Review by Cpazrun

"Pokemon Black - A review for newcomers"

Pokemon returns in its fifth iteration of the popular monster catching series with the Black and White releases on the Nintendo DS. These games feature plenty of cute little monsters, a large game world, and plenty of RPG time-sucking goodness. With a new region, new pokemon, new bad guys, and a strong online component, does this sequel improve upon its predecessors while adding innovations, or does it stick to the traditional Pokemon formula?

Pokemon Black and White places your character in a continent called Unova and within the very first minutes of the game, the player will recognize several Pokemon trademarks: The protagonist's absentee father, a lifetime rival, and a friendly Pokemon professor who sets you off on a journey in the player's small town. The basic premise of the series, for the uninitiated, is that Pokemon are magically powered creatures that coexist with humans. However, humans have invented some sort of advanced technology with which to capture these creatures (pokeballs), and thus have the ability to become Pokemon trainers, people whose goal it is to capture these monsters and battle them against other trainers, with the goal of proving who has the stronger Pokemon. For the first time in the series, the game challenges the ethics of this glorified cock-fighting culture, with the villains of the storyline attempting to liberate Pokemon from the oppressive confines of their trainers. In the end however, no real attempt to go deeper into the moral discrepancies of the game, which is understandable, as the game is designed for an audience of primarily young children.

As is typical of most Pokemon games, the protagonist goes on a quest to capture all of the Pokemon and become the strongest trainer in the region. There are quite a large number of new creatures in the latest iteration, with 156 new Pokemon added, bringing the series total up to 649 monsters. With so much content to explore, one might think that the game would overwhelm newcomers to the series, but the game does an excellent job of phasing in new monsters slowly. The game only allows the player to capture the new monsters up until the player completes the main storyline, at which point the other 493 Pokemon become available. At this point, the series has begun to show its age with the monster designs running the gamut from fairly decent to downright ridiculous (Anthropomorphic snowcones?). The Pokemons' names are similarly poorly thought-out, bordering on lazy at times.

The most important part of a game lies in its gameplay and this is where Pokemon Black/White delivers in spades. The battle system is simple to get into, but has plenty of depth for the serious player. It is mostly unchanged from the original Pokemon games, featuring one-on-one, turn-based Pokemon battles, where each Pokemon knows four different moves. Moves can be either offensive, which cause damage to the other Pokemon, or defensive, which can boost certain stats among other various effects. In the game world, a Pokemon can be one or two of 17 different elemental types, with strengths and weaknesses depending on the typing of the Pokemon. There are so many moves and Pokemon that the amount of different combinations and strategies are endless, sure to provide hundreds of gameplay hours for the diehards.

In terms of improvements made to the series, Black/White has focused more on refining and streamlining the Pokemon experience rather than overhauling it. Pokemon Centers (places to heal the player's Pokemon) and PokeMarts (places to buy items) are now combined into one building for maximum convenience. The battle system runs slightly faster, making things just slightly less time consuming. While the core of the battle system remains unchanged, the addition of double and triple battles allows for interesting new layers of strategy and provides a nice break from the typical one-on-one fights. In addition, the need for traditional RPG grinding to gain levels has largely been removed, allowing the player to progress through the game without changes in pace. Graphics have been largely unchanged, except for a slight increase in the pseudo 3D effects that have appeared in the series since it debuted on the DS. The major improvements have been done to the online component of the game. Players now have the ability to jump into an online multiplayer match whenever they want instead of having to travel to a Pokemon Center. Furthermore, trading no longer limits the player to trading only Pokemon within the six party slots given.

Overall, the series remains largely unchanged by Black and White, but the improvements made have streamlined the game experience. The developers have focused on giving players more content and making practical additions than revolutionizing the entire game. With each successive Pokemon iteration still putting up record amounts of sales, Nintendo certainly has little motivation to mess with the formula. The core Pokemon experience is still excellent and is now more accessible than ever. Only time will tell how long it will be until major innovations must be made to prevent the series from stagnating. Until then, catching them all remains as addictive as ever.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/02/11

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

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