It’s time for a blast from the past from the Generation 4 era!
My Pokémon Ranch was a purchasable companion game for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl on the Wii. Today marks the eleven year anniversary of the game’s North American release and as such I wanted to take a look back at one of my favorite games growing up, what made it so unique from other games, and ultimately why it wasn’t as popular as some of the other spin-off games the franchise released.
My Pokémon Ranch was an accessory game that was purchasable from the Wii Shop Channel for 1000 points starting from its release until the shop’s closure on January 31, 2019. The game had a rather simply concept. Pokémon could be transferred from Diamond and Pearl and stored on a farm. The player could use up to eight copies of the Diamond and Pearl games to send their Pokémon, which then could be organized in the ranch by factors like height and weight. Hayley would give the player information on the Pokémon, which would be different from the info in the games. She would also bring a Pokémon each day to the ranch for which the player can trade, and when players would exit the ranch for the first time each day, she would ask about what kind of Pokémon she should bring the next day using adjectives like “light” or “orange”.
What Made it Unique
The game was essentially an expansion of the concept of the Pokémon Box from the third generation, though it notably had a lower capacity for how many Pokémon could be held, 1000 instead of the previous 1500. However, instead, it included events that occurred every 15 minutes and allowed for players to see continued interactions between their Pokémon as well as take pictures of and interact with their Pokémon. Another distinct difference from Pokémon Box was that, like Pokémon Battle Revolution, it will only interact with specific save files. This means that if a Pokémon is placed on the ranch, only the game from which it was placed onto the ranch may take the Pokémon back off it. This prevents people storing Pokémon and starting a new game – something for which previous storage titles were quite useful.
The game was known for much more than its storage feature though, as it was the first game of its kind that allowed not only the Pokémon in sotrage to interact with one another, but also with various Mii Caretakers that could be added as the ranch grew. On top of the possible 1000 Pokémon that could be stored, up to 20 Miis could be selected as helpers on the ranch as well. Pokémon and Miis could interact in full 3D on the Wii, with the models for the Pokémon bearing a striking resemblance to the models that continued to be used for the Pokémon Rumble spin-off series. A Pokémon’s behavior in the ranch was also determined by their nature, characteristic, moves, etc. This mean that even if you had a ranch full of Pikachu, every interaction was unique and different. Certain Pokémon species even had unique features, like Mankey typically being angry and Weezing’s stench typically warding Pokémon away. The Pokémon’s Shiny coloring, alternate forms, and gender differences were also visible in the game. If a Pokémon came from a special place or was level 100, they would sparkle in green or blue sparkles, respectively. If both were applicable to the said Pokémon, then there would be sparkles of both colors. The player was able to take pictures at any time when on the ranch and save them to the message board or a SD card. Taking pictures of objects could be made easier by applying a Focus Lock or spinning the screen around using the Nunchuk, allowing for plenty of unique photo op opportunities similar to Pokémon Snap.
