Review by Dr_Namgge

"It's a black and white issue: You simple can't catch 'em all."

Pokémon Black & White, the eighteenth and nineteenth Pokémon games in the main series. And despite fifteen years and five generations of gym leaders, evil teams, and trying to fill a Pokédex you'd think they'd do something a bit different, but nope. Once again you travel the land on a request by a Pokémon professor to catch 'em all, and along the way you fight the evil team, beat the gym leaders, run into legendaries, and become a master.

Oh sure, the specifics have changed, the region this time is Unova, the Professor's a girl, the evil team are known as Plasma, and there's another new group of Pokémon to catch, but overall it's the same. The story may have been written with a bit more character in the NPC's, but it's still the same story we had in Diamond and Pearl, the same as Ruby and Sapphire, and the same as the first version of Red and Green.

If you're new to the series, I'll say it now, you will NEVER catch 'em all. It has simply become impossible. As always, trading is key to completing the Pokédex, and while the list of Pokémon you can find in Black that aren't in White (and vice versa) is actually much shorter than previous generations, making completing the Unova local 'dex (that is, all the Pokémon new in this generation), should be fairly simple. However, the national Pokédex, the list that now numbers 649 Pokémon, is impossible for a new player, simply for the amount of Pokémon needed from earlier versions.

If you actually intend to try to get them all, you're going to need not only two DS's, but also a copy of Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Heart Gold, and Soul Silver. I'm not joking, each game has at least one Pokémon on it that cannot be found on one of the others. Want to get Stunky? You need Diamond. Want to catch a Glameow? Gotta get it from Pearl. Those are just common Pokémon though, it can (and does) get worse Want to catch Regigigas? You need to get Regirock, Regice, and Registeel, which you can only get in Platinum before you can even attempt to catch it. After a Rayquaza? You're gonna have to catch Kyogre in Heart Gold and Groudon in Soul Silver (and it has to be from those, you can't take the ones Pal Parked over from generation three), and then go get it. Want a Jirachi? Tough luck, the event happened sometime last year, and there won't be another one anytime soon. Want Zoroark, one of the new Pokémon introduced this generation? Hope you already owned an older game and got the event Celebi, or you're going to be waiting for the wifi event for it.

Long story short, as a new player, you're screwed. Even veteran players, players who have been playing for years, will struggle to get the complete Pokédex. That's not because it's unfairly hard, but rather because there's a simple over-reliance on having earlier games and being able to get Pokémon. The Celebi previously mentioned, was not a wifi event, it had to be downloaded from select stores in certain towns in certain countries. Completing the Pokédex isn't a question of skill, it's a question of patience and money. Actually finishing it fully will take time, not because it's a long game, but because you'll be waiting for upcoming events for the last few Pokémon. The actual cost to completing this game, is much higher than the initial price tag, something worth considering if you actually feel you want the complete Pokédex.

Also note that Nintendo are very clever with there timings. Celebi was one of the last Pokémon many people needed in there Pokédex's, it was the rare one that had eluded many since early days of Diamond and Pearl, and unless they had been going to events since the early days of Ruby and Sapphire, the one they had probably been completely incapable of getting data for. So is it any surprise that it only came out to complete the Pokédex's of many less than a month before a new game, with even more Pokémon to catch was released? Assuming you do somehow complete Black & White's Pokédex, without cheating, what's to say there won't be even more of the little blighters to chase after next time?

But lets assume for a second you're not cursed with OCD and don't feel too compelled to invest the time and hundreds and hundreds of monies on the things needed to clear the Pokédex. Is this game still worth it? The answer is, annoyingly not a black or white one. On the one hand, it's a competent monster catching RPG with simple combat system that has a lot of depth behind it, that's competently built, and certainly more engaging than Diamond and Pearl. On the other hand, it's incredibly linear, there's almost nothing to do outside of Pokémon battling this time around, at least until you beat the elite four, and it's just not as engrossing as Heart Gold or Soul Silver.

