more will be happening in the coming months. So with all that having happened, today I’m going to ignore most of that and talk to you about Pokemon Stadium.
Yes, Pokemon Stadium. You know, that one Pokemon game on the N64? No, not Pokemon Snap, the other one where you can battle your Pokemon. No one remembers this? Really? In all seriousness, while the game isn’t that completely forgotten, I often find most people rarely talking about it. You’re not going to see a lot of people demanding a new Pokemon Stadium as much as say Pokemon Snap. And yet despite that, Pokemon Stadium helped shape the series in ways that are still relevant today, and is even an amazing piece of programming wizardry by the late Satoru Iwata.
But is all of that enough to warrant a second look, or is there a reason why Pokemon Stadium seems to be lost to time? Let’s put on our best hat, grab our best Pokemon, and go out to be the very best in Pokemon Stadium. Oh and before anyone asks, there was a Pokemon Stadium 2 that focused on the Gen II games, but I’ll be covering that later.
So one of the worst kept secrets about the Pokemon Stadium game we got, which was released on the N64 in Japan on April 29th, 1999 in Japan and everywhere else throughout 2000, is that its actually the second game in the series. Yes, there was a previous Pokemon Stadium game, and it released only in Japan for the N64. For those wondering why I’m not covering that one instead, it’s because the game is considering incomplete, with it only have two main battle modes, not extra side modes like minigames, only having 40 of the 151 original Pokemon being playable, and the max level cap is 55, meaning that you couldn’t take your level 100 Magikarp and Metapod into battle. It was going to be updated via the N64 DD, but since the DD failed, those plans were scrapped like many games for it. Seriously, to say the N64 DD played a huge role in how games were made during the N64 era is an understatement and something I’d like to cover one day.
Still, it wasn’t doom and gloom. Despite it being considered an incomplete game, it still did well enough financially, was used to host a couple of tournaments, and partially fixed some of the bugs, glitches, and changed the balance of some of the moves. It was even programmed by the late Satoru Iwata, who took the original game’s source code and was able to translate it fully to the N64. I know not everyone is knowledgeable in coding, so to put that in perspective, imagine translating War and Peace from English, to Spanish, then German, than Japanese, and still keeping the same text in place; yeah, it was that impressive. Even more so when you consider that the original Pokemon games, at least from a programming perspective, were barely held together, and that they worked was a miracle in and of itself.
But again, despite those achievements, it was still left a little limp. So GameFreak decided it was time to make a sequel and actually complete it this time. So how did that go?
The tagline for Pokemon Stadium when it released was, “Battle your Pokemon for the first time in 3D!”, which technically wasn’t a lie, since that’s the whole point of the game. But to the game’s credit, the models for the original 151 actually look really good for the time, with them having unique animations for just about everything from coming out of their ball, attacking, taking damage, and fainting, and the moves having unique animations as well. Okay, the Pokemon are a little jaggy by today’s standards, and some of the animations look awkward by today’s standards (Seismic Toss is literally the game flipping the screen 180 degrees and Fly is just the Pokemon moving up into the sky, complete with idle animation), but its really impressive for the time. This combined with the decent but overall meh music and an announcer who describes everything like he’s telling it to a 2 year old (seriously, the announcer makes the game so much better) go a really long way with giving off a sense of immersion and energy in pretty much every battle. And I would argue that without it, the game would be lesser than it already is.
While there are some small things that you can do in Pokemon Stadium like play some minigames or the GB games (specifically Red, Blue, & Yellow), the real meat and potatoes of Stadium are the battles, specifically the Stadium and Gym Leader Castle. Let’s start with the Stadium mode, which has four cups, each with their own level caps and Pokemon requirements. These include the Pika Cup, where Pokemon between level 15-20 can compete and include Pokemon that were mostly found in the areas leading up to the Cerulean Gym, the Petit Cup, which includes unevolved small Pokemon like Squirtle, Pikachu etc. (though the level cap is from 25-30, so you explain that to me), the Poke Cup, which has four sub cups (Poke Ball, Great Ball, Ultra Ball, and Master Ball), has Pokemon between level 50-55, and plays out like a normal Pokemon tournament, and the Prime Cup, where everything is at level 100, there’s no level cap, and all 151 Pokemon are eligible. Once you pick your team, you then go through eight Trainers, each with their own unique teams, pick three Pokemon, and battle it out. If you lose once, you have to start the cup over again, though you do get continues if you win a match without any of your Pokemon fainting. The Gym Leader Castle is like Stadium, except all Pokemon are level 50 by default, and you’re going through the eight Kanto Gym Leaders (each gym has you fighting three trainers before the Gym Leader), the Elite Four, and finally your rival, whereupon beating them you get a free Pokemon if you used your own Pokemon, said Pokemon being a starter you didn’t get, an Eevee, Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee, Kabuto or Omanyte, though said Pokemon is picked at random. Beat both the Gym Leader Castle and Stadium, and then you fight Mewtwo. Beat Mewtwo, and you unlock Round 2, which is the same thing except the teams you fight are much more diverse and harder.
