Review by super_luigi16

"“Gotta Catch ‘Em All” still sells, but all ingenuity is getting are the Super Repels..."

Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2 follow the same formula that every game since Pokemon Red and Blue have followed—and, don't get me wrong, the formula works. In fact, it's amazingly addicting; you could argue Pokemon is like any commercial venture on the market: cigarettes, aspirins, sodas, potato chips, and so on. Just because it's in a new fancy package doesn't mean that anything has changed about the product itself. It's still got the same addicting hook. Maybe a few new chemicals here, a few new artificial flavors there; but has the real substance changed? The answer for the above products—Pokemon included—is an unequivocal NO.

The Formula

For those of you who have not played Pokemon—so approximately 2% of the general population—ignore the rest of this review and go straight out and buy the game. Ten years ago, I could've said you would find nothing else like it; today, I would have to be ignorant of an entire other market-ton of “Collect ‘Em Alls” to utter those words. Pokemon, along with these other franchises, entices you by the customization of a team of six among one-hundred fifty-on—er, three-hundred sixty—wait, six-hundred forty-nine Pokemon. Of course, there are quite a few choices...anything from dinosaurs to ants. The basic idea is that you're going to “catch” these Pokemon and use them to battle in a basic turn-style RPG format where your Pokemon uses a move, your opponent's Pokemon uses a move, and so on. On top of that, there's the returning overworld map. Whoopee. You venture through this world, encountering other trainers, wild Pokemon, and obstacles; you work your way to assemble a team capable of tackling the gyms, pounding the Elite Four, and scratching the Pokemon Champion out of existence. Oh, and you also have to save the world. That too.

Again, I'll reiterate that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this formula. The only thing “wrong” with this is that it has been used over-and-over-and-over-and-over again. Pokemon frankly loses a bit of its luster every time another game in the franchise is released; the “wow” factor is diminished, mitigated, and diluted with every subsequent color GameFreak removes from the color wheel. The second generation of Pokemon games may have been shining Silver, but, by the fifth generation, Pokemon has oxidized and tarnished into the unimpressive Black (2). The so-called steel wool that would have the power to undo this tarnish would have to be a radical change that dramatically alters the gameplay—not a complete upheaval of the foundation, but something like a paradigm shift. It could be the fostering of an MMO. Or the movement towards more action RPG elements. It could even be a reset of the battling system—something to stop making Pokemon so damn predictable.

The “New Stuff”

Black 2 and White 2 have nevertheless procured some new features to dazzle those walking by in the aisle; “a new story,” “[filming] movies at Pokestar Studios,” and a dramatically changed Unova that has weathered “two years” since we last adventured with our Pokemon. There are no new Pokemon, though a few have opened up as Event Pokemon since the release of the original Black and White games. There are quite a few new areas, namely in southwestern Unova (where you start) and northeastern Unova (where you end); however, there are more new areas littered throughout the region, so don't come under the impression that these are minor add-ons. The way by which you progress through Unova is noticeably different at the beginning and end, though similar for the middle parts of the game. However, there are no major changes or additions to the mechanics, movesets, abilities, items, berries, or battling. Case in point, you're buying the new story.

Nevertheless, the new areas are extensive; they offer quite a bit to do. Firstly, the southwestern region of Unova is simply breathtaking by Pokemon standards. The additions are imposing, and they can be amazing for a so-called “third version.” Aspertia City is quite possibly the largest starting city yet, and the first to have a gym; Floccesy Ranch and the Virbank Complex are well thought-out, I can solemnly say this is the most engaging, fast-paced Pokemon intro I've seen thus far from GameFreak. Moreover, the northeastern parts will really throw you for a loop if you've played the original Black and White games; again, I reiterate the additions are extensive and should not be discounted by any means.

The graphics are the best yet for a Pokemon game; however, that isn't saying much. They still use the 2D sprites and background, though some 3D views are peppered in to “wow” you. The jubilance of the battle is still maintained with energetic and unique Pokemon sprites, though Pokemon has yet to reach the prowess of full 3D battling and the possible tactics that would accompany such a change. The musical score is the best yet, and that is a serious accomplishment in a franchise where songs can oftentimes make their way into playlists. Seriously, Black 2 and White 2 go all out with respect to music: their battle theme remixes are simply amazing and the sheer amount of quality music is noteworthy.

But that isn't enough.

What Story?

Black and White were touted to quite possibly have the most immersive story to date in the Pokemon franchise. Black 2 and White 2 could arguably best that accomplishment. Well, that's great and all, but when the bar is set so low, it's hardly impressive that Black 2 and White 2 have “arguably the best story thus far.”. I could find a livelier story in Pikmin. I could find a livelier story in the SubSpace Emissary of Brawl. Black 2 and White 2's story is simply a means by which to get you from Point A to Point B.

