I was recently inspired to play Pokemon Colosseum again. I’d only ever played it once around the time it came out 16 years ago and had never actually owned it. I did own Pokemon XD, its sequel, however. And I loved and still have a lot of love for XD. I remembered Colosseum being basically the exact same thing even though it was older. Well, I tracked down a copy of Colosseum and recently completed it. Did I remember correctly that it was basically the same as XD? How does it compare to current Pokemon games?
Let’s start with some context first. Pokemon Colosseum was first released in 2004 in the West and introduced the brand new Orre region. It centered around a character named Wes, who found himself in the middle of a plot by the organization Cipher. Cipher intended to corrupt the hearts of Pokemon to weaponize them in a plot for world domination. Wes could steal these corrupted, or shadow, Pokemon right from trainers in the middle of a battle and later purify them to return them to normal. Essentially the crux of the game was to stop Cipher and purify the shadow Pokemon you come across.
A Generation 3 Game
As the game was released in 2004, it was right during Generation 3 of Pokemon, which were the Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald games. That’s now five generations of Pokemon missing, impacting the game’s ability to hold up today. However, Generation 3 was always my favorite, so I was not too perturbed by the smaller pool of Pokemon. Unfortunately, there were several other things that I was perturbed by. And let’s go ahead and get my issues with the game out of the way first. While I was okay without the Pokemon from Generations 4 through 8…it was tough not having the moves from Generations 4 through 8.
You start the game with an Espeon and an Umbreon. Every battle in the game is a double battle, so this was a pairing that made sense. I figured I would play through the game, mainly focusing on Umbreon and the Johto starter I knew I would soon get. What I didn’t account for; however, is that in Generation 3, there is no dark type equivalent to the move Psychic. Starting in Generation 4, Umbreon could learn Dark Pulse via TM, but in Colosseum, literally, the only two damaging dark type moves that Umbreon can learn are Bite and Feint Attack. This left Umbreon as basically a tank-like character, which was helpful in a sense, but because everything was a double battle, my opponent almost always just attacked the Pokemon that wasn’t Umbreon because they were easier to take out.
This problem also wasn’t exclusive to Umbreon. As I mentioned earlier, you also get a Generation 2 starter very early on in the game. I abandoned that starter fairly quickly for another of the same type when I discovered that it was not going to learn any more moves of its type, only to have that exact same problem with the Pokemon I replaced it with! It was like every Pokemon in the game only learned one move that could get a Same Attack Type Bonus. This could maybe be remedied if there was a large pool of Pokemon to choose from, but that’s quite far from the truth. You’re limited to whatever the game has arbitrarily decided will be available Shadow Pokemon, which are mostly Generation 2 Pokemon for some reason.
Battles and Exploration
The game’s enemies are also almost always a higher level than you are, and bosses tend to be way overleveled. It constantly feels like you need to grind, even when you probably have been. Oddly, despite this, I think only two trainers in the entire game managed to beat me, but they managed to beat me a lot. Of course, part of this was because I wanted their Shadow Pokemon and had to try to keep it and my own Pokemon in the battle. I think the relative ease despite being constantly comparatively underleveled is due to some occasionally sketchy AI, such as when both of the trainer’s Pokemon confuse only one of your Pokemon over and over again and just leave the other one alone. The other factor that makes it a little easier is that the opposing trainers don’t tend to have fully evolved Pokemon. So having Pokemon like Umbreon and Espeon with better base stats, compensates for the level discrepancy.
Outside of battles, the game still managed to find ways to get on my nerves. My biggest issue with the game was the really poor direction. It was often really unclear what you were supposed to do next. I have two examples of this. In one, I was told by everyone that I needed to go to a Colosseum and compete, but when I went to, I was told I couldn’t and needed to wait. After talking to everyone in town to try and figure out what to do, I eventually realized there was a house I had missed, and I needed to talk to the mayor of the town, which then let me continue in the story.
The second time, I was alerted by several people in another town that something was occurring in a different location. Upon going there, I saw some of the game’s antagonists imprisoning someone. I quickly defeated the trainers and went to free the prisoner, but the door was locked. I was given no prompt to use an item to unlock it, so I went around looking for another opening, and when that didn’t work, I talked to everyone in town again to figure out what to do to no avail. Eventually, I discovered that if I approached a specific part of the cage the guy was held captive in, he would approach me and give me an item to proceed. Both of these moments were really frustrating because I did what the game wanted me to do, but because I didn’t do some arbitrary thing I would have had no idea to do, I wasn’t able to proceed.
Compared to its sequel, the game also has a kind of boring environment design. Aside from a few locations, the color palette is fairly muted. Even the beautiful oasis city is still mostly brown, aside from the rivers. Hindsight definitely made me remember this differently because of how much more I played XD. I just assumed they had mostly all the same locations, and while they honestly do, XD’s addition of the Pokemon HQ, port town, and creepy mansion, went a long way in giving it a little more visual variety. Navigating the environments in Colosseum can also be a bit of a pain because of your partner. While XD just had a device that the main character used to see shadow Pokemon, Colosseum has a specific character who follows you around that will identify them for you. And she can get in the way a lot. If you’re going down a narrow path and need to turn around, she won’t. You will just have to push her as she slowly walks backward. This happens so much more often than you would think or than I remembered.
A Few Nitpicks
There are two final miscellaneous annoyances I have to get out of the way, and then I’m done. The first is that combat animations can be really, really slow. This isn’t a huge problem, but there are some instances where the animations have finished, and there’s still a nonsensical delay until you can choose your next action. One thing that always confused me was the way Pokemon faint. Whenever you hit a Pokemon, they will recoil and then make their way back to their starting position. But they do this even when hit with the final blow. It makes no sense. They literally get knocked back, get up, walk back into place, and then faint. Why is this a thing?
Secondly, why does it take so long to purify your first shadow Pokemon? In XD, basically, the first thing you do once the main story begins is to purify your first shadow Pokemon. In Colosseum, it takes HOURS to get to that point. The first Pokemon I purified regained tens of thousands of experience points from all the battling he had to do before he was purified. It’s not that it takes them a while to be ready to purify. The game just doesn’t introduce the process until way late in the game. If this was the first time I’d played this, I’d have assumed I’d missed something along the way, given how long it took. In fact, I have a vague recollection of thinking that when I first played it years ago.
Greater Than the Sum of its Parts
At this point, it probably sounds like I despise the game, and to be honest, I don’t actually. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s still a really enjoyable game, even with its issues and dated features. I think this largely has to do with how unique it is. There’s no gym challenge; you’re the oldest protagonist in Pokemon history, there’s no wild Pokemon, every battle is a double battle, the game’s world is much harsher. I mean, it’s also Pokemon. In my opinion, it’s really hard to mess up Pokemon. Not to mention the music is fantastic. Though the songs XD added and updated made its soundtrack better as a whole.
I think at the end of the day, none of the annoyances really made that much of a difference. I survived without the moves and Pokemon from later generations and constantly feeling underleveled. I always figured out where to go eventually. And the small pool of available Pokemon rarely felt too intrusive. I think the game’s biggest boon is that, despite the muted color palette for most areas, Orre is just a cool region to be in. As I said, the music is great, and it’s completely unlike any other region to this day. It is one fatal flaw may be that XD has all these qualities as well and has improved upon virtually every annoyance I had with Colosseum, so XD feels like the definitive version. But if you’re like me and just wanted to spend more time in the Orre region, I still think Colosseum is worth the time invested.