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Pokemon, like many Nintendo franchises, is fairly comfortable adhering to the same established formula with each new release. While the games are of consistently high quality, they all follow a paint by numbers gameplay model; you assume the role of a 10 year old novice Pokemon trainer, choose a starter Pokemon, travel across a region, defeat the Pokemon teams of other like minded trainers and Gym Leaders, until you finally challenge the Pokemon League and become the strongest trainer in your region. The only difference between each Pokemon release then, is the region or setting it takes place in, and the available Pokemon that you can catch.It's a formula that gets the job done, but many Pokemon fans have traveled this road time and time again and yearn for something a bit different With Pokemon Sun and Moon looking to adhere to the established mold rather than break from it, some have given up hope on a traditional Pokemon game that experiments with the beloved series formula a bit.
Except...there is such a game out there right now and it is twelve years old.
It's called Pokemon Colosseum, and it released on the Nintendo Gamecube, a console home to many other experimental games, in 2004. Pokemon Colosseum released to mixed reviews and lackluster sales upon release, selling 33 million less copies than main series installments Ruby and Sapphire, which had been released the previous year! However, many who have played the game for themselves actually rather enjoy the niche title.
Twelve years ago, Pokemon Colosseum shook up the traditional Pokemon formula in a very satisfying way.
In the same vein as the beloved N64 Pokemon Stadium games, Colosseum served as a means for Pokemon fans to battle with the critters they raised in the main Pokemon games in a 3D environment, years before Pokemon X and Y would take the main handheld installments into the third dimension. The main draw of Pokemon Stadium 1 and 2 was to allow players to fight powerful A.I. teams and other players on a 3D home console using the Pokemon they trained in the Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles.
While Pokemon Colosseum allowed players to do this as well using their teams from the Game Boy Advance games, seeing Pokemon in 3D was no longer enough of a hook to sell a game by itself, so developer Genius Sorority added something else to the package to make it more palatable - a campaign mode. To this day, Pokemon Colosseum's campaign is easily the most unique and controversial of any Pokemon game to date, and for good reason. But this is far from a bad thing, as this makes Pokemon Colosseum a great game to turn to for those craving for a different battling experience set in the same Pokemon universe.
Pokemon Colosseum's literally explosive one minute intro demonstrates right off the bat that this game is not the same vanilla Pokemon experience players are used to. Unlike the main series Pokemon games, where you assume the role of an innocent and inexperienced child, Pokemon Colosseum places players in the role of Wes, an older and more skilled Pokemon trainer with a bit of a criminal history. While much of Wes' backstory is left to player interpretation, the game establishes that he is the most skilled member of Team Snagem, a criminal organization that uses a machine called the "Snag Device" to steal other trainer's Pokemon. Remember as a kid how shocked and annoyed you were when you couldn't steal that Bug Trainer's Weedle because it was "against the rules?" Team Snagem doesn't play by those rules.
It's only one minute long, but Pokemon Colosseum's explosive intro affirms that the game won't be like any Pokemon title you've played before.
This means that Wes has a history of kidnapping other people's Pokemon for profit, which certainly doesn't depict him in a good light. However, at the start of Colosseum, Wes has a change of heart for one reason or another, and steals the Snag Machine from Snagem themselves, giving them a taste of their own thievery - but not without blowing up their hideout first.
Wes escapes the hideout on his absurdly cool hoverbike with his beloved Pokemon allies Espeon and Umbreon, the fixed starter Pokemon for the game. Because these 'mon evolve only through a strong bond with their trainer, we can assume Wes treats his Pokemon team with care in spite of his morally grey nature. Wes' uniqueness as a Pokemon protagonist also directly impacts both the premise, and the gameplay of Colosseum.
Wes' wheels in Colosseum are just a bit cooler than the bikes in other Pokemon games...
The game takes place in the Orre region, in which there are no Pokemon gyms, meaning your objective is not the same as main series Pokemon installments. Instead, Wes uses his newly stolen Snag Machine to take down a criminal organization known as Cipher. A step up from Team Rocket, Cipher seeks to control the Orre region by creating Shadow Pokemon. By "closing the door to their hearts" (a toned down way of saying abusing them - Pokemon is still meant to be family friendly!), Cipher turns Pokemon into violent creatures, increasing their strength at the expense of their overall happiness. This makes Cipher is a cruel organization that neglects and harms Pokemon for their own selfish agenda. It's not an overly original or creative concept, but it's interesting for the Pokemon series to depict the implications of Pokemon abuse.
Also of note is that there are no wild Pokemon to catch in the Orre region. Players can only catch new Pokemon by stealing from other trainers using Wes' newly acquired Snag Machine. However, Wes decides only to use the machine against Shadow Pokemon, so that he can both weaken Cipher as an organization, and heal or "purify" the Pokemon he steals from them. While this does limit the player to only being able to catch 48 new team members on top of Espeon and Umbreon, it also encourages them to use Pokemon that are often overlooked in the main series installments; many of the Pokemon up for grabs hail from the Johto region, whose Pokemon are relatively uncommon outside of Pokemon Gold/Silver and their remakes. This gives the player an opportunity to create a team with Pokemon they may never have used before, which also heightens the challenge, as you'll have to learn their types and movesets to succeed in battle.
