Since 1996 (in Japan, 1998 in North America) GameFreak has managed to overtake the video game market with their portable Pokemon games again-and-again. This youth-friendly RPG series has never been one for innovation, but despite this, continue to sell millions with every release. In 2007, with the release of Pokemon Pearl and Diamond in North America, Pokefans had finally had enough. Although they still bought the game in massive numbers, fans had had enough of the gameboy-ish graphics, tired gameplay, and overall old feel. For their next Pokemon adventure, GameFreak would have to step up to the plate and hit it out of the park. Thankfully, for the sake of every Pokemon fan, I can tell you that GameFreak did just that.
As per usual, Pokemon: Black and White follows a similar plot line to every portable Pokemon game before it. This time, you begin your journey as a teenager in the Unova region who — with his two friends — travel across the region to fight Team Plasma, collect gym badges, and defeat the Elite 4 to become the Pokemon Champion. From the very beginning, you can tell that Black and White is much more focused on story. Opposed to simply coming across the game’s main antagonist at some point in your adventure, this time the game’s antagonist is introduced in a cutscene at the beginning of the game — a first for the series. Another first for the series is the dark undertone of the game’s story. Black and White not only tells the story of your character, but also tells the story of a world in the Pokemon fiction where there is a rift between humans and the Pokemon they use for sport. In typical Nintendo fashion though, this dark tone will only be noticed by a mature audience as it is so subtle. Children on the other hand will play through a typical, joyous Pokemon adventure.
The tried-and-true Pokemon RPG gameplay also makes a return in Black and White, but this time with a bit of an expansion. Battles still follow the basic rock-paper-scissors formula, but the innovation this time around is three-Pokemon battles. Unfortunately, these battles are as pointless as they sound. Two-Pokemon battles were pushing it when they were introduced years ago, but now having a third Pokemon is just ridiculous. GameFreak could have really innovated Pokemon battles, but instead they took the easy way out by introducing three-Pokemon battles. However, the newly introduced rotation battles are fairly interesting. In rotation battles, two Pokemon fight one-on-one, but trainers can switch Pokemon without having to wait a turn. While these are cool and interesting, they still aren’t very innovative. Despite the poor battle innovations, other parts of Pokemon Black and White’s gameplay improve the experience vastly. As soon as I reached the first gym I realized the difficulty of the game had been bumped up. My Pokemon were being forced to fight against unfavorable types (such as fire against water) and were actually dieing. For myself who has thought the Pokemon series has always been easier than neccessary, this slight bump in difficulty was great. Don’t come in expecting Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest levels of JRPG difficulty, but keep in mind that you can’t mindlessly select “cut” and make it through the game. To make things feel even more fresh,
GameFreak has decided to put only new Pokemon in the main story of the new game. This means that series’ veterans will be seeing something new throughout their play through. But for those who need Pikachu, the rest of the Pokemon catalog is unlocked after the game is completed. Having a whole bunch of new Pokemon is a great way to make the game feel fresh, but the majority of these new Pokemon look and feel just like previous ones. So while all of the Pokemon for the first chunck of Pokemon Black and White may be new, they aren’t necessarily original.
Pokemon Black and White also have a breadth of great features. This time, you’ll be ditching the PokeGear and going for the
C-Gear. The C-Gear is all about connectivity and will allow players to quickly connect with other players as it takes over the DS’ touch screen. The C-Gear even allows you to do non-battle things, such as video call with friends. I think the C-Gear is the next logical step for the Pokemon series, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have problems with it. Wi-Fi syncing with the Pokemon Global Link servers and the Pass By mode are awesome, but if you play the game without Wi-Fi, you will feel like you are missing a ton of content. For a game so focused on appealing to children, it would have been great to see Nintendo incorporate some of the in-game trainers in a fake online mode for single-player gamers. Being able to battle or talk to Debbie the Bird Keeper would have been an easy way for Nintendo to make everyone, regardless of wireless internet availability, feel like they are getting the full experience.
Graphics wise, Pokemon Black and White is the best of the series. The game’s 2.5D visuals look fantastic and the — now true — over-the-shoulder camera adds visual depth to battles. However, the game does not look as clean as previous Pokemon games. While Black and White looks great, it also looks a bit blown up and pixelated. It is a little disappointing that GameFreak couldn’t completely clean up the new visuals, but it’s an easy trade-off for a Pokemon game that actually looks like a Nintendo DS game.
All in all, Pokemon Black and White is the best Pokemon game yet. GameFreak has once again built upon the previous Pokemon structure, without breaking anything in the process. Whether you like it or not, Pokemon Black and White does family RPGs exceptionally well. If you’re a Pokemon fan who was just about to call it quits due to a lack of innovation, I highly reccomend that you come back one more time to see if your opinion can be changed. If you’ve never played a Pokemon game before, Pokemon Black and White is a mostly acceptable beginner RPG. Either way, Pokemon Black and White is a game that every Nintendo DS gamer should own.
- Mostly innovative gameplay
- New graphics
- C-Gear brings new level of connectivity
- Impressive story
- Gameplay lacks some innovation
- Graphics look a bit bloated and pixelated
- C-Gear segregates those who play Pokemon offline