Review by horror_spooky

"Back in black"

Pokemon—still going strong over fifteen years since its conception. Unless you've been living under a rock, Pokemon is a worldwide phenomenon that originated as a set of video games for Nintendo's dying Game Boy system. The Pokemon franchise is probably Nintendo's most popular and successful franchise of all time, and for good reason. While there's a lot to love for Pokemon fans in the anime, the movies, the card game, the toys, the clothing merchandise and all that jazz, the games continue to impress with each iteration. They all provide simple, yet deep and addicting RPG experiences that are always memorable and exciting. The Pokemon games are my favorite RPGs for a reason, and it's not surprising that Nintendo has chosen the Pokemon series to see the DS off in light of the near-release of the 3DS and the start of the eighth generation. Pokemon Black and White are the latest two games in the Pokemon series, and they happen to be the swan song of the greatest handheld of all time, Nintendo's DS system.

I chose Pokemon Black myself, but it really doesn't matter what color you pick. Pokemon Black and White are largely the same game, except one game has certain Pokemon that are unattainable in the other and vice versa. This has been commonplace for the Pokemon series since the very beginning with Pokemon Red and Blue (Green in Japan). This isn't the only thing that Pokemon Black and White has in common with the games that came before it.

Most people didn't expect Pokemon Black and White to be big departures from their predecessors, and these games are certainly very much like the older games. Players still choose from three starter Pokemon that are either fire, water, or grass type, they still collect eight badges, they still have to walk through Victory Road, and they still have to fight the Elite Four. This formula has worked for years and years, and there's really no reason to change it. Game Freak and Nintendo have found a winning formula, and too drastic of a change would jeopardize the core foundation of the games severely.

However, there has to be some advancement. For starters, there are now 150+ brand new Pokemon to discover, train, and capture. This throws the door wide open for newcomers to the series to jump right in and not feel too intimidated, and veteran players will still have a blast in these new games as well. The touch-screen controls are fantastic and make battles go a lot quicker and smoother, and there are now random battles for online multiplayer. New items have been added to the game as well as new moves, and there have been small changes to the usual formula that will surprise longtime fans of the series.

I do have to say that for better or worse, Pokemon Black and White are a lot easier than the previous games. The Elite Four didn't wipe me out a single time, and Victory Road was a lot less stressful than it was in any of the other games. This lack of difficulty makes the games feel shorter than previous entries in the franchise, but luckily Pokemon Black and White make up for that with the exploration factor.

The new region of Unova is fun to explore and is loaded with secrets and cool things around every corner. Anyone who has played a Pokemon game before knows that even when the Elite Four and the champion are defeated, there is still a lot of game left to go. Unova takes that to a whole new level, with the storyline taking up about 20 hours of playtime, only for there to be so much extra content that it takes up nearly another 20 to 30 hours. These games were tailor made for those who appreciate the end-games in RPGs as opposed to the storyline.

Slight changes have been made to the battling system. Pokemon abilities have a much more obvious effect on the battle, and there are a lot more factors taken into consideration when it comes to moves. Some moves rely on the weight of a Pokemon and the weight of the opposing Pokemon to deal the right amount of damage, for example. There are now rotation battles that operate with a chess game mentality, where players need to guess what their opponent is going to do next in order to be successful.

One thing I loathed in HeartGold/SoulSilver and Diamond/Pearl/Platinum were the damn weather effects during battles. The game would display the weather animation, and slow text would crawl onto the screen proclaiming the fact that it was still raining and what-not. Obviously, that got frustrating. Thankfully this has been fixed in these games. While it still does take in consideration the weather during battles, this information is displayed in a quick manner and doesn't slow the battles down too much. While simply displaying this information on the touch-screen would be the most preferable route, at least steps have been made towards progress and overall user accessibility.

It's almost difficult for me to write this review because what is there to say about Pokemon that hasn't already been said? Essentially, Pokemon Black and White feature the same gameplay mechanics that were used all the way back in the mid-90s on the Game Boy with the original Pokemon games. While there is still room for improvement in a couple of areas, namely the previously mentioned weather effects and the lack of diversion mini-games utilizing the unique features of the Nintendo DS, the formula is basically solid at this point.

While the gameplay hasn't advanced much since the days when gamers were picking between Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and Charmander, the plot of the games has matured more and more with each set of games. In Pokemon Black and White, serious questions are raised about the morality of catching Pokemon and making them battle, and other mysterious questions about Pokemon in general and the universe are raised. The games try to make players think, and while the Team Plasma antagonists boil down to being cookie-cutter one-dimensional bad guys by the time the credits roll, this complexity present in the early stages of the Pokemon games were before unheard of. There is a much larger focus on the different side characters this time around, and everyone, even the gym leaders, has a distinct and interesting personality.

One area that Pokemon Black and White has improved by leaps and bounds is the graphical presentation. Basically the entire world is presented three-dimensionally, with beautiful sprites and gorgeous animation. There are new animations for every Pokemon and their attacks, and the game is very bright and colorful. The visual presentation is used to enhance the game artistically, featuring beautiful scenery and the DS's dual screens to provide visual splendor. Real cut-scenes have finally made their way into the Pokemon games, with even some Pokemon presented in three dimensions. Speaking of three dimensions, I wouldn't be surprised if the inevitable third game out of the Black and White generation comes with enhanced 3DS features. There are numerous occasions in the game where certain effects look tailor-made for that system's 3D capabilities. Just food for thought.

Almost every musical number in the game is catchy and great. There are a lot of returning tunes from the old games that are just classic and fun to whistle to, plus there are great new songs as well. The music is really used this time around to make battles seem much more important, and the epic scenes in this game are complemented by the improved audio quality. Each important character has their own theme song that reflects their personality…which brings me to a minor annoyance. One of the characters, a girl that is a friend of the primary protagonist named Bianca, has a really ridiculous theme. Her music sounds like a cheap cellphone ringtone, to be quite honest, and in fact, I'm almost certain I have her theme on my phone.

Like I said, I completed the storyline in about 20 hours. However, the game is really just beginning after the storyline is conquered. There are still plenty of Pokemon to see and new areas to explore, and trainers to battle after the credits roll. Pokemon Black and White actually feel like two games in one, with an entirely new adventure waiting after the credits. Combine this with the multiplayer capabilities we have gotten used to for these games and new matchmaking options and Pokemon Black and White suddenly become the Pokemon games with the most content, easily. While the 600+ number of Pokemon make it quite a staggering challenge to “catch ‘em all”, there's that to strive for as well.

As what should be very apparent by this review, Pokemon Black and White will be thoroughly enjoyed by those that loved the older games. These games don't mess with the formula that much, but that's a good thing. You can never have too much Pokemon. These games are two of the most gorgeous traditional Pokemon RPGs made yet, and while there still needs some fixes in the gameplay department, they (or at least one of them) are must-have titles for the Nintendo DS.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/15/11

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

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