Review by Magicxgame

"Still Addicting after 15 Years"

Note to DS and DS Lite owners: The only feature exclusive to the Nintendo DSi (and the 3DS) is the Xtransceiver, which allows for video chat. It's not worth buying a DSi for.

I'll be honest: Initially, I wasn't excited about Pokemon Black and White. They appeared to be last-minute cash-ins at the end of the Nintendo DS' life, as the games were announced fairly abruptly in Japan and received little promotion from the Pokemon anime. However, I eventually fell victim to the old "itch", and bought Pokemon White on opening day. I wasn't disappointed.

In order to avoid a rehash of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, which also debuted on the DS, Game Freak director Junichi Masuda was determined to take a new approach to Black and White. While the games have been marketed as "a new beginning", the streamlined storyline is reminiscent of the first generation of Pokemon games. However, the games also contain plenty of improvements that should have been present in the previous generation.

Story

The game takes place in the Unova region, which is located far away from the previous four regions. As a result, the player is only limited to the new Unova Pokemon during the storyline.

As usual, the storyline is unimpressive. It's the same old storyline: the player obtains a starter from Professor Juniper, the regional professor, then aims to become the Pokemon champion while completing the Pokedex. Along the way, two childhood rivals and the evil organization Team Plasma harass the protagonist. It appears that Game Freak attempted to spice up the storyline at certain points, but were afraid to deviate from their old formula.

Team Plasma, which aims to liberate Pokemon from their trainers, is underwhelming. The team lacks the influence of Team Rocket, isn't as successful at achieving their goals as Team Aqua or Team Magma, and lacks the comedic relief of Team Galactic. Unlike previous organizations, there are no commanders to challenge the player to a fight.

On the positive side, there is more character development than in previous titles. The childhood rivals Cheren and Bianca are more fleshed out than previous rivals, and the regional professor Juniper frequently checks up on the Trainers rather than neglecting them. Each of the Gym Leaders also receives ample screen time outside of their Gyms.

Progression

Pokemon has finally fallen victim to the "straight line RPG" syndrome. Thereis a clear-cut path to the Pokemon League; there is a Gym in every city past the second one, and the player only has to backtrack at one section of the game. Caves also have a simpler design, with a couple of NPCs even noting that the path is a straight line. Even the penultimate battle is slightly scripted.

In an Iwata Asks interview, Masuda stated that the change was made to accomdate younger players that became lost during the storyline. While the change should appeal to players that want to rush through the story to access the "real game" (players that Game Freak also acknowledged), it will definitely irk other players. However, there are still diversions along the way, and more of the game opens up after the credits.

Fortunately, HMs are rarely utilized during the streamlined storyline, so you don't have to constantly tote a HM slave along.

New Translation

Black and White are the first games to be translated solely by The Pokemon Company International. Overall, the translation is well done. Pokemon names are finally capitalized normally, so they don't look out of place. The text speed is much faster on the highest setting, making the game much less of a chore to play through.

However, most of the NPCs' dialogue is forgettable. While previous Pokemon games contained humorous dialogue that would ellicit an occasional chuckle or quotable line, there's no reason to read the NPCs' dialogue in this game.

The names of the Unova Pokemon are also clunky. While the names are still simple puns, there are plenty of tongue-tying names such as Hydreigon and Cryogonal.

Still, there are no major gripes with the in-house translation.

Graphics

The graphics have received an overhaul. Black and White's graphics feel like they belong on the Nintendo DS, as opposed to slightly upgraded Game Boy Advance graphics.

Overworld

The trainer sprites and buildings are larger and more detailed. Text is alsod isplayed in speech balloons, so it's easier to see who's talking.

The overworld also utilizes more 3D. There are several 3D rendered bridges, such as the Skyarrow Bridge shown in previews. These new areas are simply gorgeous, and are a real treat to cross. The 3D features also cause Castelia City, the metropolis shown in advertising, to feel like an actual city. For the time in a Pokemon game, I can say that I'm really impressed with the graphics.

Battles

However, battles have received the biggest improvement. While battles in the fourth generation games seemed to drag on at 30 fps, battles are more dynamic in Black and White.

