Full disclosure: Nintendo provided me with a review copy of PokéPark 2. Also, be prepared for spoilers.
I hate thinking that my Pokémon are unhappy. When the role-playing titles introduced trust and love mechanics, I desperately wanted all of my Pokémon happy and content with their place in my party. Thinking that any of them could be upset or injured was motivation enough to keep playing.
PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond is the first game in the series to ever make me cry. Admittedly, that's not very hard whenever bad things happen to adorable creatures, but the fact that PokéPark achieved that kind of response from me is unusual.
The original PokéPark didn't put much emphasis on its story. You played as Pikachu as he explored a theme park-like world full of minigames, battles, and terrible platforming. While it was tremendously adorable, the controls and lackluster plot didn't make the first entry very interesting or fun to play. I had to force myself to get through it for the review a little over a year ago.
Stories are very important, even in work targeted at children. Pikachu's continuing park adventures are geared toward a much younger audience than even the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon titles and are almost impossible to fail. The whole point is running around large fields and making friends with everyone you see.
PokéPark 2 keeps this mechanic but draws greatly from the alternate dimensions revealed in Pokémon Black and White to create a tale full of trickery, misplaced intentions, and overwhelming sadness. Rather than just running around playing games, Pikachu, accompanied by the starter characters from Black and White, is investigating the widespread disappearance of Pokémon into a place called Wish Park.
Ghost Pokémon run this alternate dimension, and all the attractions in it trap whoever plays them forever. One by one, characters go missing, and eventually Pikachu is left to fend off against an encroaching darkness on his own.
And when you take away all of Pikachu's friends, he descends into a heart-wrenching despair full of slow walks through the rain and staring at his reflection in a cheerless fountain…crying.
Yes, I am still describing a real and licensed Pokémon game.
Making Pikachu sad is a surefire way to make me: 1. cry my eyes out for hours and 2. murder all the bastards who caused it. That's a very sharp turn from what I was expecting from a sequel to a largely underwhelming pseudo-platformer.
PokéPark 2 is a curious departure from traditionally cheerful Pokémon gameplay. It's still painfully cute, but its messages about friendship and peaceful cohabitation are forced on players as they witness the depths of Pikachu's depression and his fight against world-destroying chaos.
Please, Nintendo, don't make Pikachu sad ever again. Mournful pika-pikas are the most depressing sounds I've ever heard.
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