Pokémon Black and White Version 2 Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS
Grab your Pokédex, trainers, as Pokémon Black and White Version 2 are now upon us. Being the first direct sequels in the series’ main titles, are the new games the next step in Pokémon evolution, or are they just an excuse to make more money off hardcore fans?
Set two years after the events of Pokémon Black and White, the sequels tell the tale of Nate or Rosa (depending on whether you want to play as a boy or a girl) and their quest to help Professor Juniper complete the Pokédex. Sound a little familiar? That’s because this is the same premise of not only the original Black/White, but that of just about every Pokémon game before it. The formula is simple: start out by picking one of three Pokémon, travel the world with the goal of catching as many of the creatures as possible, defeat the various gym leaders in different cities to collect badges, get interrupted in the quest by an evil organization (in this case Team Plasma, a group who wishes to separate all humans from Pokémon), save the day, and beat the current world champion. Been there, done that. To top it off, no new Pokémon have been added – something that usually occurs with the next game in the series. While there is already a massive amount of Pokémon to deal with, even 20 or so additional creatures instead of the usual 100 would have made the game feel a little more substantial.
Black/White 2 tries to justify this by adding in new locations to the Unova region (where the game takes place) that our two protagonists need to explore in order to help fill the Pokédex. Members of the original cast such as Cheren and Bianca return for the sequel, though this time as gym leaders or Professor Juniper’s staff. Since the original team is now busy with their latest responsibilities, when areas of the Unova region are discovered Juniper decides to take on some extra hands – which is why the latest cast is requisitioned to assist in the original goal of completing the Pokédex. The lack of a fresh story, and the fact that no unique Pokémon have been added, leads to the title’s existence feeling like a massive cash grab. While there are some additional features (which we’ll cover later) and some issues from the original have been addressed (such as players now being able to encounter and capture previous generations of Pokémon before clearing the Unova region), Black/White 2’s story is sure to have many Pokémon fans feeling bored and wanting something they haven’t seen before.
However, Pokémon isn’t known for its plot but rather its gameplay, which is stellar as usual – with basics centered on the capture and battling of Pokémon. As mentioned above, players receive one of three starting Pokémon: Snivy, Oshawott, and Tepig, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. From there on, gamers need to use their Pokémon to capture more Pokémon, in order to bolster their combat ranks and ultimately compete against other trainers.
Battling is where Black/White 2 (and the series as a whole) is so successful, as it is both amazingly simple to learn and huge in strategy space. At the start of a match the two trainers each send out the first Pokémon in their team (of which they can have up to six), and give orders throughout the fight. Combat is turn-based with each side choosing from one of four attacks, which vary based on your selected Pokémon. After selecting an attack, the Pokémon will take turns using their abilities, with the fastest one going first. Once attacks are finished and any damage is dealt, simply rinse and repeat.
In some cases, battles may even involve four Pokémon – two for each trainer. Here, the mechanics stay the same except that trainers give both Pokémon instructions and select a target for each attack. The battle then follows normal rules, with the turn order still being decided by the individual’s speed. Although not terribly groundbreaking, this combat variant helps liven and mix up gameplay that might otherwise be somewhat repetitive.
What really deepens gameplay, though, is the Type system, which is like an augmented game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Each and every Pokémon belongs to one or two types (of which there are 17), including but not limited to: Normal, Water, Fire, Psychic, Ground, Steel, and Dragon. Every Type has certain strengths, weakness, or resistances to other types, with a surprising degree of realism. For example, Fire is strong against Grass yet weak against Water; Electric is great against Water or Flying, yet terrible when facing Ground; and Ground attacks completely miss Flying types entirely. This system makes Pokémon an incredibly strategic and varied game, with no two players ever using the exact same method or team.
Alternatively, players have the option to use various items like potions or Pokéballs for different effects, like healing injured teammates, capturing wild Pokémon, or temporality augmenting different stats. Basic items like berries may be given to your Pokémon before battle and to be automatically used when needed, such as healing when their health drops below a certain point, or curing status effects like poison. Trainers may also change Pokémon on the fly should they encounter something like a conflicting Pokémon Type (though the enemy still gets to attack the new combatant that turn), or simply run if the challenge is too much for them. Should players lose a battle, they will blackout and wake up at the nearest visited Pokémon Center – a location for healing injured creatures and buying supplies.
To make battles a little more interesting, each Pokémon also possesses a personal skill, which activates on its own in battle. One such case is Mareep’s Static ability, which paralyses an enemy attacker should they land a melee hit. The cause and effect of each personal skill differs between each Pokémon, but using them adds a new layer to a player’s strategy.
