I was born slightly too late to grow up with the Pokemon Stadium titles, but they successfully brought the well-loved world of Pokemon into the third dimension on TV screens across the globe. While incredibly advanced compared to anything people had seen before from the series, they lacked the story-based ‘collectable creature’ gameplay of the core titles, instead relying on their sequential battling system to carry the day alongside a few minigames. Flash forward to 2003 and Colosseum was released in Japan for the Gamecube, once again featuring beautiful 3D graphics but crucially a full JRPG story in the brand new region of Orre.
Which, as it happens, is a pretty brutal place. Orre is mostly expanses of dry, uninteresting desert, punctuated only by the occasional town and villain hideout. There’s trouble afoot, however, as a group of bandits known as Team Snagem have taken to using specialised machinery to snatch away Pokemon from other trainers, something usually forbidden in the game world. Not only this, but another organisation is profiteering through the creation of dark and dangerous Shadow Pokemon, which become hyperaggressive and violent, even lashing out at humans.
Which of course is where you come in. In the shoes of Wes, an ex-Team Snagem member gone rogue, you’ll use a stolen arm-mounted Snag Machine to re-capture these Shadow Pokemon away from their criminal trainers and revert them to their old selves. In order to identify them, you require the presence of your companion Rui, who is rescued from kidnappers at the game’s outset. She has the rare ability to see the dark auras given off by Shadow Pokemon, and will point them out to you in battle.
It’s a nice twist on the standard Pokemon formula, and eliminates having to tediously hunt for Pokemon in caves or endure wild encounters. There are 48 Shadow Pokemon to capture over the course of the game, with a special surprise for finding them all. Simply snagging them away is not enough, however; their hearts remain sealed off and impure, which limits the moves the Pokemon may use and renders them susceptible to slipping into an aggressive rage. A little way into the game you’ll discover a relic associated with the time-travelling Pokemon Celebi, which has the ability to purify the hearts of Shadow Pokemon if you have spent enough time with them. At this point, they’ll return to normal and regain their full moveset, as well as becoming able to gain experience as usual in battle.
"It’s a nice twist on the standard Pokemon formula, and eliminates having to tediously hunt for Pokemon in caves..."
The storyline overall is rather bland when all things are considered, but Pokemon games have never been incredibly deep, instead relying on the atmosphere and visual storytelling to carry the experience. Colosseum is no exception, where characters are absolutely one-dimensional and completely devoid of personality for the most part, although a select few seem to be more exaggerated and ridiculous than you’d notice in one of the handheld titles. What makes up for this however is outstanding attention to detail in the environments and musical score to deliver the mood for each area.
On that note (pun!), my favourite element to Colosseum is its soundtrack. When you think of the characteristic chiptune melodies from the portable titles on the Gameboy and DS, the backing here feels expanded and rich, wonderfully decadent even. Instead of simple repetitive lines, we receive an enormous range of jazz and orchestral pieces, in my opinion containing some of the very best audio in the entire franchise as far as the core series goes. Pyrite Town feels like a shady gambler’s haven with finger-clicking grooves and sharp counterpoints, while Agate Village is a much more bluegrass affair with a soaring, breezy feel.
Each area has a distinct visual theme reflecting the mood of the place, with enough pathways and hidden items to encourage exploration, but not so much as to become lost in, which is usually a balance that the Pokemon series gets right. There were a couple of moments in my recent replay of the game that I was unsure what to do as there was very little signposting, but for the most part it’s a very linear adventure.
We’re quite a ways in and I have thus far neglected the most important feature - the battling! As there’s a distinct lack of long grass in Orre, you are purely battling other trainers here. Thankfully, it looks absolutely fantastic when you do. While many of the models for your Pokemon were imported from Stadium 1 and 2, the animations look fantastic and must represent an immense amount of effort, particularly when you consider that Colosseum can import any Pokemon from Generation III.
You’ll always have two Pokemon out in battle at once, as opposed to the traditional single fighter which really ramps up the pace of the game overall - a very welcome addition that I wish the handheld titles had used more often. This forces you to think more tactically, as you have two potentially vulnerable Pokemon to think about, and you’re able to spend the turn of one using an item or launching a Pokeball while still landing an attack with the other. Moves such as Earthquake that would previously hit a single target will now affect every Pokemon in play, so be sure to stay on your guard.
While the game itself is rather short (12-15 hours for the main story), particularly for a title in this hallowed series, there’s still plenty to do. Aside from tracking down all the Shadow Pokemon and finding all of the Ein Files that reveal the game’s background, you’ll be faced with the task of challenging Mt Battle. In this area, you’ll have to beat all 100 opponents on the mountain and face a real test of your skills as a Pokemon trainer.
In short, Pokemon Colosseum is an excellent departure from the conventions of the main series and utilises the higher power of its native console extremely well. Rock-solid framerates and constant double-battles make it a pleasure to play, and I’m incredibly excited to work my way through the sequel.