In order to help the player on their quest to complete the Pokédex, Hayley would often request a certain Pokémon be brought to the ranch, labeled a “Wanted Pokémon”. These Pokémon were typically ones not registered in the player’s Pokédex, unless all Pokémon were registered in which case it would be any random Pokémon. The game would provide the player with all the information on acquiring the listed Pokémon, including information on a Pokémon’s pre-evolved form, and if an item is needed to evolve it, where that item can be found. This could be used to both assist and motivate said player into completing their Pokédex. The player was given ten days to acquire this Pokémon until the post was removed and a new one was made. Wanted Pokémon requests were not tied to specific game cards. If one player deposited a Pokémon that Hayley requested from another player, it would be taken off the Wanted list and she would ask the player to show the other player how to find Pokémon. If all of the Wanted posts expired, Hayley would ask the player to connect their DS so new ones could be made. In addition, whenever a Wanted Pokémon was brought in, Hayley would offer to trade one of her Pokémon with the players. Hayley’s Pokémon could be one out of any twenty and they often had a TM or Egg Move that would be make them unique and more valuable to the player. The Pokémon available for trade were limited to ones that Hayley has already brought to the ranch. She would occasionally bring a tradeable when the player chose “No” for both answers when Hayley asked what kind of Pokémon she should bring to the ranch the next day. All of these Pokémon will have the OT Hayley and the Trainer ID number 01000. However, much of the stats and other features of Hayley’s Pokémon were set, so it was impossible to get a different nature, gender, or ability from the presets, and they could not be Shiny. However, amongst all of this, there were two special Pokémon available to the player after certain requirements were met. The first is Phione. Once 250 Pokémon were present on the ranch, the ranch would expand and jump to a new level. When this level was obtained, Hayley would add a new Pokémon to the “Wanted” board, Leafeon. When Leafeon was brought to the ranch, she would offer to trade it for her Phione. When 999 Pokémon were present, the ranch would expand and jump to level 25, the maximum level outside of the Platinum update. Once this level was obtained, a new wanted Pokémon would be added, this time being any Pokémon Egg. When the egg was brought, she would offer to trade it for her Mew. Both of these were very rare Pokémon at the time, making them valuable things to obtain.
Events were constantly occurring around the ranch. Minor events with Pokémon typically included chatting with each other, using attacks on one another (though no harm was ever done), or fleeing Pokémon with type advantages. The Mii Ranchers also had unique activities, including mending the fence, dancing with certain Pokémon, or just sitting and observing the Pokémon in the Ranch. However, every fifteen minutes, a major event would occur. When the game initially released, up to sixteen different events could occur, though most of them required specific amounts of Pokémon to unlock them. Certain ones, like Clock or Totem Pole, were fairly easy to access, as they either happened on the hour or after five Pokémon were deposited respectively. Other events, like Ring or Circle dance, required twenty of the same type or species to be deposited. Then others like Keyboard or Carousel, had much more specific requirements, like depositing all the Unown forms or depositing at least forty Ponyta, Rapidash, Stantler and Girafarig. My personal favorite event was Dash, which required you to deposit a Bulbasaur, Pikachu, Meowth, Teddiursa, Munchlax and Torchic. This was a reference to the Pokémon Dash game, a spinoff racing game that featured all these Pokémon.
Toys were also another feature of My Pokémon Ranch that made every day unique. Toys with which Pokémon and Miis may play are delivered to the ranch every day. The type of toys delivered randomly changes every day and the amount of toys depends on the size of the ranch. Each toy comes in a present box which must be picked up and dropped to open. Initially, twenty-three toys were available to be unlocked by the player that credit a variety of interactions and events. Each toy also produced some form of in-game caption that would use the Mii or Pokémon’s name if they interacted with the toy. Each toy was unique, which some being Mii exclusive, others being Pokémon exclusive, and some being usable by both. For example, the parade drum, pictured above, was Mii exclusive, and allowed the Mii Rancher using it to lead a parade of Pokémon and Miis through the Ranch. The dummy was a dummy that could be challenged by a Pokémon by touching it. If Pokémon dodged the attacks, it spit out confetti in celebration. The Poké Cushion could be placed on a Mii’s head so that Pokémon could jump and rest on it. Heavy Pokémon would stun the Mii, resulting in a different in-game caption. Most toys were available to the player from the start, but certain ones, like the Poké Palette, would only be available after a large number of Pokémon were deposited in the ranch, in this case 500.
Club Look-See was another unique feature included on Pokémon Ranch. This group of 37 visitors were friends of Haley’s and would visit the player’s ranch before inviting them to their own. Each Look-See member had a theme for their ranch, ranging from egg associated Pokémon to Small Pokémon to Psychic Pokémon and Pink Pokémon. Some of these ranches would even include legendary Pokémon, like the Dragon Ranch having Dialga and Palkia or the Heaven Ranch having Latias, Latios, Lugia, and Rayquaza. The Look-See Members also typically bore a resemblance to one of the Pokémon in their ranch. For example, Lucius, the owner of the Heaven Ranch, had large eyebrows to mimic the feathers around Lugia’s eyes, and Jules, the owner of the Electric Ranch, had spiky hair to mimic the spikes on Zapdos’ head. Every member would visit once in an assigned order, but then after they all visited once, they would then visit in a random order.
