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Pokemon Stadium Preview

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Nintendo
Platform - N64
Release Date - February 1999
Type - Simulation

One of three "Pocket Monster" (short: Pokemon, pronounced "po-kay-mon") games in development for the N64, Pokemon Stadium is a unique, but rather strange addition to the growing franchise.

Remember those turn-based battles in most of the popular role-playing games like Final Fantasy? Two (or more) creatures or humans square off against each other, enabling the player to input attack commands and watch the battle. Pokemon Stadium instantly reminds you of those RPGs -- minus the quest and storyline. Confused? You should be.

The premise behind this type of game genre, popularized by Pokemon for the Game Boy and Monster Ranchers for the PlayStation, is not story or action. "Collection" and "training" are the key words.

The game features 40 built-in creatures that you can build up and send into battle, similar to the many virtual pets incessantly beeping from children's pockets all across the nation. The good news: Pokemon Stadium's monsters don't need to be fed. The bad news: they aren't confined to the cart.

The Japanese version of Pokemon Stadium is set to ship with an included 64GB Pak. This device plugs into your controller's memory card slot, similar to the Rumble Pak. If you happen to be the happy owner of one of the Game Boy Pokemon games, plug that Game Boy cart into the 64GB Pak, switch on Pokemon Stadium, and swap data between the two games. This way, you can bring the monsters you have discovered in the Game Boy Pokemon into the N64 game and view them in their 3D color glory.

Firing up Pocket Monsters Stadium brings you to a menu screen sporting eight options:

Computer (Pasokon): There are four boxes with 30 slots each on the Game Boy Pokemon cartridge, so you can save the details of 120 monsters. Since that's not nearly enough memory to store all your horde, this option allows you to transfer the info onto the cartridge itself. Transfer the monsters back and give them to your buddy.

Picture Book (Zukan): Allows the creation of an electronic "photo album" of your collection, categorizing the monsters according to the 151 different species. You can then view them in all their animated 3D polygon glory. The Zukan mode also includes maps that show the exact locations and habitats of your monsters.

Quick Look (Ichiran): For a rapid review of your collection, this option lists the monster name, type, number, techniques, and other stats. It also shows which items are stored in the computer (on the cart), so you can employ the "Use" tool to quickly select the monster you wish to put into combat.

GB (Game Boy): This function enables you to play the Game Boy Pocket Monsters game via the N64 (using the machine's controllers) on your TV screen.

Collection (Temochi): This is a database of all the monsters. Players can check out the attributes of their brood, as well as size up the opposition, and discover which attacks may be used against them in the upcoming battle.

Registration (Touroku): Import your friends' monsters and fight them as many times as you want.

Tournament (Stadium): Send your monsters into battle against computer-controlled monsters or your friends' creatures.

When you prepare your monsters for combat, assign specific moves to the C-Buttons and then trigger the attacks and defenses during battle. The monsters then enter a ring and battle each other in smooth, polygonal 3D. As you can see, the general monster designs are traditionally Japanese-cute style. However, once these guys show off their fire, lightning or rock attacks, you gain new levels of appreciation (or fear) for your little monsters.

So, what's the big deal with Pokemon Stadium? Well, since the monsters are still unknown outside of Japan, most Western gamers couldn't care less about the cutesy creatures. But it's important to remember that the Pokemon Game Boy series has become one of the best-selling videogames franchises in the history of console gaming. Pokemon merchandise flies off the shelves all across Japan at an alarming rate, including dolls, pens, glasses, erasers, bags, T-shirts, toys, jewelry and even full-fledges Pokemon costumes. Shudder.

And don't think you're safe sitting at home in one of the few Pokemon-free countries left. They're coming. Nintendo is already finalizing its launch plans for the US release of the first Game Boy Pokemon game, and the N64 isn't too far off.

However, it remains to be seen whether the charming little guys will be embraced in the West as they have in Japan. Judging from the craze the Pokemons generated at E3 (and the fact that Pokemon stickers are plastered all over the monitors of the IGN offices), it's safe to say that you will hear more about Nintendo's cute crew of creatures very soon.