What once was thought of as a fad amongst the world and targeted toward younger gamers, Pokemon has really taken the world by storm. The Pokemania phase has come and gone, but the series itself is still alive and well across multiple platforms like the video game, trading card game, and anime on the Cartoon Network. I got really into it, but took a little break in the middle of high school until just recently when I picked up Pokemon Black on a whim around Christmas. The Pokemon bug returned, and after skipping a whole generation of games (Diamond and Pearl), starting Black felt about the same as starting Pokemon Red all those years ago.
The Pokemon series has changed a lot over the years, but the developers Game Freak have done a great job at getting better and better as each generation releases. Pokemon is an RPG targeted towards children around 8-12, however there is a whole other layer beneath Pokemon that has kept it so relevant for all these years. For a while there really wasn’t any kind of story, just a kid from a new town in a new area of the world who wants to be a Pokemon master by defeating gym leaders, rivals, and the elite four. Now in this fifth generation, Game Freak really changed it up and added more of a storyline to the plot other than being the very best and completing your pokedex by capturing Pokemon. You still take your boy or girl character and battle your way through other trainers and gym leaders, however there’s also the mysterious N and Ghetsis from Team Plasma who are trying to liberate Pokemon from trainers, saying that trainers force them into doing their battles and such. Your goal is still to defeat the Elite Four, but honestly I felt that the story was emphasized more and that the Elite Four were really just another part of it rather than being the culmination of your adventure, which is good because it has helped keep the series fresh (and the Elite Four are actually challenging this time).
It’s still simple, but it’s nice to see the developers trying for something new. And try for something new is what they did. Pokemon Black and White are the first games to include over 150 brand new Pokemon, and the previous Pokemon that made it into the game aren’t even seen until after completing the initial quest. At a time where the games really weren’t doing anything brand new, this made playing through Black seem like a brand new experience, especially when coming back to Pokemon after a few years hiatus. You’re playing in a whole new region, the Unova region, and the previous regions do not appear in these two new games.
The gameplay is largely the same: pick a starter Pokemon, level it up by battling trainers and wild Pokemon, add to your collection by collecting, earn badges from gym leaders, and become the Pokemon champion while fighting off the hijinks of Team Plasma. Again, it’s simple, but the gameplay is addicting and with each new release things are perfected more and more. There are new moves, and one of my favorite additions is that Technical Machines (TMs) that you find throughout the game that are used to teach Pokemon certain moves are now reusable. No more wasting a cool move on a level 6 Pidgey or anything. With Pokemon getting more popular in the competitive sense, this allows players to experiment with moves without being screwed out of a useful move by a different Pokemon. Also, Hidden Machines (HMs) aren’t really needed to progress through the game save for a few cuts here and there. Otherwise they block extra areas that you can explore or not explore and open up secrets. HM slaves are a thing of the past, which always took up a spot in your Pokemon team (since you can only carry six), and most HMs are useless or do pity damage in battle. Attacks have also been divided up into two different types; Physical and Non-Physical, which are affected by two different stats of the Pokemon. If your attack is high, then your attacks that are affected by that stat will be generally more effective than trying to use a bunch of non-physical attacks from that Pokemon.
While Ruby/Sapphire introduced double battles, Black/White have triple battles and rotation battles. You will come across both types of battles every once in awhile, however in Black you will come across more rotation battles. I’m not a fan of the triple battles, but the rotation battles are actually pretty interesting, allowing you to rotate Pokemon to battle a certain one. They’re nice because you come across rotation battles at just about perfect intervals. Rather than just have a difference in Pokemon between the two games, this generation also has a new area specific to each game. In Black you’re going to have the towering metropolis Black City, while White gets the White Forest. It’s not much, but it’s nice that there is a more major difference than just what kind of Pokemon can be caught.
Among the myriad of updates to the series, like gym leaders being involved with the story rather than just a trainer who leads a gym, there’s a device called the C-Gear that takes up the bottom screen of the (3)DS . With this, you can launch into infrared battles and trade without having to find a Pokemon center anywhere if you’re in the middle of a cave and want to go straight to battle. That’s another great new addition: Gamefreak is realizing how much more competitive Pokemon players are getting with battles, and so they’re taking steps in the right direction to streamlining and making it a more competitive game in the realm of “Major League Gaming” and of course the Pokemon Video Game tournaments, nationals and worlds sponsored by The Pokemon Company International.
There are a lot more options for battling in Black/White like the Battle Subway, and even the little “second adventure”, which gives you access to a part of Unova that you couldn’t get to until you beat the Elite Four. The Battle Subway is similar to the battle tower from previous games, except on a subway. I’ve messed around with it a little bit, but really don’t interest me that much.
The series has really come along in Black/White as far as graphics go. It’s been a long time since Pokemon Red came out in the United States, and it’s been just as long before Gamefreak finally gave Pokemon animations during battle. Instead of a still sprite on a still background, each Pokemon will move around limps and such around during battle and have different animations for certain attacks. Unfortunately, the backs of your own Pokemon during battle still look like a blurry pixelated mess. I’m not a fan of the Diamond/Pearl generation of Pokemon, but most of the ones this generation are probably the best since the original Blue and Red. There are a couple weird ones like an ice cream cone looking one, but also a few of my favorite designs that look a lot better than previous generations.
The animations in general in this game are colorful and vibrant, which look great on my 3DS screen. The camera rotates out during various areas that really showcase how far the visuals have come, and there is a lot more depth in the environments than before. Gamefreak also had an infatuation with bridges lately, with their being several large bridges that are inspired from the San Francisco Bridge and others. These are actually really cool, and the camera changes view as you ride across them.
A lot of the moves have new animations, though unfortunately there aren’t very many that are really interesting. Some don’t even make sense; while others are pretty much copies of each other like the attacks Surf and Muddy Water. The only difference between the two visually is that Surf is blue, Muddy Water attack is brown, plus one of them affects all other Pokemon on the field even your own in a double battle. The two new legendaries do have a couple cool attacks that feed off of each other in a battle, but other than that none of the attacks really have a constant “that’s cool” moment every time you use it.
The sound hasn’t really changed much. The battle music gets annoying after awhile and the sound of a wild Pokemon attacking is like nails on a chalkboard past a certain point, but for the most part the background music is usually bright and peppy. Like most game music can do, you’re bound to start humming along even without playing the game for a while. I don’t think voice acting is in the works for the sequels, but who knows for next generation!
Having been out of the Pokemon loop for quite awhile, Pokemon Black (and white) was a great re-entry into the series. It really didn’t take me any time at all to “beat” it, however I’ve put close to 200 hours into the game just experimenting with the new Pokemon and some of the weird type combinations, and seeing what the evolutions are since they are completely new. I was even going to sign-up to play at the Pokemon Video Game Nationals in Indianapolis, though unfortunately I didn’t wake up in time. Now I can’t wait for Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2, which is the first time the series has received direct sequels.
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