The linearity of Black & White is one of the key issues. Unlike every other game, where you were free to go whichever way you chose, and could beat the gyms in the order they were accessible, here you need to beat each gym leader to open up the route to the next one. That's not a case of Gym leader B being over the sea, and Gym leader A being the one to give you Surf, it's actually that a guard or something won't let you across until you beat Gym leader A and s/he runs out and tells the guard to let you pass. This happens with every, single, gym. Even the last one, where the only thing blocked off is victory road has a guard stopping you to get in without the eighth badge, and then at the top the guard at the exit will check you have all the badges again. I get that it's done to prevent you stumbling into too tough a Pokémon too early (particularly as with the new experience system, you'd gain loads of levels immediately if you happened to win), but it seems so forced, and traps you into a small area should you need to level up.

This of course is then shot to pieces when you finally get surf. If you take the opportunity there and then to explore the two new routes and other bonus caves that having Surf will grant you access to, you can gain several more levels, and completely throw off the game's expected level curve. It's very easily possible, should you take the time to explore the areas you couldn't get to before, to find yourself several levels higher than the gym leaders and utterly curb-stomping them. The last three gyms can become a cakewalk, and that's with casual exploring, not any forced grinding or EV training at all.

Until you get surf though, there's nothing to do but grind. Really. Unless you want to do Pokémon Musicals (take some props, attach them to your Pokémon, then watch them dance around and hope your props matched the theme of the show you're Pokémon performed in well enough to be a fan favourite), there is nothing else. No mini-games, no bonus missions, no bonus dungeons. Absolutely nothing. The world traps you in the linear grind without Surf, and even with surf, you're not going to go too far until the plot says so.

Not that this games plot is that much different. Sure, it's a little deeper than previous games, but deeper doesn't necessarily mean better. Even if you didn't expect Plasma to be bad guys at first, it's immediately obvious the second you open your map and read the data for P2 Labs. There are a few things that make the plot a little bit involved, but if anything it makes you just feel you're a bit player forced to do all the work, rather than someone going and doing what's necessary. Routinely you're forced to seek the Gym Leaders help. Regularly your childhood friends will show up and lament about how they're not as good as they want to be after you beat them. Frequently Plasma show up to do something vaguely menacing only to run off when you fight them. Yet again a legendary or forty appears and it becomes your destiny to catch them, like it or not.

The game also can't decide if it wants to be accessible to newcomers or reward veterans. By the time you get to the first gym you'll have caught a whole three Pokémon (one of which is your starter). The gym leader will always have type advantage over said starter (they swap between three possible fights, depending on which starter you picked) thus the game forces you to go find someone who'll hand you one of the three elemental monkeys, the one that will have advantage to whatever gym leader you fight. It then dumps you in an area full of fighting Pokémon just before the normal type second gym, and so on. The game just doesn't give you the choice of previous generations.

Part of this is the insistence of the game to only let you find Pokémon naturally found in the region (i.e. from the newest batch of 156), meaning your choices are limited. In theory, this was to give veterans a new challenge, so they were thrown into the deep end, like they were when they first started playing. This has failed for two reasons, firstly because while the Pokémon themselves are new, most the moves and types aren't, so veterans will already be aware of the strengths and weaknesses, taking away some of that newness. Further to this, it's fairly obvious what types most the new Pokémon are. The pig with flames on it's body: fire, the giant geode: rock, the pigeon: flying, the ice cream: ice. There are a few exceptions, but as a veteran you know what to expect, and it doesn't re-capture the newness your first Pokémon game would've had.

Secondly, it hasn't worked because Pokémon have been more fractured by location, Very few Pokémon are now found on multiple routes. If, for instance, you want the Steel Bug ant Pokémon, you have to wait until the very last cave before the elite four, much too late to use it where it might have actually been useful. This happens with many other Pokémon, and means that unless you're willing to do a lot of grinding to level them up to the same as the rest of your team, many of these Pokémon are caught too late in the game to be useful.

This generation might as well be a reboot. Many of the new Pokemon follow similar logic of the first generation, with many Pokémon being expies of old fan favorites, right down to appearance, how and and at what levels they evolve, and what they can do in a team. Audino, for instance, is a Chansey clone; it has high HP, can heal other team members, gives loads of exp, and it's even seen working in a Pokémon center at one point. Timburr, a fighting type, evolves at the same level as Machop, and will only evolve a second time if traded. Sewaddle, a bug type that looks like a caterpillar, spends three levels as a Swadloon (a cocoon), before evolving again. If this sounds familiar it's because of Caterpie and Weedle (and Wurmple).