The battles now take place at 60 fps, making transitions between attacks much smoother. Also, the camera is no longer fixed, and zooms in during attacks. Pokemon are constantly animated, performing poses every few seconds. Major statuses have a visible effect; sleeping Pokemon will shut their eyes and slow their movements, while frozen Pokemon will turn blue and stop moving altogether.

There have also been some minor updates in presentation. The weather is displayed in the top-right corner, so messages such as "The sandstorm rages" won't be displayed at the end of every turn. In double battles, the HP bar and current HP of the Pokemon are displayed at the same time, unlike previous generations.

The battles aren't perfect, though. In Triple battles, where three Pokemon are active at a time, the sprites of the player's Pokemon barely fit on the screen. Also, paralyzed Pokemon will continue moving at normal speed; I would expect them to emit a crackle of electricity and freeze occasionally. Despite these small complaints, the battle graphics have received a much needed upgrade.

New Pokemon Designs

Like many people, my knee-jerk reaction was, "These designs suck." However, I've warmed up to them. Some designs, such as Vanilluxe the ice cream cone and Garbodor the trash bag, are just garbage. There are some clear rehashes as well; Oshawott is a blatant Piplup clone, while Emolga is the new Pikachu. However, other designs are nice. Sandile and Joltik are cute, Reuniclus is unnerving, and Braviary looks badass. Did I mention that Lilligant is the most adorable Pokemon ever?

Like every generation, there are some good designs and some bad ones.

Gameplay

The meat and potatoes; the most important feature of any Pokemon game. There are too many small additions to list, so only the major issues will be touched.

Nintendo DSi Exclusive

The Xtransceiver is exclusive to the Nintendo DSi. Up to four players can video chat wirelessly, and two players can video chat online. Like with PictoChat and the Union Room, players can draw pictures or send messages to each other. Ideally, this allows players to communicate easily with one another at large events. If you have a cell phone or an online chat program like Skype, you can ignore this feature.

New Pokemon

Similar to the original Pokemon games, only Pokemon introduced in the currentgeneration can be used before the credits. Black and White introduce more Pokemon than any other generation to date, with 153 Pokemon revealed. Fortunately, the type balance is fairly diverse; Unova isn't swarming with water-types like every other region, and doesn't have a drought of fire-types like Diamond and Pearl. The majority of the Pokemon hit like trucks, so expect battles to be fast.

However, the fairly small Pokedex means that you'll see the same Pokemon over and over again.

Surprisingly, a lot of the Pokemon evolve late. For instance, the bug PokemonLarvesta evolves into Volcarona at level 59, while Zweilous evolves into the pseudo-legendary Pokemon Hydreigon at level 64! It's easier to gain experience in Black and White, but you'll still have to grind if you wish to raise the Pokemon to their full potential.

Experience and TM Changes

One of the main criticisms of the Pokemon games is the amount of grindinginvolved. As a result, the experience system has been overhauled. Now, levelplays a role in experience earned; a Pokemon will gain more experience by defeating a higher leveled Pokemon. This is an excellent change, as it cutsdown on the grinding required and makes it easier to raise a full roster. Thenew experience system also keeps the player's Pokemon on par with the opponent's, making for slightly more challenging battles.

In addition, the Lucky Egg is received after the fifth gym, which causes a Pokemon that holds it to gain 50% more experience. Audino, a Pokemon that gives out massive experience upon its defeat, can also be found on nearly every route. However, these two factors allow Pokemon to level up too quickly, throwing the new experience system out of whack.

Technical Machines (TMs) now have infinite uses, so you don't have to hoard your TMs anymore. However, if a TM is taught to a Pokemon, the TM will take on the PP of the former move to prevent infinite PP restoration. In addition, purchasable TMs cost a lot more. These are just minor inconvenience, though, and the new system is much better.

New Battle Types

While the core battle system hasn't received an overhaul, there are three newtypes of battles: Triple, Rotation, and Wonder Launcher.

