Pokemon Black/White Review


When Pokemon Diamond and Pearl were announced, we were all happy, but not surprised. The DS was a Nintendo handheld, and every Nintendo handheld had Pokemon, so why not the DS as well? Also, by the time of the DS, we knew the Pokemon release formula: two original games introducing a new region (Red/Blue, Gold/Silver, Ruby/Sapphire, Diamond/Pearl), a third game in the same region but with enhanced features (Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Platinum), then starting with the Game Boy Advance two remakes (Fire Red/Leaf Green, HeartGold/SoulSilver). After HeartGold and SoulSilver last year, DS fans thought they were done with Pokemon titles until the next generation…

Enter Pokemon Black and White. This new Pokemon duo features 150 brand new species of Pokemon in a brand new region. You won’t even see any of the previous 493 Pokemon until you finish the main story here. Unova is immense, with many different areas to explore and conquer. The visuals have received a major overhaul, from the Pokemon to the attacks to the environment. The story is much more sophisticated and “adult,” creating an overriding theme that many will find intriguing. The battle system is the only thing that remains virtually the same, though there is a new feature to talk about there as well. Pokemon Black and White, though a set no one expected, does not disappoint in delivering what may be the most complete Pokemon experience to date.

Black/White is a Poke-revolution as far as the world is concerned. Instead of every town virtually looking the same, each location has something unique to it: Castelia City is a bustling city lined with skyscrapers and loaded with people coming and going, Mistralton City features an airfield with cargo planes, and Nimbasa City boasts a full amusement park. These are no longer just buildings and people, there’s a lot to see and do. What’s most impressive are the camera angles that the game produces. It’s no longer just a set camera above the player; this camera moves and flows depending on the environment. When crossing Skyarrow Bridge to Castelia City, for instance, the camera will pan out, showing not only the size of the bridge but also the looming skyline in the background. Even the Gyms have been enhanced: the Mistralton Gym has you shooting yourself out of a cannon to get where you need to go, and the Nimbasa Gym is a roller-coaster! The environment enhancement is amazing, but it’s merely the beginning of the new Pokemon experience.

The battle system is virtually the same at its core, but there are enhancements to enjoy. Pokemon no longer stand still during a battle; each creature has its own movement loop that makes it seem more alive. The attacks are just as extravagant as ever, even if some of them are ridiculously named (“After You”? Really?!”) The best of the new battle features is the Triple Battle, bringing 3-on-3 madness to the Pokemon universe. However, there are some limitations: only the Pokemon in the center can attack any of the opposing Pokemon. The one on the left can attack either the center or the left opponent, and the same goes for the right side. This adds a little bit more strategy to the battle, as players can shift a Pokemon’s position in place of attacking. Have a Water type on the left side and your opponent brings out a Fire on the right? Shift the Water to the center and have at it. Other than these additions, it’s the standard Pokemon experience: choose an attack, the Pokemon with the faster Speed attacks first, the other then attacks, rinse and repeat. Just enough of the old to stay familiar and just enough of the new to stay fresh makes the battle system as addictive as it was before.

The storytelling aspect of the game may be the best part of the whole experience. First off, the player doesn’t have a rival like Gary anymore; there are now two friends Cheren and Bianca who will challenge you from time to time. Cheren is a stubborn child whose obsession with being the strongest borders on insanity, and Bianca is a flightly girl who has trouble finding her place in life. A rival may be absent, but the rest are the same: there’s a Pokemon professor, Juniper, who gives you your Pokedex (Juniper is also the first female Poke-professor of the series, a noteworthy accomplishment), eight Gym Leaders who are ready to take you on, and the Team Rocket-esque bad guys who will stand in your path to glory. These characters develop and evolve throughout the course of the game, not unlike the creatures they’re training, in a way that brings character development not usually seen in Pokemon titles to the forefront.

The themes of the main story, however, are where the narrative really shines. Never before has a Pokemon title made a player question the ethical repercussions of their actions, but Black/White does just that. The villainous faction, Team Plasma, seeks to liberate all Pokemon from their Trainers. In their eyes, Pokemon need to be free to live without depending on humans to survive. A noble cause for sure, they’re a regular Poke-PETA, but Plasma’s manner of liberating Pokemon is stealing them from their trainers, a trademark case of “do as I say, not as I do.” Players have been catching and training Pokemon for years, and to now have even a sliver of doubt about Pokemon freedom is an interesting take. The story is wildly engaging, easily the best of the series, and it’s not something that should be ignored.

Of course, the game is not without its faults. As I mentioned above, the battle system’s tweaks are mostly aesthetic (with the exception of Triple Battle). The designs of the new 150 Pokemon are a bit odd, ranging from the silly (Cofagrigus is a floating sarcophagus with limbs) to the absurd (Solosis is literally a Cell Pokemon: a mass with eyes and a mouth inside a bubble). Some creatures are cool (the electric bug Galvantula and the dragon Haxorus being my two favorites), but for every awesome addition there are two that’ll make you shake your head, like Trubbish: “The combination of garbage bags and industrial waste caused the chemical reaction that created this Pokémon.” That’s a direct Pokedex quote there, folks.

Pokemon Black/White does a terrific job of blending the old, tried-and-true gameplay systems of yesteryear with updated graphics, a mature story, and new features that bring Pokemon into 2011. When I started playing, it was like I had never taken a break from the series. If you’re a Pokemaniac at all, then Black/White needs to be experienced. However, if Pokemon turned you off before, there’s not much here that will change your mind.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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