My relationship with Pokemon games for the past four years has been cyclical. I would pick up Platinum or Soul Silver for nostalgia’s sake, play for an hour, then get bored and drop it. Pokemon Stadium 2 is the first game to break that cycle for me. The immediate draw of Stadium 2 was that I could start battling seconds after starting the game. What kept me playing for ten hours (and likely more in the near future) was Stadium 2’s encouragement of creativity and strategy. I’m enjoying the game a lot, even though I have a sneaking suspicion it hates me.
If you have played either game, you would know that if you didn’t own a portable Pokemon game, you had to use the infamous rental Pokemon. I’m emulating the game so I’m not even bothering with the transfer mechanic and sticking with rentals. The perception surrounding the rentals was that they were severely underpowered and unfun. I don’t fully agree with that judgement. They are definitely weaker than Pokemon you raised yourself and have shallow movesets. But that’s exactly what makes them fun for me personally. I’m not going to defend the mechanic too much since it is clearly a ploy to get you to buy Gold/Silver, but I will say that the rental system is a completely viable way to beat the game, it just requires a bit of thinking.
The Prime Cup is the perfect example of this. I remember it being one of the more difficult parts of the game, so I challenged it immediately. It took like ten attempts for me to beat the thing, and after each loss I went back to the drawing board and tried something new until it worked. Some of those battles were incredibly frustrating though. There are at least three trainers in the tournament that rely entirely on RNG gimmicks that keep you from attacking at all. They also mock you during battle and insult you after they win. They even call you chicken when you surrender.
This is where my suspicion comes from. In ten hours of Stadium 2, I got smacked by RNG more than every other Pokemon game I’ve played. There were two matches where I couldn’t attack once and had to watch my Pokemon hit themselves to death. There were matches where Focus Band (an item that counters fatal attacks 12% of the time) activated twice in a row for the opponent to win the game. I had been frozen for eight turns and missed three Thunders in a row to lose matches. A part of me wondered if the game was punishing me for not buying Pokemon Gold™. This is all anecdotal evidence but what is undeniable is the intentionally obnoxious strategies used by some opponents.
All of this was annoying, but none of it was unbeatable. After like four hours of messing around, I eventually created a winning strategy for each trainer in the tournament. My favorite one was in the quarter-final match. The trainer used Swagger, which raised my Pokemon’s attack but confused them, which led to them hitting themselves with a boosted attack stat. He would then use Screech to lower their defense and my Pokemon would defeat themselves. In my final run, I used Mr Mime, gave him a held item that cures confusion, and set up a Substitute (takes a single hit and grants immunity to status moves) after getting the attack boost from Swagger. I then spammed Barrier (massive defense increase) knowing that his lead Pokemon had no damaging attacks outside of Zap Cannon (unreliable due to low accuracy). I used Baton Pass to give all those stat boosts (including the attack boost from Swagger) and the Substitute to my Snorlax who swept his team.
If you’re reading this, ask yourself if you ever used Substitute or Baton Pass in a main series Pokemon game, or even any strategy beyond super-effective attacks. I’m guessing you haven’t, and I haven’t either. This is because you don’t need strategy to beat those games. Why use a strategy when you can brute force the game with raw numbers? You could create teams with neat strategies, but raising Pokemon for utility is massively tedious, especially defensive Pokemon like Shuckle or Chansey. You could make a very cynical argument that the games are basically an xp check. The games are still worthwhile in their own right and it makes complete sense why Game Freak would design their games like that for accessibility's sake, but it feels like wasted potential when the majority of moves go completely unused by most players, and for good reason.
If you play Stadium 2 with rentals (probably even with your own Pokemon), you have to understand the mechanics and create a strategy to win. I would go as far as to say that this was an intentional design choice, and what convinced me was the robust tutorial Stadium 2 has. The Pokemon Academy is fantastic and teaches you everything you need to know and far more about Pokemon, and lets you work out those concepts in battle. If you have never played Pokemon and everything I said about the Prime Cup was complete gibberish, you could play the tutorial and learn everything you need to know to beat the game as a complete newbie to the series.
At one point, the professor teaching you about Pokemon says that love and strategy will help you win even with weak Pokemon. There’s a lot of empty rhetoric in Pokemon games, but Stadium 2 genuinely lives up to this claim. The Prime Cup was the most fun I’ve had playing Pokemon and it felt like I used a ragtag team of flawed Pokemon with niche strengths to win. I skimmed through a few videos of other rental playthroughs and they used completely different Pokemon and strategies to deal with the same problems. One guy used a kamikaze strategy with self-destruct. Nobody used my Mr. Mime strategy on Youtube. You do have to metagame it a bit, but there is room for creativity in this game.
The game isn’t perfect by any means. It has no story mode and is basically a gauntlet of battles, with some (very fun imo) minigames on the side. If you like Pokemon for reasons other than battling, like breeding or collecting, you aren’t going to like Stadium 2. The rental system is also probably a marketing tactic. I’m having a blast with it though, even if the RNG gives me XCOM flashbacks.
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