So what is the real difference between Black 2 and White 2? To be honest, very little. Each game has certain Pokémon that can only be found within that certain colour, so in order to truly catch all of the possible creatures you must trade with other players. Some may feel this as a cheap trick to sell more titles, but it has always given the series a social aspect to it – giving gamers the joy of helping their buddies out with filling their Pokédex. As well, there are minor aesthetic variations in the environment and HUD – such as the health bar in White 2 being white with black next, and Black 2’s being black with white text.
Of course, Black/White 2 brings a few extra features and modes in an attempt to keep the game feeling new. Most notable is Memory Link, a feature that when activated allows gamers to view flashback events from the two-year gap between the games, as well as a bit more backstory to events in the current game. In order to use Memory Link, players must first link up their original Black/White game with their new one via Wi-Fi or DS Wireless Communications – sadly requiring a second DS or 3DS system. Afterwards, visiting certain NPCs around the Unova region will trigger a flashback scene, as long as you’ve completed specific events in both Black/White 1 and 2. This feature is very welcome, as it actually brings some new story elements into an aging template – gamers will just find the need to borrow a friend’s (3)DS annoying.
Also added for battle fans is the Pokémon World Tournament, a stadium where players can battle characters and gym leaders from across the entire Pokémon universe – including original characters like Brock and Misty. Here gamers can take part in standard and unique tournaments (such as Rental, where players are randomly given three out of six level 50 Pokémon to battle with), or take on the gym leaders from different regions in a Mega Man styled gauntlet. If battling is your passion (and chances are it is) then you will sink hours of your time into the World Tournament as you try to defeat each category, making it a wonderful addition to the new games.
However, if you’re all worn out from your time in the arena you can always hit the silver screen at Pokéstar Studios, another new feature in Black/White 2. Players and their Pokémon are able to star in various movies, the outcomes of which are decided by the player. Typically, filming a movie works like a visual novel: You’re presented with options for different responses throughout the recording and have to pick appropriate dialogue for the scene, and battles take the forms of puzzles, where you need to make the right move choice in relation to the script. Pick correctly and the director will enjoy it and you may unlock a new film; pick incorrectly and you may get him angry. It is possible, though, to surprise the director with certain choices, which may lead to your Pokémon becoming a star, which unlocks new animations for battle. Regardless of the outcome, you may view the finished movie in the theater once you’re done and see yourself up on the big screen. Pokéstar Studios is a nice distraction from the constant battling, and many gamers will find their way there for some extra entertainment.
Graphics are your typical Pokémon fare. Characters are presented as 2D sprites on top of a 3D world, and battles are purely 2D, with each Pokémon standing on their own circular area overtop a simple background. Both elements of the battle screen change depending on the area you battle in; the Pokémon’s space might be covered in grass while outdoors, or made of floor titles while on a stage. While this is the general setup of all Pokémon titles, Black/White 2 takes it a little bit further in terms of sprite quality and animations. For starters, sprite animations have improved so now Pokémon move and emote more than before, feeling more like animated creatures than simple pictures on screen. Also, the environments have been fleshed out, making the surroundings much more detailed than previously seen in the games’ predecessors. Instead of simple boxy buildings or repetitive looking paths, the world actually has 3D structures that have depth and design to them. Topping it off the world seems more vivid and colourful, making use of a wide variety of pallets. The latest in the series delivers what you would expect, but adds its own flair as well.
As for the game’s sound, we’ve heard it all before. Black/White 2 presents the same kinds of 8-bit synthetic sounds to be found in any other title in the series, from the screeches and honks of Pokémon vocalizations to the bloops and rustles of jumping and walking through grass. Some key songs from the soundtrack return alongside a good deal of new tunes, though they follow the typical upbeat and syncopated style that one recognizes as Pokémon. While nothing is bad or annoying by any means, the title simply isn’t breaking any new ground – but this isn’t one of those games you play for an epic score.
So at the end of it all, do Pokémon Black and White Version 2 warrant you shelling out some more of your hard-earned Poké-dollars? Well, chances are if you’re a fan of the series you already had it on pre-order and are laughing at me for even asking the question. However, you may also note just how similar to the originals they are in terms of story, regions, and characters. This being said the game still delivers some deep and interesting gameplay, and the developers have added a fair chunk of fun features to keep you playing. All things considered, the games deserve your attention if you’re a fan – just don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before. So spin your hat around, throw out your first Pokémon, and get ready to battle!
Final Score: 4.25 / 5.0 and a shiny Ultra Ball
About This Post