The Pokémon franchise has had a long, insanely successful run in countries all around the world. While the primary focus of the franchise has been the Gameboy titles, Nintendo has continued to release a slew of Pokémon-related titles on its home consoles too, perhaps the most notable of which are the Pokémon Stadium titles. Pokémon Stadium and its sequel allowed you the distinct privilege of importing Pokémon from your Gameboy titles into the Nintendo 64 games and then engaging the CPU or your friends in full 3-D Pokémon battles. So, it's not surprising that the Gameboy Advance titles Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire are set to receive a companion piece in the all-new Pokémon Colosseum for the Gamecube.
First off, let's be clear on what Pokémon Colosseum does and does not do. Pokémon Colosseum allows you to import Pokémon from the Ruby and Sapphire GBA games. Just like Ruby and Sapphire, however, Colosseum is NOT backwards compatible, and will not allow you to import Pokémon from the Red, Blue, Yellow, Silver, Gold or Crystal versions of the game. In a marketing move that is either savvy or deplorable, depending on your outlook, Nintendo has released GBA reduxes of Pokémon Red and Blue in Japan that DO link up with Pokémon Colosseum. There is no word on wether or not North America will be getting these ports, but given we received such bizare Pokémon items as Hey You, Pikachu! and Pokémon Box, it's a pretty safe bet that we'll see them on our shores eventually.
Furthermore, Nintendo has attempted to expand Pokémon Colosseum's stand-alone play value by adding a new RPG quest mode in addition to the basic Pokémon battling and minigames mode. This new mode is a story-based quest that sends your character and his companion on a trip to reveal the secret of the Shadow Pokémon. The catch here is that there are no Pokémon in the field to capture; instead you must capture the Shadow Pokémon from your opponents, then heal them so that they may grow and evolve like normal Pokémon. While the Pokémon is in Shadow status, it cannot level up (though it accumulates experience which is applied once healed) and can only use the attack Shadow Rush, which (much like Cecil's Shadow Wave in Final Fantasy IV) injures the Pokémon, and also has a chance of sending them into Hyper Mode. A Pokémon in Hyper Mode cannot attack, and must be calmed by using the trainer's "Call Out" ability. Thus, it is in the player's best interest to quickly rehabilitate the Shadow Pokémon, especially because the player will only start with two mid-level Pokémon of their own.
Battles in this mode will take place in the 2-on-2 format that Ruby and Sapphire introduced, and in fact, simple one-on-one battles do not take place in RPG mode (but are of course an option when just battling at the Colosseum proper). As there are no field Pokémon to catch, all your battles will take place with Trainers and Team Shadow members, so the 2-vs-2 battle style fits relatively well. Another distinct change to the Pokémon formula is the travel from area to area via a world map rather than the interconnected roadways and fields of the GBA games. Simply point and click at the destination you wish to travel to, and your trainer will speed there on his nifty, high-speed bike. All of these changes serve to make the RPG mode a game all its own, rather than a 3-D version of Pokémon or a simple minigame designed to add replay value to the game.
Despite the attractive new RPG mode, there is certainly still a battling mode to the game, and there are a number of ways to battle your Pokémon in 3-D. First, you'll be asked to select from Colosseum or Battle modes. The Colosseum mode offers either solo or gang battles. In solo mode you can tackle the traditional 8 trainers, or if you're feeling lucky (or perhaps you're just a sucker for punishment) you can engage in a "mountain battle" against 100 consecutive trainers. The gang battles, meanwhile, offer a number of combinations of players and battle types for some competition between you and your friends. Choosing the Battle mode allows you to easily engage in one-shot battles alone or with friends without navigating all of the menu options in the Colosseum mode.
Overall, Pokémon Colosseum makes a concerted effort to be more than just a chance to see your Pokémon battle it out in full 3-D. By providing a number of battle options as well as the full RPG mode, Nintendo is making it easier for Pokémon fans to shell out $50 for another game in a long line of Pokémon merchandise. Given that the RPG mode imports no data from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, RPGamers who may not have had a chance to play previous Pokémon titles can easily pick up and enjoy Colosseum to the fullest. These changes have met with success in Japan, if the game's sales figures are any indication. We'll soon see if the same holds true when Pokémon Colosseum is released in North America on the 22nd of March.