Triple battles received most of the attention in advertising, and are used by random trainers in Pokemon White. As expected, three Pokemon are used at a time in Triples. Unlike double battles, though, the position of each Pokemon is important. Pokemon on either side can only attack the Pokemon in the center or directly across from them, while Pokemon in the center can attack any Pokemon
but are also vulnerable to any attack. A Pokemon can change its position, but at the cost of a turn. Triple battles are a nice addition, and are more than a gimmick or a simple extension of double battles.

Rotation battles are used by random trainers in Pokemon Black, and are a fusion of single and triple battles. Like triple battles, three Pokemon are sent out at a time; however, there is only one active Pokemon at a time. The active Pokemon can be swapped for another Pokemon on the field without losing a turn, and occurs before any other actions. Swapped out Pokemon will retain any status changes, so you still have to worry about a buffed-up Pokemon even after it switches out. Although rotation battles seemed to be an afterthought in advertising, they contain a surprising amount of depth, and are my favorite new battle type.

The Wonder Launcher is not a separate battle format, but allows for the use of Bag items in trainer battles. The Wonder Launcher is vaguely similar to the Battle Castle; at the end of each turn, each player receives points that can be exchanged for items. These items include healing items, X-Items, and upgraded X-Items exclusive to Launcher battles (e.g. X Attack 2 increases Attack by two stages). Most players seem to despise the Wonder Launcher, so good luck finding someone that wants to use it. The Wonder Launcher can be
turned on or off before multiplayer battles.

(Also, does the Wonder Launcher remind anyone else of YuGiOh's Duel Disks?)

Storyline Battles

Repetitive battles are another criticism of the Pokemon games. There are plenty of trainers in the games, but most have only one or two Pokemon. It's aggravating to skip through the pre-text dialogue, start a battle, knock out a single Pokemon, skip the victory dialogue, then fade back to the overworld. The fact that the same Pokemon keep popping up doesn't help. The Elite Four members and rivals will only have four Pokemon each, even though there is enough type diversity for larger rosters.

The Gym Leaders are a joke, even by Pokemon standards. Lenora, the second Gym Leader, is the only one that can pose any problems, and even she's not too hard. Hopefully, they'll be revamped in the inevitable third version.

After the credits roll, there is a massive level spike, and the opposing Pokemon will be around 15 levels higher than the final boss' Pokemon. While these Pokemon aren't hard to beat and provide plenty of experience, it's a bit of a jarring shift. Still, it forces players to think strategies through and stock up on healing items instead of mindlessly slaughtering the computer, so it's a welcome change.

Dream World

Note: Due to the recent disaster in Japan, the opening of the Dream World has been postponed to an unknown date.

The Pokemon Dream World is basically an extension of the Secret Bases. By registering an account online, you can sync your with
the Internet to access the Dream World. In the Dream World, you can decorate their houses, grow berries, and play mini-games to befriend Pokemon. Many of the Pokemon in the Dream World don't appear in Unova, allowing you to obtain these Pokemon without transferring them from the fourth generation games.

The main draw for serious players, however, are the Dream World abilities. The majority of Pokemon have a hidden ability that can only be obtained by befriending them here. The abilities are a mixed bag; while some of the abilities are very useful (such as Drizzle Politoed, Drought Ninetales, and Poison Heal Gliscor), other abilities seem to have been randomly slapped on (such as Truant Durant and Damp Jellicent).

In short, the Dream World's main use is to get Dream World abilities. Otherwise, it's a glorified Secret Base.

Random Matchup

Online play has also been expanded in Black and White. The Global Terminal can be accessed from any Pokemon Center, as opposed to a special building.

The main draw is the Random Matchup feature, which allows players to battle each other without the use of Friend Codes. Players can battle in Single, Double, Triple, Rotation, or Launcher battles (Launcher battles use the Triple battle format). The system has been tweaked since Pokemon Battle Revolution. Event Pokemon and "uber" legendary Pokemon, such as Mewtwo, are banned from
random battles, and multiple copies of the same Pokemon cannot be used per team. All Pokemon above level 50 are set to level 50, so you don't have to worry about level discrepancies.

Random Matchup has two modes: Free and Rating (the latter is unavailable at the moment). Free battles are aimed towards casual players, while Rating mode is geared towards competitive players. In order to access Rating mode, players must sign up for the Global Battle Union, which allows players to check their scores for each of the modes and sign up for official tournaments. This distinction should please both parties.

