With the international success of Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64, Game Freak’s bestselling franchise had presence on both the handheld and console markets. The latter game was especially novel for its time, having introduced the Transfer Pak. With it, players could insert their own copies of Pokémon Red, Blue, or Yellow into these devices and have the creatures they raised battle it out in 3D. Naturally, Nintendo EAD was compelled to make a sequel following the release of the mainline series’ second-generation games: Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver. This sequel was showcased at the Nintendo Space World festival in 2000. It was originally going to be entitled Pokémon Stadium 3 domestically before being changed to Pokémon Stadium Gold/Silver, seeing a release in December of that year. Western fans wouldn’t have to wait too much longer for the game to be released internationally, seeing the light of day in March of 2001 in North America and October of the same year in Europe. As only the second of the two games in the series left their native homeland, it was dubbed Pokémon Stadium 2 abroad. Does this game successfully keep up with the core series’ evolution?
Analyzing the Experience
Like its predecessor, Pokémon Stadium 2 does not have a story to speak of. You are a Pokémon Trainer who has just arrived in White City with one purpose: to become the new champion. As was the case with the original Pokémon Stadium, one cannot raise a team of Pokémon to fight in these tournaments – at least not in this game. It is possible to receive rental Pokémon in order to be eligible, but where is the fun in that? Just like last time, the Transfer Pak is your best friend. By inserting a copy of Pokémon Gold or Pokémon Silver, you can import any Pokémon you own to compete in the various tournaments. It’s worth noting that the enhanced version of these games, Pokémon Crystal, is also compatible with Pokémon Stadium 2. The original three games are as well, but doing so may leave you ill-prepared when you consider how many moves were introduced in Gold and Silver.
White City’s main attraction would be the gigantic stadium dominating its center. A majority of the competitions you can enter follow the same basic rules. You must build a team of six Pokémon to compete. When you enter a battle, you get to choose three different Pokémon to battle against your opponent’s. Gold and Silver introduced the concept of giving Pokémon items they can utilize in battles. These items can be given to your team, but you aren’t allowed to hand out duplicates. For example, if you give one of your Pokémon a Gold Berry, another cannot be given to any of your other team members. If you successfully defeat all of your opponent’s Pokémon without any of your own fainting, you will earn a continue. Once you defeat all eight opponents, you will be awarded the appropriate trophy.
Once again, there are four different tournaments to compete in: the Poké Cup, the Prime Cup, the Little Cup, and the Challenge Cup. The Poké Cup and Prime Cup follow the same exact rules as their original counterparts. The Poké Cup is a standardized tournament in which you can build a team composed of six Pokémon between the levels of 50 and 55. To prevent audacious players from sending out a squadron of three Level 55 Pokémon every time, the combined levels cannot exceed 155. This means if you decide to send out your heavy-hitting Level 55 Tyranitar, the other two members of your team can only be Level 50 Pokémon. The Prime Cup, on the other hand, forgoes any notion of level restrictions and allows you to throw any Pokémon into the fight. Despite this, every Pokémon you face will be Level 100. The sole difference between this tournament and the identically named one from Pokémon Stadium is that you only have to complete it a single time.
The two new tournaments, the Little Cup and the Challenge Cup follow completely different rules. One of the most significant mechanics introduced in Gold and Silver was the ability to breed Pokémon. By placing one male Pokémon and one female Pokémon in the custody of the Day Care near Goldenrod City, they could eventually create an egg. The offspring would be of the same species as its mother while retaining certain moves from its father. Most relevantly to the rules of the Little Cup tournament, all freshly hatched Pokémon start off at level 5. Accordingly, only Level 5 Pokémon may participate in this competition. Moreover, any evolved Pokémon are forbidden. This sounds like a clause that goes without saying until you remember the various Pokémon capable of evolving via evolutionary stones or trading.
If you try to take advantage of the fact that Level 5 Pokémon typically don’t possess more than 20 HP by teaching any of your team members Sonicboom or Dragon Rage, which deal exactly 20 and 40 damage respectively, the developers caught onto your strategy before you had a chance to devise it. Both moves are strictly forbidden from this tournament. Although it sounds simple, you must still employ a lot of strategy to have any chance of winning. Oftentimes, the only way to win is to catch your opponents off-guard with a hereditary move. As such, you must possess a thorough understanding of the breeding mechanic and how moves are passed down. Merely going out and catching any Level 5 Pokémon you may find in the earlier portions of the game will leave you at a severe disadvantage.