In Colosseum, players do not catch wild Pokemon to add to their team, but rather steal abused "Shadow" Pokemon from evil trainers and heal them to strengthen their roster.
Speaking of challenge, as stated before, you begin the game as an experienced Pokemon trainer; unlike traditional Pokemon games where your enemies initially have low level Pokemon with only basic attacks and strategies, Colosseum immediately throws you to the wolves by pitting you against other strong trainers the same level as you, whose Pokemon know moves and tactics that you normally wouldn't see in the main series installments until later in the game. Moreover, the game's bosses, Cipher leaders, often employ strategies reminiscent of the kind seen in real life competitive Pokemon battling, meaning this is not a campaign where you can spam Flamethrower the entire game to plow trough it.
Moreover, the entirety of Pokemon Colosseum consists of Double Battles, an overlooked fighting style in the main Pokemon series where both you and your opponent battle with two Pokemon simultaneously, opening the door for more complicated strategies and type matchups. What's more is that the battles follow a "set" format, meaning that when your opponent is about to switch a Pokemon in, unlike the main games, you won't receive an advance warning as to which Pokemon they are sending out, nor an opportunity to switch a team member in that is strong against it. This means that if you want to switch Pokemon, you always have to sacrifice a turn to do so, adding in a new wrinkle of strategy.
If this sounds much more difficult than the typical Pokemon game, that's because it certainly is. Since you can also only steal Shadow Pokemon from other trainers rather than catching wild ones, this also means in battle you have to simultaneously catch Shadow Pokemon by whittling down their health without making them faint, while also defeating any other regular enemy Pokemon that stand in your way. It's an interesting example of multitasking that makes every Pokemon you catch truly feel like a small victory.
Once captured, Shadow Pokemon also function differently from regular 'mon, further twisting the traditional Pokemon formula. While Shadow Pokemon are tougher than their "pure" counterparts, they also have a limited moveset and cannot level up, preventing them from getting stronger. In order to "purify" them, players have to use them in battle frequently and then travel to a purification stone in a certain village. This adds an interesting element to Pokemon training in that you need to fight alongside new team members quite a bit to get them to a point where they will be able to level up, evolve, and learn new moves. This can be a bit tedious, but because a Shadow Pokemon will gain all of their experience points they acquired from battling at once upon purification, it can also be immensely satisfying to see the Pokemon you put so much care into go up ten levels at once and evolve into something powerful immediately upon finally purifying it.Finally, the Orre region the game takes place in itself is rather interesting. Unlike the main installments, which are largely based on regions of Japan, Orre is inspired by, of all places, Arizona. It's an arid, desert region whose only settlements are small pockets of people in an otherwise uninhabitable region. Because the population is smaller, it's also difficult for the police to maintain order, and there the crime rate is rather high. As a result, Orre is full of shady characters and seedy towns, and despite being set in a modern society, feels a bit like a Western as a result.
Pokemon Stadium's Orre region is an arid place full of small desert outposts and towns to explore.
Pokemon Colosseum is far from perfect, and I believe there are heavy and legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against it. For starters, it is a very slow game. Battle animations, while initially very appealing to watch, cannot be skipped, and sitting through them for literally the hundredth time is repetitive and time consuming. Moreover, unlike the main Pokemon games, there aren't many side diversions for the player to partake in - there are no wild Pokemon to catch, Game Corners to gamble at, nor Contests to compete in (if you're into that sort of thing). Pokemon Colosseum is a series of many complicated Pokemon double battles stitched together through a relatively interesting narrative and a cool atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the main games. While it's overall a quality experience, because there's so little respite from the many battles you can face, the game grows very repetitive towards the end. What's more, ironically enough for a Pokemon game, Colosseum becomes almost unfairly difficult in its final areas, since you're encouraged to attempt to catch multiple powerful shadow Pokemon at the same time, all while desperately trying to keep your own team mates alive.
At the end of the day, Pokemon Colosseum is an interesting piece of Pokemon history that is often unfairly overlooked. While it's a bit repetitive and slow paced, it's also the very departure from the series' formula fans have been clamoring for years. It has an older and more rugged protagonist. It eschews the predictable Pokemon Gym formula in favor of a more interesting narrative about saving abused Pokemon. It's a very challenging game that fully realizes the potential of the overlooked double battle format. And it takes place in a cool modern day Western setting.Pokemon is experiencing something of a Renaissance right now, the year of its 20th anniversary, with mobile hit Pokemon Go introducing many new fans to the monster collecting series (and sucking older fans back in). Sun and Moon also look to be two more excellent installments to the series releasing this Fall. However, if you're looking for a different flavor of the familiar Pokemon experience, it may be worth your while to track down a copy of Pokemon Colosseum, if only to see the potential for future Pokemon games that also forgo the series two decade old formula.
Have you played Pokemon Colosseum before? Did you enjoy it, and do you want to see more games like it? Sound off in the comments below, and happy gaming!