Pokémon Stadium 2, a Twenty Year Reunion
Pokémon Stadium 2 was one of the last games released for the Nintendo 64, at a time where sixth generation consoles like the PS2 and the Dreamcast were already the center of every gamer’s attention. As a child, I was a die-hard Nintendo fanboy, so I didn’t care about Unreal Tournament or Zone of the Enders coming out soon. I was into Pokémon, I was into Gen II, and I was into the Stadium spinoffs. Pokémon Stadium 2 was THE game for me. It was also the game that taught me a valuable lesson about sequels being far inferior to the original. At least in pretty much every single department aside from the amount of content. So much so that it’s something even an eight year old twenty years ago could clearly notice.
Content-wise, Pokémon Stadium 2 might possibly be the most impressive game in the Nintendo 64’s library. It features most of what the original Pokémon Stadium had to offer, such as minigames, four kinds of cups, the Gym Leader Castle mode, the GB Tower, and rental pokémon to borrow, but with a much larger scale.
Instead of 151 pokémon, you can use 251 of them. The Gym Leader Castle features both Johto and Kanto leaders, plus a Team Rocket-focused interlude. Minigames are more detailed, and you can use your own Game Boy monsters in them. The Pokémon Academy features tutorials, challenge battles, and a list of all moves each pokémon can learn, whether by leveling up, breeding, or learning via TM. If you insert a Gen II cartridge, you can also view a 3D recreation of your protagonist’s bedroom. Finally, cups are more varied, with the Challenge Cup taking the cake as the most interesting mode in the entire game, as you’re given a random roster and told to deal with it.
Everything sounds great in paper, but there are small details here and there that make Pokémon Stadium 2 feel like a lesser experience when compared to its predecessor. First of all, there was the performance. Pokémon Stadium 2 basically taught me what framerates were, as even my eight year old mind could notice the game ran slower than the first. It was an overall slower experience. The soundtrack was also noticeably less memorable, running at a lower audio quality than Pokémon Stadium‘s absolutely fantastic collection of tunes.
What really annoyed me back then, and is even more annoying nowadays, was how terrible the rental pokémon (aka the in-cart pokémon) were. Their movesets were tailor made to annoy you, to basically force you to use your Game Boy favorites instead. In theory, it shouldn’t be an issue, but we live in an era where most Game Boy save batteries don’t work anymore. This renders most Game Boy cartridges useless nowadays if you don’t buy new batteries and insert them into your carts.
That also means that, if you decide to play this game in 2021 the way it was meant to be played, you have to spend a ludicrous amount of money on a Pokémon Stadium 2 cartridge, a Nintendo 64, a Transfer Pak (good luck finding one that works), and a fully functional Pokémon cartridge for the Game Boy. Pokémon Stadium 2 has never been re-released due to the nature of its functionality. If you decide to buy a spare copy or emulate it, you’ll be forced to use the game’s terrible rental pokémon, such as a Venusaur with Tackle, a Suicune with Gust, or a Charizard with Fire Blast. There is no balance or thought process behind these movesets: they’re terrible because the game wanted you to use your Game Boy rosters instead.
The four main Cups included in the game were also a mixed bag when compared to the ones in Pokémon Stadium. While I do appreciate the novelty behind the Challenge Cup, I cannot praise Little Cup at all. It’s a competition featuring first stage, non-evolved pokémon set to Level 5. Meanwhile, Pokémon Stadium had the similarly-themed, but higher-leveled Petit Cup, and the insane nonsense that was the Pika Cup, where you could assemble a team featuring a Machamp and a Dragonair as long as you knew where to get them at the eligible level range. The Level 50 Poké Cup and the Level 100 Prime Cup are back as well, with the Prime Cup being reduced to a single round cup this time around.
But if there’s one thing where Pokémon Stadium 2 excels at, that thing is its minigame mode. They are way more entertaining than the ones featured in Pokémon Stadium, with the Beyblade-esque Topsy-Turvy, the Japanese-themed Clear Cut Challenge, and the absolute banger that is Delibird’s Delivery being the game’s highlights.
I’m not saying Pokémon Stadium 2 is a bad game. Far from it, you can still have a ton of fun with it to this day, as its visuals and gameplay have aged remarkably well. It also features a staggering amount of content for a Nintendo 64 day. It’s just noticeably inferior than its predecessor, not only because of features caused by the death of Game Boy cartridge save batteries, but also in terms of performance and soundtrack. It might be the game that offered more bang for your 2001 buck, but it’s not the one that will be most fondly remembered. Its predecessor will.