The Platinum Update
On November 5th in Japan, an update to My Pokémon Ranch was released. This update gave Ranch Pokémon Platinum compatibility and added many new aspects to the unique features of the game, including new events and Look-See Members. Prior to this update, the ranch was capped out at level 25 and a storage capacity of 1000, but after this, the ranch could reach level 26 and upped the storage capacity to 1500. In addition, the new forms available in Pokémon Platinum were able to be accessed in Ranch. Giratina Origin Form and the various Rotom forms could be accessed so long as Giratina was deposited holding the Griseous Orb and Rotom was deposited when they were in that appliance. Due to Shaymin reverting to Land Form when it was placed in the box, its Sky Form was instead accessible through the newly introduced toy, the Gracidea Flower. Ten other new toys were introduced as well, including a Birthday Cake that dropped confetti from the sky and an Apple Box that allowed Miis to carry Pokémon around in. The game also introduced six new major events. The largest event was Surf, where water type Pokémon would flood the ranch using Surf then skip and jump through it. By depositing a Hariyama and a Makuhita, the wrestling tournament event which was a tournament between various fighting type Pokémon in the ranch, and a new Rotom event was added that allowed it to show off all its forms. Finally, Pokémon that typically had rivalries with each other, such as Zangoose and Seviper or Cresselia and Darkrai could also trigger events of them fighting each other. Photos were also able to be saved to the SD card in bulk now instead of one by one. Three new Look-See members were added, and players were now able to revisit the Look-See ranches they had been to before at any time instead of by random chance.
Lack of Popularity
While My Pokémon Ranch was actually quite popular with fans at the start, in the end it fell out of popularity for a variety of reasons. The largest criticisms of the game was the lack of interaction with the game and that a copy of Pokémon Diamond or Pearl was required to use it. There also wasn’t much for the player to do outside of bringing Pokémon to the ranch, unboxing the toys each day, and photographing Pokémon and Miis while they interacted. While it was a rather peaceful game, this lack of interaction led to it being generally received as a boring game. Its largest flaw, however, was the lack of a release outside of Japan for the Platinum update. According to an article in the now deleted Pokémon.com mailbag, there were no plans to release this update outside of Japan. My Pokémon Ranch will not work with Platinum without this update and it is completely incompatible with HeartGold and SoulSilver. This means that outside of Japan, many of the new events and other features were inaccessible. The ease of using phone apps to hack Pokémon games as well made it relatively easy to fill up the ranch with the needed amount of Pokémon to access Mew and Phione, the two Pokémon most people got the game for. As a result, as time has gone on, it seems to have been rather negatively received and might explain why we haven’t seen another game like it since its release eleven years ago.
My Pokémon Ranch is a very unique game in Pokémon’s history. I remember it quite fondly since I used it to store Pokémon quite a bit. Back when I first attempted Nuzlocke runs, I often stored my dead there, as a way to give them a happy retirement. Funnily enough, after my original Diamond game got stolen, I’d often look through all the Pokémon I had deposited in My Pokémon Ranch from that cartridge and was glad that I could still play with them in some form. After I got a new used cartridge of Pokémon Diamond, I remember discovering that similar to not being able to release your last Pokémon with Surf, you also couldn’t send them to the Ranch either, which was an interesting little thing to discover back then. It should come as no surprise to anyone that after I was able to use phone apps to send a bunch of Shaymin to my games, I quickly flooded my ranch with as many Shaymin as I could. Nothing made me happier than to watch regular and Shiny Shaymin running all over the ranch together. While we never got the Platinum update, I really would have loved to see the sky forms prancing through the skies too. All in all, while I haven’t touched my Wii or this game in years, I really wish we’d get another game like this in the future. I have a lot of fond memories of watching my Pokémon play together on this game and it’s something I’d love to see again in a future game.