The Challenge Cup operates on an interesting premise in that you don’t get to choose your own team for this tournament. Instead, you are given a randomly generated team with unique movesets. The game will generally give you a diverse team with decent type coverage, though the items are assigned randomly as well. It’s important to know that your opponents have random teams as well, though a majority of them conform to a certain theme. Like the Poké Cup, the Challenge Cup has four levels of increasing difficulty. You must clear all four of both in order to complete Round 1.
The stadium isn’t the only place in which you can fight other trainers. On the edge of town lies the Gym Leader Castle. This imposing edifice is inhabited by Johto’s eight Gym Leaders. With one exception, there is a certain number of trainers you must defeat in order to earn the privilege of challenging the leader. These trainer classes correspond to the types you will encounter attempting to reach the Gym Leader in Gold, Silver, and Crystal. To wit, Falkner, the bearer of the Zephyr Badge, runs a gym dedicated to Flying-type Pokémon. Therefore, the only trainer type to be found in his gym is of the Bird Keeper class. Appropriately, when you attempt to fight Falkner in Pokémon Stadium 2, you must defeat a single Bird Keeper first. Similar to the original Gym Leader Castle, most of the difficulty stems not from the number of opponents you face, but rather the fact that you cannot afford to lose a single time.
The Gym Leader Castle vaguely reflects the storyline of the second-generation games. Between the sixth and seventh fortresses, the player is accosted by Team Rocket. This is arguably the most difficult section in the castle thus far because it involves fighting four trainers without losing once. After defeating the eight Gym Leaders, you are then made to fight the Elite Four before facing off against the regional champion, Lance. Once you defeat him in battle, you are then taken to a second castle occupied by the eight Kanto Gym Leaders. The non-linear turn Gold, Silver, and Crystal take when exploring Kanto is translated to this game in how you can fight these Gym Leaders in any order. However, only the respective Kanto Gym Leader occupies their respective fortress. Once all eight have been defeated, you are then made to fight Red – the legendary, silent trainer considered one of the absolute best.
Like its predecessor, White City has quite a few areas of interest outside of the Stadium and Gym Leader Castle. As before, you can visit Professor Oak’s Laboratory to organize your Pokémon and inventory items. The primary benefit is that you can place your Pokémon in storage, allowing you to keep them should you ever decide to conduct a second playthrough. You can opt to store any items you may possess in the Pokémon Stadium 2 game cartridge as well. Though the second generation Pokémon games were better about organizing your inventory, it’s still nice being able to store items you didn’t use on one playthrough for any subsequent one. Given the sheer difference in what kinds of items are available across generations, you cannot transfer anything obtained from the first-generation games any second-generation ones and vice versa. Item storage is logically divided into two cases: the Metal Case for Gold, Silver, and Crystal and the Color Case for Red, Blue, and Yellow.
Two other attractions include a place to decorate your character’s bedroom and a second Game Boy Tower. Although it doesn’t serve a purpose outside of aesthetics, the ability to decorate the bedroom without having to backtrack to New Bark Town is an interesting feature. The Game Boy Tower naturally allows players to load up whichever Pokémon cartridge is embedded in the Transfer Pak. As a consequence to the larger amounts of data in each ROM, there are two different loading options: Load Little and Load Max. Load Little boots up the game quicker, but it pauses for a brief duration whenever the player enters a new area. Load Max requires a bit of time to boot up, but once it does, you won’t have to experience any interruptions at all. The latter is usually ideal, but if you want to make minor adjustments, the former is your best option. Given that many of these services will not function unless you have saved in a Pokémon Center in the Game Boy titles, this is handier than it sounds.
