Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is the second critter catching game for the GameCube and bazillionth for Nintendo as a whole. The basic gameplay remains the same - it's a loose, kid-friendly RPG where you catch hundreds of bizarre creatures and use them to battle against others. If you haven't been a fan of the formula through the various Pokemon games on the Game Boy and N64 over the years, then Pokemon XD won't convert you.
What Pokemon XD does do is provide a fun, if sometimes frustrating, game experience for those already hooked on Pikachu and his furry friends. In this latest adventure, gamers play the part of a young boy charged with foiling an evil organisation's plot to use Pokemon to take over the world. This evil group, known as Cipher, is using Shadow Pokemon, which are essentially just normal Pokemon but with a touch more evil in them.
Unlike most other Pokemon games, Pokemon XD does not allow you to catch virtually any Pokemon you battle with. For the most part, you have to "steal" Shadow Pokemon from other trainers. Captured Shadow Pokemon don't have their normal attacks, and instead have Shadow powers which can be used in battle. Your job as a trainer is to cleanse the hearts of these Shadow Pokemon in order to turn them back to normal. Turn them back to normal and their special abilities return.
To cleanse a Shadow Pokemon, gamers will have to travel with a Shadow Pokemon until their heart gauge eventually tells you they're ready to turn back to normal. This process, which is similar to the process used in the last Pokemon GameCube game Pokemon Colosseum, can be rather tedious, as it usually takes some time for a Shadow Pokemon to be cleansed. Thankfully, Pokemon XD introduces a new system for cleansing called the Purification Chamber. Gamers can leave any Shadow Pokemon they have in the Purification Chamber while they go about their business, with up to nine Pokemon able to be in the chamber at any one time.
But apart from the Shadow Pokemon mechanics, mostly everything else in Pokemon XD will be instantly accessible for fans of the genre. All of the Pokemon still fall under a certain type, with a rock-paper-scissors-like system determining which creatures are more effective against others (grass Pokemon are weak against fire, who are in turn weak against water, and so on). Players still travel the in-game world with six Pokemon, with any other captured critters stored in a central computer system. Most of the battles in Pokemon XD are dual battles, where each trainer have two Pokemon out at the same time.
Pokemon XD's single player campaign is quite an extensive one, though some of the battles can become quite a marathon. There are several instances of extremely long stretches where players will just find themselves in battle after battle with no clear end in sight - it can become quite monotonous. The Shadow Pokemon system can also feel a bit stifling for those used to being able to catch plenty of Pokemon in the wild. While there are some locations in the game world where wild Pokemon can be found, most of your new recruits will come sometimes infrequently through other trainers.
Pokemon XD sports the same clean looks and bright colours of Pokemon Colosseum - it's pleasing to the eye and does the job nicely, although it's certainly not anything eye-popping. Sound is perhaps the game's biggest letdown - there's little that's impressive here, with the various Pokemon only making a few different calls from battle to battle.
For fans of the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is another fun trip through familiar territory. It's a great time waster over the holiday period, although there are some stretches where it becomes more of a chore than a pleasure.
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