Pokemon Black and White Review (DS)
As a long time Pokemon devotee, I was naturally looking forward to the Black and White release. Especially since the pair was touted as being the next evolution in the series, with better graphics, all new Pokemon, year long seasonal cycle, and advanced battle system.
Nintendo worked really hard to convince everyone that this game would be different. Sadly it’s not quite as evolved as I had been hoping.
I have been a huge Pokemon RPG fan ever since the original Red and Blue versions were released. Once I got my hands on that blue cartridge, the ‘Gotta Catch them All’ bug engulfed me for weeks as I feverishly devoted all my spare time to collecting Pokemon and battling Gym Leaders.
The game brilliantly encouraged social play, by rewarding players for trading their Pokemon, and even requiring it for anyone looking to complete the entire collection.
It encouraged exploration and adventure since Pokemon were to be found in all different locations in the game. Vast tracts of land had to be combed over to find every single Pokemon.
But best of all there was strategy built into the battle system that had an incredible amount of depth, yet allowed people to play at their own level without seriously penalizing them. Imbuing the Pokemon with different elements was an inspired and easy to grasp strategical component, which in turn encouraged players to go out and catch them all!
Simply put, the original Pokemon RPG was a brilliant game that was easy enough for kids to play yet challenging enough for adults to enjoy.
Each Pokemon RPG sequel maintained these qualities by changing as little as possible about the game. Small things were added and removed, but overall the games all looked and played the same.
As the fifth generation of Pokemon RPG, Black and White were too have been the next evolution. But like its predecessors only small things have changed and the game looks and feels just like all the games before.
Not that this is a bad thing. Its pretty clear that I am a fan of the games, but it seems that the marketing campaign was a bit on the shady side. Also I would have liked to see what a true next step in the game’s evolution could have been.
Release date: March 6 2011
Developer: Game Freak
Genre: Turned Based RPG
Time played: 18 hours
Color played: I played Black, husband played White. Its how we roll around here.
World and Story
This is the fifth generation Pokemon RPG, which means that Unova, the region that is home to the Black and White experience is the fifth and newest region found in the Pokemon Universe.
Though the look and style of the new region is very indicative of previous versions, what really sets it apart is Castelia City. It is considered the main city in Unova and is modeled after New York City. The bridge access and the many sky scrappers make Castelia City an obvious homage.
All the Pokemon RPGs share the same coming of age story for the main character. A young teenager, girl in my case, decides to leave home to become a Pokemon trainer. She journeys through the world discovering new Pokemon and training them to battle various other trainers and gym leaders to collect the eight badges that will lead her to the final four, the ultimate battle. The heroine learns about life and Pokemon on her way to becoming a Pokemon Champion.
Black and White adds a new twist with Team Plasma. Though most of the games have a gang of thugs, Plasma is a bit more altruistic. They are out to free all Pokemon because they think capturing them is abusive. It’s an interesting and valid moral quandary that deepens the story experience quite a bit.
Most of the Pokemon Role Playing Games come in two separate versions; in this case Black and White. The story, locations, and game play are identical. Where they diverge is which Pokemon are to be found in the game, especially the final ancient Pokemon. Each game only has one of them and of course Black and White have different versions.
The focus of the Pokemon RPG has always been centered on capturing Pokemon through battle, leveling up your Pokemon, and pitching your team against other trainer’s Pokemon teams. All of these are resolved in the Pokemon Battle Screen.
Each Pokemon trainer has the capacity to carry six Pokemon, though there is lots of extra storage at the Pokecenter. These six are the only ones available for battle.
Battles are usually one vs one Pokemon, though Black and White introduce multiple Pokemon battles, 2vs2 and 3vs3. Combat is turn based and each Trainer has a few options on their turn. They can attack with their current Pokemon, switch out the Pokemon with any of the others they are carrying, use items like a potion to heal, they can attempt to run away, or they can try to catch the opposing Pokemon. The last two options are not available for trainer battles, as you aren’t allowed to take Pokemon from other trainers or run away from competitive battles.
All damage inflicted in the battle is done and absorbed by the Pokemon in play. Once a Pokemon runs out of health it is knocked out (not dead!) and can be revived via potion or at the Pokecenter. Battle continues until one side’s Pokemon are all knocked out.
Capturing is a bit different as only wild Pokemon can be captured. Though it is still a battle, knocked out Pokemon can’t be captured, which means its imperative to pick attacks with care.
The more rare or powerful the Pokemon to be captured is, the harder they are to catch. For some just lowering their health a significant amount will be enough, but the powerful ones might also have to be put to sleep and confused.
Once a Pokemon is intimidated enough, the trainer can chose a Pokeball to throw at the Pokemon to capture it. There are quite a few different types of Pokeballs available; each has its own strength, so chose wisely. The more you know about the Pokemon the better you can be prepared.
Each Pokemon can level up to one hundred. Pokemon gain experience by winning in battles against trainers and wild Pokemon. Different skills are available to them as they level; yet they can only ever have four skills at a time. This means it’s important to investigate what the new skills are, because the higher-level skills aren’t necessarily better.
What makes the battles so interesting is the element aspect. Each Pokemon has an elemental type, sometimes two, that will affect its damage and defense. Some elements are very powerful against others, for example fire is super effective against grass type, while fire is not very effective against rock. So the more you know about the Pokemon the better you can pick the appropriate Pokemon to beat the opponent.
The rest of the game is spent in the larger overhead worldview. Moving around and talking with the town people, combing the world for Pokemon, finding other trainers to battle, completing quests, there is just so very much to do and explore.
One thing I will add is that wild Pokemon are found as random encounters in the world. They are found by walking through tall grass or in deep sand. In Black and White they also have the rustling grass square that is a guaranteed wild Pokemon encounter.
Clearly I could go on and on about Pokemon and how to play the game, but I will refrain. I will add though that a guide is really helpful. Not only does it give out great information about each individual Pokemon and each of the gym leaders, but it also helps with where to go and where to find quests and other interesting stuff to do.
Quite a few detail oriented graphical updates were made. Many more character animations were added as well as more cut scenes. But the largest change was Castelia City, which was rendered with 3D graphics.
While these changes are great, I would not have really noticed most of them, because the overall style of the graphics is still the same.
With 150+ Pokemon to catch, breed, or trade, eight gym leaders to defeat, team plasma and the final four to best, and much more, it’s hard to justify replaying.
Though the collecting aspect of the game doesn’t tend towards high replay ability, it does work well with playing multiple copies of the game. There are two versions of the game after all. =)
There is the standard trade Pokemon and battle other trainers. But Black and White has quite a bit of additional online capabilities. The game will ‘talk’ with other games in close proximity while turned off. There is a ‘feeling check’ function which checks to see how compatible two players are. There is also the Survey question mini game.
And then there is the Dream world. It’s basically a mini game that is played on the Nintendo Pokemon servers, which means that you can meet friends in the Dream world. Special Pokemon are available here as well as quite a few different mini games that are playable with friends. It’s a small Online Pokemon World.
Things that bothered me
-Not a new game
Already mentioned this, but I would really have liked a little more change.
Multiplayer has never been great, but Black and White managed to add overly complex to the complaint. Too many strange options paired with poor connectivity make for a frustrating experience.
Three and half out of Five Mushrooms. I love Pokemon and don’t really mind playing yet another incarnation of the same game. That being said it is disappointing that there isn’t as much of a change as they were suggesting. But it is still Pokemon and is still really fun. Also the addition of Team Plasma is surprisingly entertaining. The free Pokemon campaign makes for some interesting moral reflections.