This review originally went live in 2016, and we’re updating and republishing it to mark the game’s arrival in Switch’s N64 library via the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
With the Pokémon franchise being as super effective as it was during the late ’90s due to its handheld games, trading cards, television anime and manga, it was only a matter of time before fans saw the groundbreaking series advance into home console territory — and that it did. Pokémon Stadium was released on the Nintendo 64 in the year 2000 (1999 for Japan), and it arguably fulfilled every Pokéfanatic’s dream by bringing everyone’s favourite 151 critters to life in three dimensions.
Pokémon Stadium’s gameplay was as many expected it to be: the conventional turn-based battle formula using the familiar creatures from the Game Boy games, but now in breathtaking 3D. It was definitely something to behold at the time, for fans of the series only really had the manga, anime, and the sprites from Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow to visualise each Pokémon in all their glory during battle.
Each battle had life breathed into it by the visuals, as well as an enthusiastic announcer who kept the excitement going throughout each bout. Whether it was charging up for a “Solar Beam” or landing a “Horn Drill” attack, the announcer made sure players were entertained and enthralled. Having to watch every animation really slowed down the flow of matches but hey, the novelty of seeing the series’ bread-and-butter battles realised so beautifully went a very long way at the time.
The major difference between Pokémon Stadium and its Red, Blue, and Yellow counterparts was the fact that the game did not possess a storyline. However, for those revisiting the game now it’s worth pointing out there are single-player modes — challenging ones at that — such as Stadium mode that allows you to earn trophies by competing in certain Cups that each have their own set of rules and restrictions, as well as the Gym Leader Castle that lets you challenge the eight Gym Leaders of Kanto, followed by the Elite Four and finally the Champion.
Afterwards, you can have an epic showdown with one tough Mewtwo, where only the mightiest of fire-breathing and storm-bringing ‘mon will survive. Defeating Mewtwo unlocks a hard mode of the game, meaning everything will need to be completed again. Once done, Mewtwo can be challenged again, but you’ll need six freakishly strong Pokémon to take it down a second time. With all that in mind, it’s fair to say there’s plenty of single-player battle content to keep those on their own busy, especially as these challenges aren’t easy to clear.
If you’re playing alone and are getting a little tired of battling, Pokémon Stadium offers something that this writer thinks is still quite remarkable: the GB Tower. This area of the game — sadly not available in the Nintendo Switch Online version — enables you to play Pokémon Red, Blue, or Yellow on your television screen. Sure, it may not sound as glamorous now, but back at the turn of the millennium this was a tremendously exciting feature. No more did we need to find a light source to hold our Game Boys under, and no longer did we need to rinse through hundreds of batteries throughout our adventure.
Playing the original GB games on your TV was achieved by inserting the Transfer Pak (a device that came with the game but was also sold separately) into the back of the N64 controller, with the game of choice inserted into the gadget. This nifty feature enabled the option to play with both double and triple-speed settings, making long-winded battles a thing of the past (let’s not forget the lack of Running Shoes at the time!). The awesome part of it all, though, was being able to transfer your caught and raised ‘mon between these games and Pokémon Stadium, meaning they could be used for battle instead of using Stadium’s ordinary rental monsters. We will never forget the excitement of transferring our newly-caught Mewtwo into Pokémon Stadium and witnessing the almighty life-form in beautiful 64-bit presentation.
The Pokémon Lab is a nice touch for those who really want to graduate from the university of Kanto. Here, you can organise your Red/Blue/Yellow PC boxes, as well as access basic information about each Pokémon caught in their handheld adventures, including moves and stats. Pokémon and items can also be stored within Pokémon Stadium’s own boxes, enabling players to obtain even more monsters and items than they usually could within the Game Boy games. Pokémon could even be traded between two plugged-in cartridges (meaning two plugged-in Transfer Paks), although Pokémon Stadium’s rental Pokémon cannot be transferred for obvious reasons.
The Pokédex mode of the Pokémon Lab lets you marvel at your Pokémon in 3D as well as obtain their Pokédex information – a sweet feature that’s likely to satisfy the taste buds of every Pokénerd’s appetite. Each Pokémon’s location can also be viewed on a map of Kanto, which even includes the level in which they are found.
Finally, the Pokémon Lab can be used to receive prizes that can be won within the other modes of the game, such as a Pokémon (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, Eevee, Kabuto, and Omanyte) that can be transferred over to players’ Game Boy adventures. On original release, this was a great way to grab the remaining Pokémon players couldn’t get on their single adventure play-throughs, as you could only choose one starter (unless you were playing Yellow), obtain one of the two “Hitmons”, obtain one Eevee, and choose one of the two fossilised Pokémon. This meant completing the Pokédex was easier if players didn’t have the luxury of trading with friends but you did have Pokémon Stadium.
There’s also a memorable minigame area, the Kids Club, which takes a handful of Pokémon and inserts them into fun micro-game environments that are suited to their traits. Kids Club offers nine minigames, which can either be played individually or as part of a tournament. Up to four players can take part, with any remaining spaces being controlled by the computer AI. It’s a fun way to enjoy the franchise’s characters without a constant focus on battling, and it compliments the rest of the game with a light twist. Those who are fans of the Mario Party series may enjoy this mode, as some of the minigames can certainly become both addictive and competitive.
There are further subtle yet effective elements that Pokémon Stadium brings to the table. For one, its hub acts as a city that introduces you to the world of Pokémon. Each area of the game is represented by a building or attraction navigated to using an orbiting Magnemite cursor. This really raises the bar in terms of UI/UX right from the get-go, as you are immediately absorbed within the world and introduced to some of the Pokémon you’re about to encounter — all of them looking so much closer to the anime versions fans had been enjoying outside of the GB games. The hub is even changed when Mewtwo is ready to challenge you, as its glowing silhouette graces the area above the Stadium, turning the sky dark and eerie.
Pokémon Stadium also boasts a delightful soundtrack, containing repurposed and remastered favourites from the series’ iconic playlist. Further minor delights include Pokémon possessing slightly different colour shades, signifying a rival’s Pokémon or Pokémon transferred/being used from a Red/Blue/Yellow save file. Bear in mind, this was seen during a time when shiny Pokémon did not exist, so it was pretty cool to see our favourite monsters with an adjusted colour palette.
All in all, Pokémon Stadium was a revolutionary step up for the monster-catching franchise, and that’s not just due to the fact that we got to see all 151 critters in full-fledged 3D. The inclusion of the GB Tower, as well as allowing players to experience Pokémon characters in fun new ways through minigames and the Pokémon Lab, felt remarkably fresh and offered a new perspective on our repository of ‘mons. Sure, the battling can get a bit repetitive and lengthy, but the awesome visuals, animations, and commentary can help keep this from becoming mundane.
Played today, Pokémon Stadium provides a healthy number of alternative ways to enjoy the classic 151 once again, but is tightly integrated with the original Game Boy titles, primarily enhancing and augmenting them rather than standing on its own. It’s far tougher to recommend to anyone who doesn’t have a collection of critters available to upload from on a Game Boy cart, but there is loads to love here if you’re an OG fan.