White City also features a Kid’s Club where you can play twelve brand-new minigames. In Gusty Golbat, you control the titular bat-like creatures in a dark cave. Whoever manages to reach the end of the stage with the most hearts wins. Topsy-Turvy has players control Hitmontops in a competition reminiscent of Beyblade. The rules are exactly the same; you need to strategically strike your opponents by rapidly spinning into them, thereby knocking them out of the ring. In Clear Cut Challenge, you assume control a Scyther or Pinsir attempting to slice a log being dropped down. All of the logs have a white line drawn on them, and whichever Pokémon cuts closest to it earns ten points. The one who has the most points after all the rounds are completed is the winner.
Furret’s Frolic involves guiding the Pokémon to push a free Poké Ball into an opponent’s goal while preventing it from falling into your own. Barrier Ball can be thought of as a four-player variant of Pong. You control a Mr. Mime holding up a barrier. You score points by knocking the Poké Ball into another player’s goal. You can press the “A” button to hit the Poké Ball with the barrier. Pichu’s Power Plant involves directing the electric rodent of your choice to power up an electrode. You must press the control pad in the appropriate direction and press the button that appears onscreen to be successful. Rampage Rollout is a single-screen racing game in which you control a Donphan. If you can complete laps without being hit, you will gain the ability to create dirt tornados, which slow down your opponents. Streaming Stampede is a counting minigame in which various Pokémon run across the screen for a brief duration. Your goal is to then count how many of a certain Pokémon appear during this stampede.
Tumbling Togepi is reminiscent of Run, Rattata, Run in that you’re made to guide your Pokémon down a treadmill bearing various obstacles. The primary difference is that you cannot jump in this minigame – you simply must settle for rolling out of the way. Delibird’s Delivery involves controlling one of the birdlike creatures to distribute various gifts that come in from the bottom conveyor belts and drop them in the topmost ones. You can only carry five at a time, but the more you carry, the slower the Delibird moves. This can be detrimental because on occasion, a Swinub walks across the factory, causing your Pokémon to trip if they collide. Egg Emergency has one-hundred eggs drop down into a Chansey’s pouch. You must have the Chanseys lean left, right, or stay in the center to collect them. A Voltorb sometimes drops as well, stunning your Chansey if she catches it. Finally, Eager Eevee involves watching the titular creatures walking circles around a dish. An Aipom will eventually lift up the dish, revealing a fruit. At that moment, you must press the “A” button to collect it. Naturally, whoever presses it first gets a point. You must be careful because sometimes a Pineco will be underneath the dish instead, which explodes upon contact. In order to trick your opponents, you can press the “B” button to feint, potentially causing them to hit the dish or run into a Pineco.
While the minigames of the original were fun to play, this one has a minor touch I really like. If you happen to own the Pokémon starring in these games, they get to participate. In the games, Pokémon were only ever used for fighting, so this is a nice way to have your teammates participate in challenges with more emphasis on fun. In fact, many of the playable Pokémon are only accessible if you personally own one. For example, in Clear Cut Challenge, you can potentially play as your Scizor – the evolved form of a Scyther. This game also features a mode wherein players compete for coins, which are then transferred to the winner’s cartridge. Considering that the only way to obtain coins in the Game Boy titles was to gamble them in casinos, this is a great bonus addition. It is much more gratifying to obtain special prizes through skill rather than luck.
For that matter, you can also obtain random, rare items by participating in the Mystery Gift exchange. In effect, this is similar to the Mystery Gift mechanic found in Gold, Silver, and Crystal wherein you could use the Game Boy Color’s infrared communications port to scan another player’s console, resulting in both parties receiving a random item. The primary difference is that you can obtain Mystery Gifts from Pokémon Stadium 2 without needing a second player. The Japanese version also included the MOBILE STADIUM. It allowed players to access a paid service known as the Mobile System GB that could be used to link the Game Boy Color with a mobile phone using an adaptor. It could be seen as an early attempt at wireless gameplay, for players were able to trade and battle from afar in an age before the internet fully gained traction. However, it was never implemented outside of Japan due to few children possessing mobile phones in the West at the time. Unlike in Japan, there were no standardized, cheap models available abroad, so a Western kid possessing one was practically unheard of.
