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POKEMON COLOSSEUM

Bigger isn’t always better

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When I visited the Pokemon Center near Tokyo Station recently, the line into the store wrapped all the way around the block. There was a one-hour wait to get in. When I asked if the store was always this packed, a clerk said, “It’s usually much more crowded.”

Seven years old and still thriving, Pokemon is Nintendo’s biggest franchise. And now it’s on the GameCube in the form of “Pokemon Colosseum.” (Well, “Colosseum” has actually been available for the GameCube for a few months now, but the English version has finally arrived.)

When it comes to Pokemon, bigger never seems to translate to better.

Pokemon, short for Pocket Monster, a breed of cuddly creatures that players catch and train, is an on-going phenomenon. “Colosseum,” a role-playing game and fighting arena that brings many of the most popular role-playing aspects of the Game Boy Pokemon games to the GameCube, is the first Pokemon game for consoles to feature a role-playing adventure mode. Unfortunately, all things considered, “Colosseum” is a bit underwhelming.

Players assume the role of a young trainer who breaks ranks with a sinister organization of Pokemon thieves known as “Snagem.” The members of this evil mob catch and corrupt the little monsters as part of a plan to, you guessed it, take over the world.

Armed with a machine that enables him to kidnap corrupted Pokemon, our young hero travels the countryside entering Pokemon showdowns, reclaiming corrupted Pokemon, and completing good-hearted quests.

Except for the part about kidnapping corrupted Pokemon from enemy trainers, “Colosseum” plays a lot like the Game Boy games. Because you are nipping corrupted creatures instead of catching wild ones, you must purify your creatures before you can train and progress them.

The purification process involves monitoring them in battle, then taking them to relic stones and introducing them to a time-traveling Pokemon. You need to invest several hours before you begin purifying your Pokemon. You can use them in their corrupted form — in fact, the game forces you to do this. But, as the object of the game is to catch, train and evolve Pokemon, those early hours drag.

One nice touch, however, is that when you convert your dark Pokemon back to the light, they receive all the battle credits they earned while under the spell of darkness.

In truth, I had the feeling “Colosseum” isn’t faithful to the “Pokemon” universe the entire time I played the game. The story and art are more mature and less appropriate to the Pokemon phenomenon.

Just as problematic is the medium itself. I think Pokemon is tailor-made for the Game Boy, a system with simple graphics and very little processing power. It is a simple game on a simple system that you can play on the road or in short snatches. “Colosseum” loses sight of that vision.

The game suffers from some technical glitches, the most irritating of which is characters with such low artificial intelligence that they simply stand in your way as you try to exit doors or walk through halls. A more major complaint is that the battle animations, the very thing that separates “Colosseum” from the Game Boy games, get dull after a while.

And then there is the sound . . . or the lack thereof. There is no talk in “Colosseum.” Every last conversation is shown in text windows. Silent games were fine in the days of Famicom and even N64, but those days are gone. With games on DVD, and sometimes multiple DVDs, silent gaming now seems archaic.

The graphics are not stellar, but the game has spectacular water, fire, mist and fog effects. These effects make the actual Pokemon battles beautiful to watch.

Along with its story mode, “Colosseum” features a 3-D fighting arena in which you can battle friends. You can even use Pokemon you have trained in Game Boy games in these battles, which are a highly sophisticated form of rock-paper-scissors. Here, “Colosseum” shines. Say what you like about Pokemon being a kids’ game. The battles are strategic and fun.

Overall, “Pokemon Colosseum” gets an average score. Perhaps it will be more fun to “catch ’em all” in the next game.