Random Matchup has a fair share of flaws, though. Unlike Rating mode, players aren't matched up by skill level, so the quality of opponents will vary wildly. I've gone from facing players with 10 wins to players with 100+ wins. There is no penalty for disconnecting, so expect plenty of DCers to screw you out of wins. Rule customization is nonexistent, so you can't set up a full battle and search for an opponent. Finally, you can't exchange Friend Codes after each battle, so you can't friend a memorable opponent. None of these flaws are surprising, considering Nintendo's lackluster online service, but it still makes Random Matchup feel antiquated. The unofficial Pokemon simulators that have been out for years have superior online battling.

Wi-Fi battles remain nearly the same; however, there is no option to set all Pokemon to level 100. While facilities such as the Battle Tower and official tournaments are conducted at level 50, the serious North American players battle using level 100 Pokemon. How disappointing.

GTS

The GTS is still terrible. No matter what you search for, you'll be bombarded by offers for legendaries, starters, and level 100 Pokemon. There is a new feature called GTS Negotiation that allows players to set up trades in real time, but the range of responses are limited. Overall, stick to message board trades.

Version-Exclusive Differences

In addition to version-exclusive Pokemon, there are several differences between Black and White. For instance, Opelucid City will take on a technological appearance in Black, while it takes on a natural appearance in White. Some random trainers will challenge the player to Rotation battles in Black, while randoms will conduct Triple battles in White.

The main differences are Black City and White Forest. Black City contains many powerful trainers and expensive items, while White Forest contains many low-level Pokemon not found in Unova and random items on the ground. Unfortunately, these areas decay over time, so you will have to Entralink with another player in order to replenish these areas. White Forest
is more useful due to its selection of Pokemon, but both areas are superfluous.

C-Gear

The C-Gear is a feature that can be accessed on the touchscreen outside of battles. Aside from linking up with the Dream World, it can be used to communicate wirelessly. Battles and trades can instantly be conducted over Infared, which is more convinent than running to a Pokemon Center. Surveys can also be conducted with nearby trainers instantly, although this is impractical unless the player is at a large Pokemon outing (such as the Pokemon Black and White Mall Tour) and just drains battery life.

Players can also enter the Entralink by utilizing the C-Gear. The Entralink is a very limited form of co-op where players can conduct missions in other players' worlds. By completing missions, certain power-ups will be received, such as a power-up that increases experience or allows Eggs to hatch faster. Little kids may be amused by the feature, but older players will just ignore it.

Battle Subway

The Battle Subway is a replacement for the Battle Tower. Players can participate in Single, Double, Multi, or Wi-Fi battles; unfortunately, there are no Triple or Rotation battles. The Double and Multi lines finally have leaders ("Subway Masters"), so they feel less like tack-ons.

Unlike previous Battle Towers, the Single, Double, and Multi lines contain Normal trains and Super trains. Normal trains can be challenged at any time, and contain mostly weak Pokemon exclusive to the Unova region. After the Subway Master is defeated, players can challenge the Super trains.

The Super trains are challenging; unevolved Pokemon and weaker evolved Pokemon are excluded from these lines, so youwill be facing difficult Pokemon right from the get-go. The opposing Pokemon also seem sturdier, as the Focus Sash item and Sturdy ability ensure that opposing Pokemon don't go down in one hit. Also, the player's streak does not automatically end if both players'
last Pokemon faint simultaneously; instead, the first Pokemon to go down is the loser.

Overall, it's similar to the previous battle facilities.

Pokemon Musicals

Pokemon Musicals replace Pokemon Contests. Your Pokemon dresses up and performs on stage. Chances are, you'll touch this feature once and forget about it.

Pokemon Transfers

There are two ways to transfer Pokemon from the fourth generation games: the PokeTransfer and the Relocator. The PokeTransfer is the standard form of transferring Pokemon, and a player can import six Pokemon at once. Unlike Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, there is no time limit, and more Pokemon can be transferred immediately. However, in order to catch the Pokemon, you have to complete a tedious little mini-game. The mini-game isn't terrible, but wastes time nonetheless. The transfer process requires two DS systems, so pair up with a friend. Since Black and White have more online features, I don't understand why players can't transfer their Pokemon online (through a feature similar through the GTS), but whatever.