The most notable feature of White City would be Earl’s Pokémon Academy. Here, you can learn many new facets about the games. Between lessons, you can put your knowledge to use by participating in battles against other trainers utilizing certain gimmicks. Although it sounds like a glorified tutorial, the Academy effectively turns the battle system into a puzzle game, having a lot to offer beginners and veterans alike. You are given a team of six, and three of them are required in some way to complete the lesson. You can theoretically win with a suboptimal team, but Earl will not give you a passing grade if you do. It is through solving these puzzles that you get a greater understanding of how the underlying mechanics work. Dual-typed Pokémon have a big advantage in that they possess two means by which to obtain a same-type attack bonus, but they also possess twice as many weaknesses. Hyper Beam may be one of the strongest moves in the game, but a Pokémon must waste one turn recharging after successfully using it. Only by grasping these subtle intricacies will you ultimately prove victorious.
Pokémon Stadium 2 manages to capture what made the original such a groundbreaking experience, updating itself for the series’ second generation. Unfortunately, despite these new features, it bears a majority of the weaknesses of its predecessor. With the battle system being the sole focus, a significant chunk of the series’ appeal is lost. There are no dungeons to explore, NPCs to speak with, or Pokémon to capture. This leaves you with context-free battles, which, while requiring you to come up with strategies far more advanced than anything the Game Boy titles have to offer, become repetitive fast. Even alternating between two different trainer lineups in the Poké Cup and Challenge Cup does little to alleviate the tedium.
Moreover, while Earl’s Pokémon Academy was a great feature at the time, a lot of the information you can pick up from it is outdated. In the second generation, physical and special attacks were wholly dependent on the move’s type. Two generations later, this trait depends on the move itself. This is important because one of the trainers you face attempts to use Meditate to fortify her own Pokémon’s attack stat before using Hyper Beam. This was a perfectly viable tactic in 2001 owing to Normal-type offensive moves running off the “Attack” stat. Now, it would be entirely counterproductive due to Hyper Beam being designated as a special attack. Much of the information you pick up from the academy is still useful, but you have to accept it, through no fault of its own, is no longer the encyclopedic database it once was.
It’s also difficult to write an extensive critique of Pokémon Stadium 2 without mentioning the Challenge Cup. On its surface, I like the concept of the Challenge Cup. The idea of having to win a tournament with a randomly assigned team with unique movesets is a great way to test your knowledge of the battle system. It also makes for a nice change of pace considering you do not have to raise a team specifically for the purpose of participating in this tournament.
Where the Challenge Cup falls short is that whether or not your team is viable depends on the luck of the draw. Depending on how the RNG feels, you will either sweep the competition with little effort or struggle to make it past the first few Trainers. This is especially bad in the Ultra Ball round in which you have no access to any fully evolved Fire-type Pokémon. If you find yourself facing off against a strong Steel Pokémon, which resist an awe-inspiring eleven types, you’re left with little recourse. The movesets usually consist of two offensive maneuvers, one that buffs or debuffs stats, and a fourth providing some kind of defense. There’s no guarantee the Pokémon you’re given will have sufficient type coverage. In fact, you could very easily end up with a Pokémon knowing Tackle, one of the weakest moves in the game. This limitation doesn’t affect your opponents, who can and will employ efficient metagaming tactics. One employs a strategy that involves badly poisoning your team and nullifying your Pokémon’s counterattacks on subsequent turns while another opts to leave your team paralyzed. Without the ability to use any recovery moves, this is amazingly difficult to defend against.
When I reviewed the original Pokémon Stadium, I remarked its greatest flaw was that it magnified the weaknesses of the first-generation games. Their poor balance ensured that any cheap tactic you could get away with in Red, Blue, and Yellow was easily exploitable in Pokémon Stadium as well. This is entirely true of Pokémon Stadium 2, but for a different reason. Despite Gold, Silver, and Crystal being overall improvements over their predecessors, the sheer amount of level grinding you had to do was completely untenable. Lance, the champion awaiting you at the end of Indigo Plateau, had a team with a Level 50 Dragonite as his ace. By that point, you would be lucky to have a team in the early forties range, so in order to stand a chance, you had to grind levels in Victory Road. This was easier said than done because the wild Pokémon were leveled anywhere from 32 to 36, ensuring an overall terrible yield of experience points. You then have to begin the process anew when you defeat the eight Kanto Gym Leaders and reach Mt. Silver to square off against Red. He has a full team consisting of Pokémon far stronger than that of any other trainer in the game – most of which are in the seventies. As the strongest wild Pokémon in the game are in the forties range, training your team to face him will take several hours.
