Impressions: My Pokemon Ranch

So My Pokemon Ranch launched on WiiWare yesterday, and as a self-proclaimed Poke-junkie, I decided to check it out.

Essentially, the ranch provides a tooth-jarringly adorable 3D environment for your Pokemon on Wii. Don't have Diamond or Pearl? Ranch-hand Haley, who runs the whole works, will start you off with six random ones, and will bring a new Pokemon to the ranch every day.

For the DS Pokemon fans, though, the DS can link up to the Wii so that you can pick as many Pokemon as you'd like from your storage boxes to drop into the ranch.

Here's what you do when they're there:

First off, Pokemon may either be stored in the ranch or in your DS game's storage box, so you'll have to take the Pokemon back out of the ranch if you'd like to use them again in Diamond or Pearl. And no, you cannot exploit the ranch to swap Pokemon from one of your DS games to another, and you cannot steal Haley's Pokemon and put them in your DS, either, so smack those ideas right out of your head. If you somehow lose your original save game, the Pokemon can never get out of the ranch.

The ranch, basically a barn and a green field with a great big fence around it, will get larger depending on how many Pokemon you put in. In addition to Haley, you can add up to four Miis of your own to play with the Pokemon.

And that's basically it - the Pokemon walk around and interact with each other and the Miis, with captions providing running commentary on who's doing what. Pokemon will ride on top of one another's heads, express interest in each other, sleep, play and even fight or frighten one another. For example, I had an extra Banette that I dropped in, who went about casting ghostly spells on my poor little Pichu and Cleffa.

The type of interaction Pokemon have with one another is often determined by their type - Haley's gapemouthed Magikarp was excessively interested in following Ground-type Phanpy around, usually sending Phanpy fleeing to the corner of the fence, little tears springing out of his face.

Every so often, the ranch interaction automatically pauses so that the Pokemon can act out a little scene with Haley and the Miis - like "Totem," where they all stack up on top of one another for absolutely no reason, or "Attention," where they all turn to stare wide-eyed at the camera from different angles as peaceful music plays.

There isn't too much the player can do - by pointing the Wii remote at a Pokemon or Mii and pressing A, the camera will then follow only that one's movements and interaction, and there's a camera icon that you can press to snap a photo at any time you catch them at a cute moment. The game will also tell you information about each Pokemon and who its trainer is.

You can press a horn icon to gain everyone's attention, making any Pokemon or Miis in the frame look your way for the photo op. You can share albums with your Wii friends, but largely the main point here is to just watch them play around, it seems. You can also pick an option that will let the Miis hold a parade with the Pokemon associated with them, with flags and confetti.

The most interesting part is how ranch-hand Haley will give you instructions and a deadline for catching DS Pokemon that aren't already in your Dex. She'll give you a list, and the in-game BBS will show you location information on each Pokemon. The location info in words is a bit easier to read than the multicolored, flashing Diamond and Pearl map, so it can help you zero in on the Pokemon you're missing. Nothing like getting a mission to rekindle your "Gotta Catch 'Em All" obsession. Haley says if you catch the ones she's asked for and bring them to the ranch, then "something good" will happen.

It seems that Haley will trade you one of the Pokemon she has, if you don't have one yet, when you bring her the ones she asks for.

Finally, every time you leave the ranch, Haley asks you for some hints about what kind of Pokemon she should bring next time ("A scary Pokemon?" "A paralyzing Pokemon?"), and you can tell her yes or no. Once you've decided, a silhouette is shown of the next Pokemon who'll be arriving - like during the commercial breaks of the TV show.

You know, not that I know about that kind of thing. Anyway, My Pokemon Ranch seems like a good way for DS Pokemon players to re-engage with the game, and it makes for cute background TV. I can't see those who don't play Diamond or Pearl finding that the Pokemon Ranch is worth an entire 1000 Wii Points, though - unless they really just like getting their cute on.