One of the things this generation does better than previous generations is making each game different. While before the games where identical, and it took until the inevitable third game for there to be new features, here each game gets something unique. It starts with just a few new Pokémon in each game, but the eighth city is different in design in each version. Black gets a high tech futuristic city, while white gets a old time historic city. This is upped even further with Black City and White Forest in the post elite four content: Black City offers a wealth of new trainers to battle, while White Forest offers a tonne of new Pokémon to catch that can't be found in Black. anyone trying to Catch 'em All should get White. If anything, this split just leaves you feeling like your missing out. Sure, it's good to have some difference, but aside from annoying people who got Black and then learned that they're missing out on the option to catch certain Pokémon, what does anyone really gain?

The only other noteworthy thing this generation does is bring about some new graphics. You probably saw these in the trailers for the game, worlds that turns with the camera, and all sorts of fancy angles and flashy moving areas bristling with loads of people all moving about. They look fantastic. But that's all they do. They look good, but they're functionless. Much like the new battle animations, they make the game look much prettier, but there's no real gain from it. Many of the flashier new parts serve no purpose, other than to show off the graphics. It's a tech demo of something good, but it doesn't gain anything that the standard 2D wouldn't gain. If anything, it serves to make the game less impressive by reminding you that there are parts that look great, and others that are just 2D top down maps.

There is also the new seasonal aspect of the game, but in all honesty, this isn't as exciting as it sounds. While it will affect the appearance rate of new Pokémon, the differences are at most 5% either way, so you won't be waiting out the months for a certain Pokémon to appear. Otherwise, it serves to change the appearance of two Pokémon, and makes getting a few items impossible unless it's winter. All it means is that it'll take you four months to complete one of the very few side quests (showing a scientist all four forms of Deerling).

Ironically, despite it's intentions as a starting block for new players, it's very hard to recommend this game to someone new. The game simply starts too hard, and offers too little to do for someone who is just getting into Pokémon to want to play the game to it's conclusion. It's simply missing much of what makes a Pokémon game fun and despite what the fanboys will tell you, the story is not actually all that interesting, and even though it's the key focus of the game, it's actually a lot less compelling than the formerly used understated storytelling method of previous games. Here, the story is spelled out to you, with every plot point being highlighted, while previous games did that through your surroundings, and the plot points you found by looking for notes and talking to people. To them I would recommend Heart Gold or Soul Silver, as it's accessible without being patronizing, interesting without being overblown, and generally offers much more to do than Black and White does.

This game is what the competitive battlers wanted. A game focused on combat, full of lots of fights, and that encourages and rewards hard grind. The fact that this generation includes the two highest level requirements for a Pokémon to evolve at should come as no surprise, and neither should the increase in the number of moves, abilities and items which would only be helpful in certain, very specific, situations. The meta-gamers will love every second of exploring new possibilities and strategies, but the casual gamer will be lost.

To everyone else though, Black & White is a tough call. It's by no means a bad game, straddling the gap between slightly worse than Heart Gold & Soul Silver, but better than Diamond & Pearl. All it's faults are ultimately trivial and entirely subjective, and it depends on your tastes. If you can't stand linearity, this game will annoy you, but otherwise there's no big flaw that stops it from being a very good game.

It's just a shame then that this came out after Heart Gold and Soul Silver. If any one thing makes this game look bad it's its own prequel. Both games are equally flawed in different ways, but the flaws in Heart Gold and Soul Silver are blemishes on an ultimately better game.

Graphics: 10
Really shows off what the DS can do, but it seems to be doing it just for the sake of it.

Gameplay: 7
As solid as the battling is, that's all you're going to do throughout.

Lifespan: 6
Unless you have OCD, you'll see the game to the end of the new content, then forget about it.

A well built monster battling RPG, ruined by linearity and a lack of things to do.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/21/11

Game Release: Pokemon Black Version (EU, 03/04/11)


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