The Relocator is used to transfer over promotional Pokemon from the 13th movie (the shiny beasts and Celebi) to unlock a couple of events within the games. If the promotional Pokemon aren't transferred through the Relocator, they won't unlock the events. Unfortunately, the game makes no mention of this, so I bet plenty of disappointed kids transferred their Pokemon through the PokeTransfer and wondered why the events wouldn't activate. In short, the Relocator is another limited feature.

Downgrades

Ever since the third generation, Game Freak has taken out features present in previous generations and re-introduced them as "new" features in third versions (for example, the animated Pokemon sprites in Crystal were taken out of Ruby and Sapphire, then returned in Emerald as an updated feature). I don't wish to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but there's no other reason for removing
three-second animations.

Gym Leaders and Elite Four members no longer have animated sprites, which looks very sloppy since the rivals' and Pokemon's sprites are constantly animated. On a similar note, Gym Leaders can no longer be challenged to rematches, while only a handful of random trainers can be re-challenged.

There are no walking Pokemon in the game. While this is the norm, it still feels a little lonely not to have a partner after HeartGold and SoulSilver.

The menu layout is just horrid; I have no idea what Game Freak was thinking. The large, neatly-organized six-cell pages from HeartGold and SoulSilver are gone and replaced with the old list format, so it takes forever to scroll down the item list. Oddly, the Poke Ball pocket has been merged with the general item pocket, which makes the pocket even more cluttered. If you collect a new item, the menu cursor will shift if you re-enter the bag, which can be annoying if you're in a route and are constantly using Repels. Finally, there is no option to have the Running Shoes on at all times. I'm convinced this menu was designed before HeartGold and SoulSilver and Game Freak didn't bother to update it. The UI programmers (Akito Mori, Hiroyuki Nakamura, Koji Kawada, and Gen'ya Hosaka) should be ashamed of themselves.

The bottom menu no longer contains the menu; instead, it contains the C-Gear, which will be worthless 95% of the time.

There is no Battle Frontier in the game; instead, there is only a Battle Subway similar to the fourth generation's Battle Tower.

Unova lacks a Game Corner; however, this is understandable due to the removal of the Game Corners in the international versions of Platinum, HeartGold, and SoulSilver. However, the absence of a Safari Zone is bizarre, especially after HeartGold and SoulSilver's Safari Zone had a massive revamp.

While none of these are game breakers, they are regressions nonetheless. Again, don't be surprised if these are re-introduced as "new" features later on.

Sound

The soundtrack is pleasant, but nothing special. Certain themes, such as the Elite Four's theme and one of the final battle themes, sound amazing. In addition, the music changes when a Pokemon is at low health, so the beeping doesn't drown out the music anymore. The music also changes when a Gym Leader sends out their last Pokemon, making the fights more dramatic.

There are some nice themes scattered through the game, but don't be surprised if you disable the audio and listen to your own music.

Replay Value

As usual, replay value is through the roof. The storyline isn't over after the credits roll, as the player can still explore the eastern half of Unova and challenge the Elite Four to a rematch. Players can also breed Pokemon, take on the Battle Subway, participate in numerous daily events, or take their skills online. If worst comes to worst, you can always restart your game and use a different party. You'll definitely get your money's worth out of these games.

Closing

Despite their flaws, Pokemon Black and White are fun at the end of the day, and that's what matters. Most Pokemon fans will have bought the games already. If you're an old-school Pokemon player that's thinking about getting back in, the streamlined storyline and similarities to the Kanto games make these games good titles to jump back into. if you're looking for a DS RPG that isn't a remake, try these games. If you have't been a fan of Pokemon in the past, however, these games won't change your mind.

Pokemon Black and White aren't a new beginning, but are excellent Pokemon games nonetheless.

Final Score: 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/21/11, Updated 03/29/11

Game Release: Pokemon Black Version (US, 03/06/11)


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