And that is pretty much Pokemon Stadium in a nutshell. There’s no Pokemon to catch, no story to follow, just you and your Pokemon battling. I know one complaint a lot of people had with this game and also its sequel was that it wasn’t a 3D adventure, and that it was nothing but battling, but that’s kind of the point. Pokemon Stadium is under the assumption that you the player have already caught them all, you became the very best, so let’s see how you do; in other words, it’s the equivalent of the post game Battle Towers found in later generations. And while I personally don’t like those modes myself, I did find myself enjoying my time with this game a lot as a kid and even a little bit now when I played this again. At first.
However, as I played more of it, the nostalgia began to fade away and I began to feel really bored of the battles. Even the commentator yelling “taken down on the word go!” got repetitive after awhile, and the cool animations and 3D models that wowed me when I was younger began to lose their luster. And that’s the best way I can describe it: Pokemon Stadium can be fun, but it gets very boring after awhile, and is just really limited on how much fun you can have. Now is that because I’m older and have played future games so that things like Pokemon Stadium don’t wow me anymore, or was the game never that great to begin with and I was dumb kid for loving? You be the judge (spoiler alert: the answer is yes).
So to the surprise of nobody, Pokemon Stadium sold incredibly. What’s really surprising was that it did better in the United States, selling 3.16 million copies here alone, compared to Japan and Europe’s sales, which were 710,765 and 100,000 copies respectively. Reviews were also mixed, as some people really loved the graphics, but hated the sound design, specifically the narrator. As for the game’s impact, if you ever played Pokemon competitively, you can thank Pokemon Stadium for that. That’s because as part of it’s development, Pokemon Stadium had a lot of quality of life updates, fixed some issues and balanced some moves, and even set some rules that are still used today. To name a few, they include:
Reducing the chance of freezing by Ice moves from 15 to 10 percent.
Having only one Pokemon frozen and one Pokemon asleep per battle.
Bind and Wrap stop working when a Pokemon is switched out, as well as letting the opposing Pokemon pick a move while activated.
Recoil moves no longer cause damage when they KO an opponent.
No team can have the same Pokemon more than once (so no team of 6 Caterpie for you!)
Using Self-Destruct or Explosion when there’s one Pokemon left on each side will count as a loss for the player that activated the move.
Granted, some of these rules and moves have been changed and modified over the years, and some I don’t think are even used anymore, but still. It’s rather impressive that Game Freak and Nintendo established rules for competitive play that are still for the most part being used today, not to mention trying to fix a lot of the problems that the original games had, which for the record is a lot.
As for why it’s forgotten, I think there’s a lot to unpack here. I’ve heard some people say that the gameplay got stale after awhile or that the game lacks a single player mode, or that a lot of it became redundant over the years. But I would argue that if that were the case, then games like Pokemon Colosseum, Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Puzzle League, or even Pokemon Go would have suffered the same fate, yet those games are still mostly beloved. Honestly, I think the problem with Pokemon Stadium is that it was ahead of its time. As I said before, Pokemon Stadium is best played under the assumption that you’ve already beaten the game and now you’re just getting your teams together to take on some trainers. But what do you do after that, or what if you don’t have the GB games? Well, then you’re kind of stuck in the latter, since while the game offers up rentals, the game actively discouraged you to do that because not only could you not unlike a lot of the game’s bonuses, they were also terrible, and with the former, there really isn’t much to do outside of battling a friend, which may not be the best thing to do. And keep in mind, this was released in 1999-2000, where having online play in your game was next to impossible, so you couldn’t do what you could in the modern games and battle random people online, which of course limited it even more.
Compare that to Pokemon Snap, a game that I personally never liked, but I can at least see why that game endured for so many years and is even getting a sequel. And I would argue that unlike Stadium, Pokemon Snap has the universal appeal of taking pictures of Pokemon and getting a high score, where as Pokemon Stadium is more concerned about one part of Pokemon that not everyone in the community was a fan of, even today. So yes, while it’s great that the game helped get kickstart the competitive scene to some extent, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that the game was already going to be very limited in its appeal, and yes become completely redundant as the years went on.
That’s a flat no to both questions. Which honestly, isn't something I thought I would say.
It’s not a bad game per say, and for the time it sounds and looks very good. But after awhile the gameplay gets really boring, not to mention that a lot of what Pokemon Stadium offers can be found to some extent done better in later games. I loved this game when I was a kid, but the nostalgia blinders fell off, and fell off harder and faster than I thought they would. If you’re honestly curious about playing a Stadium game, I would recommend you stick with the next game I’m going to be talking about: Pokemon Stadium 2.
And hopefully you won’t wait a month in a half to find out my thoughts about it.