By the time you access Mt. Silver, there is a good chance your team will only barely qualify for the Poké Cup. It is admittedly fitting that you would be using the team you used to enter the Kanto Hall of Fame in White City, but having to complete the entire game just to get that far is more than a little unreasonable. This becomes even more troublesome if you have any prospect of entering the Prime Cup. Once again, anyone you face in the Prime Cup will come out swinging with a full team of six Level 100 Pokémon. The amount of time you need to dedicate to raise one Pokémon to Level 100 is staggering. Even if you can build a team strong enough to defeat Red without trouble, you can only fight him once per day. Indeed, this problem is far worse in Gold, Silver, and Crystal due to the sheer lack of grinding feasibility. You’re better off grinding levels in the Cerulean Cave in Red, Blue, and Yellow due to the wild Pokémon residing there being far more powerful than a majority of what you can face in the sequels. This, however, runs the risk of your Pokémon missing out on useful moves introduced in the second generation. If you want to raise a second-generation Pokémon to level 100, you’re out of luck.
Just like its predecessor, if you manage to clear every tournament along with the Gym Leader Castle, you will unlock one final challenge. Silver, Ethan’s rival, will challenge you to one last battle, and he bears a team consisting of three legendary Pokémon: Lugia, Ho-Oh, and Mewtwo. Unfortunately, like the Mewtwo battle in Pokémon Stadium, this fight is very easy to win because you can use a full team of six against him. This means, yet again, the final battle doesn’t present a challenge to anyone skilled enough to have reached it in the first place. Even if all of them are markedly more powerful than standard Pokémon, you still have an overwhelming advantage if you exploit their weaknesses properly. In fact, a properly trained Tyranitar is capable of sweeping all three of Silver’s Pokémon with little trouble. Their powerful Rock attacks exploit the weaknesses of Lugia and Ho-Oh, inflicting quadruple damage against the latter. Even better, their secondary type, Dark, completely nullifies Mewtwo’s strongest attacks while exploiting its weaknesses in turn – along with Lugia’s as well. To be fair, Silver’s Lugia knows Surf while his Ho-Oh has Earthquake in its moveset. Both moves could prove problematic for Tyranitar, but anyone who has made it this far will doubtlessly have a good backup plan in case something goes awry. If worst comes to worst, you can request an immediate rematch if you lose.
Drawing a Conclusion
When it comes to assessing this game, the most basic takeaway is that Pokémon Stadium 2 is a material improvement over its predecessor. Nevertheless, this conclusion is more of a commentary on how much of an improvement Gold, Silver, and Crystal are over Red, Blue, and Yellow. Given that Pokémon Stadium bared all of the weaknesses of the first-generation Game Boy titles, the one optimized for their set of sequels couldn’t help but iron out the flaws plaguing the original. In fact, doing so effectively made the original game obsolete. If you wanted the definitive Pokémon Stadium experience, it wouldn’t make any sense to settle for the original when the sequel reflects all of the improvements the series made between generations. Naturally, the problem is that the same exact fate befell Pokémon Stadium 2 a mere two years later when the third generation started. If anything, it was even worse off because not only did Nintendo upgrade their handheld system and their home console in the interim, the coding for third-generation games ensured they had no compatibility with any of their predecessors. This means every single reward you may have obtained from any of these games was now completely worthless.
Because of these factors, my stance on Pokémon Stadium 2 is identical to that of its predecessor. It simply isn’t worth the effort of procuring all of the materials required to play this game in its intended form when there are countless alternatives that don’t require such a monumental setup. Even if you are persistent enough to do so, you’ll have to contend with the fact that a majority of the Pokémon Stadium 2 experience entails preparing to play it – an issue far worse in the second generation than it ever was in the first due to how difficult it is to grind levels in Gold, Silver, and Crystal. If a comparable amount of time is spent on the actual game, it’s solely due to its slow pacing. It may be worth revisiting for someone who has all of the original cartridges and consoles to hand, but everyone else is better off looking elsewhere.
Final Score: 3.5/10