The story for this game doesn't even frankly register. It's as if, after the near-total resolution of the events from the original Black and White, GameFreak decided to tack on another “story.” Go chase after the “remnants” of Team Plasma. See N again after he ran away. Become the Pokemon Champion for the zillionth time. This has been the tried-and-true story of “third versions” since the dawn of Pokemon time. It is redundant. It is lazy. And it is annoying that GameFreak can't even bother to put a story in their signature game—how much work is it to hire writers to come up with decent story? Do we still need to be treated as though we are unable of handling a story more complex than “become the Pokemon Champion?” So what if ten-year-olds play Pokemon? I guarantee you that the addition of a legitimate story would not scare them away from buying Pokemon. There are far scarier things for a ten-year-old to see or hear than a story in a Pokemon game.

Built for success, Not to impress

Black 2 and White 2 have retained the battle systems of Black and White in full. There is absolutely nothing new, and there really hasn't been anything new about Pokemon since, well, ever! Red and Blue came out, it was new, then it got old. But GameFreak knows that Pokemon Red and Blue, updated with the times and re-released as a different color, will sell millions. Hence Pokemon follows the cookie-cutter scheme. GameFreak will do nothing to jeopardize their sacrosanct series. And it works. They know it. I know it. We know it. But it works. To put it in an analogy, Pokemon is like the new model of the iPhone—everyone rushes to buy one, but you have to stop and question yourself...

“What's new? How is this any different from the last iPhone? Could I lay my two iPhones side-by-side and solemnly say that something radically different is noticeable between the two?”

Now replace “iPhone” with “Pokemon.” The questions still fit—if you really want to go out and buy “Pokemon,” I could direct you to Blue, Red, Yellow, Gold, Silver, or Crystal: they're utterly the same as Black 2 or White 2. You're buying the flashier graphics, the glitzy features, the “extras.” In all actuality, Black 2 and White 2, and every Pokemon since Yellow, are basically DLCs (minus the “D,” add in a “C” for cartridge) of the original two—Blue and Red. To those of you who have played quite a few Pokemons, could you actually name a core mechanic change that has occurred since the original release of Blue and Red? No, you likely couldn't. There are new items, new attacks, berries, poffins, subsidiary mechanics, supplemental additions, graphical updates, orchestral arrangements, but are there any core mechanic changes? There haven't been—arguably the biggest change, the split between special and physical attacks/defense, occurred ten years ago. Hell, Pokemon can't even grow up enough so as to have an actual story.

It gets repetitive...monotonous. I can't go back and play the “nothing” games because there's nothing different between my sterling copy of Emerald and my played-to-death copy of Platinum. Black 2 falls in the same line-up. Have we truly gained anything since the creation of Gold and Silver? No, we've simply lost the time we spent “collecting them all.” GameFreak simply re-releases another version of the same game to squeeze a little bit more money out of the Pokemon fanbase; they've even gotten to the point where they have DLC for their DLC! (See the Dream Radar application for the 3DS). Pokemon has lost the wow factor—it's built for success, to sell, rather than built to impress, to redress our grievances.

For the first time ever, I was not excited to play Pokemon when it came out. I wasn't rushing home to play it. I turned it on, played for an hour, and set it down. That never would've happened with Emerald. Pokemon has lost the luster that made it amazing by the sheer dilution that has become the Pokemon color wheel. There is nothing fundamentally new in Pokemon Black 2 or Pokemon White 2.

The Worst Pokemon Ever?

No, by no means are Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2 the worst Pokemons released thus far. They are, in fact, probably some of the best games to grace the series since Emerald. All in all, they are a solid entry into the ever-expanding Pokemon series. So, if you're a Pokemon addict or even someone who's jumping into the series for the first time, feel free to enjoy the experience that is Pokemon. It is an extraordinary experience to play Pokemon for the first time, and those of you who play after countless installments should seriously bask in something that you love so. However, to those of you scratching your head at these games, wondering whether to drop another $35 (or more) to get one of them, I would have to strongly advise you to pass. It's nothing new; it's no different from the games collecting dust in your collection. Until Pokemon begins to try something new, something different, let your wallet have a reprieve and skip on these utterly forgettable Pokemon games. Buy games from a series that isn't as stale as the cookies sitting in your pantry for the last six months—perhaps the upcoming Pikmin 3?

FINAL SCORE: 5.5/10

The Story
+ Compliments the gameplay
+ Extends the closure afforded by the original games
+ Makes good use of the leftovers from the originals
- Thrown together haphazardly
- Still the same-old Pokemon plot arc
- Utterly forgettable among the countless other Pokemon stories

The Gameplay
+ Still as addicting as ever
+ Seamless, largely engaging, and true-to-the-roots
+ Well-rounded with no glaring experience and/or leveling problems
+ Plenty of extras
- No major changes, overhauls, or other upheavals to keep the gameplay fresh
- Mimics all other Pokemon games; differences are few and far-between

The Music
+ The best Pokemon soundtrack yet
+ Plenty of catchy tunes to supplement the gameplay

The Graphics
+ Again, arguably the best graphics yet
- Practically re-uses everything from Black and White
- Still using 2D for the vast majority of the game

Replayability
+ Easily a hundred hours of gameplay—likely more
- Could play other games to get the same experience


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 10/08/12, Updated 10/15/12

Game Release: Pokemon Black Version 2 (US, 10/07/12)


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