"Red, Blue, Green, Gold, Silver… Watch, I bet they'll even come out with a Black and White version!"
Odds are that's something you said in the cafeteria during your lunch in grade school. Some fifteen years later, it actually happened. With the never-changing formula, one would think Pokemon would have gotten stale by now. Sure, it's no longer the fad that it was over a decade ago, but to this day, the flagship Pokemon games remain as solid as ever with the Black and White versions taking notable steps forward.
What's It About?
People who don't know what Pokemon is either avoided contact with the outside world over the last fifteen years or, simply put, must really be young. The overall goal of Pokemon is one of differing factors and options. The most obtainable of which (in the game) is to become the Pokemon Champion, which is done by defeating the eight gym leaders of the home region in order to earn the rights to compete in the Pokemon League, where trainers face a quartet of tough opponents known as the Elite Four. The absolute goal in Pokemon is to become a Pokemon Master, which is done by obtaining all 646 Pokemon–a far cry from the original 150 when the manga first got its start fifteen years ago.
The Black and White versions of Pokemon represent the fifth generation of games in the series. This time, trainers start at the small town set in the Unova region–probably the most futuristic and civilized environment seen in any Pokemon game.
Why Should I Care?
Those who have played any of the previous generations of Pokemon should know what to expect. Upon choosing which gender to play is, players will be greeted by the Pokemon Professor of the Unova region, a woman (for the first time) known as Professor Juniper. Instead of meeting the professor right away like in previous games to obtain the trainer's new Pokemon, the trainer receives a package in the mail with the three starters–Tepig, the fire-type pig; Snivy, the grass-type snake; and Oshawott, the water-type otter. This is where things get a little different. Unlike previous games, there is no leftover Pokemon after the rival makes his selection. Now there's a third character to take the remaining one. Veterans of the Pokemon games normally expect to face their rival in an epic battle here and that's a fine expectation, but to spice things up, players now battle one person after another. So that's two tough battles instead of one, meaning you level up right away if you win twice.
If it's one thing that the fifth generation of Pokemon does well, it's the element of the surprise. The scenario above is just one of the many surprising twists to find in the otherwise traditional gameplay.
The bad guys (or team) this time around is Team Plasma. Like Team Rocket, Team Magma, Team Aqua, and whatever other they've had in the past, Team Plasma is a nuisance gang trying to take over the world by stealing people's Pokemon. But what's different about them is that they want to steal people's Pokemon and then release them, claiming that all Pokemon are slaves and that the only way for Pokemon and humans to live freely are by not bounding any of them together. The whole thing is a messed up story of personal values that won't change anybody's lives, but it's something that keeps the story moving.
Adding to the Pokemon tradition are the advertised 3-on-3 Pokemon battles. Players who are avid RPG gamers should find nothing new here. 3-on-3 battles still follow the standard turn-based Pokemon formula, except that Pokemon at the far right of the screen can only attack those at the middle and far right and Pokemon at the left can only attack those at the far left and middle. It's limiting, but that's not the upsetting part. To go along with this, there is also a big glitch that Game Freak or Nintendo have yet to address: If two of the player's Pokemon are knocked out of battle, for some reason, the player cannot bring two more Pokemon out. We've tried it out on different versions of the game, and it turns out to be a glaring problem that the testers missed. The good (or bad) news is that in reality there aren't even that many 3-on-3 battles to worry about, so it's a wonder why Nintendo would take such a move to market that feature.
As for the other big change, this is probably one that only Pokemon veterans or competitive gamers may care about. For years, competitive players have been selective with their use of Technical Machines (TMs) that are used to teach Pokemon different kinds of moves. Each TM could be used only once, so if a player wanted to teach that ability to another Pokemon, they'd have to transfer all of their monsters to a new game and start again. It's a very time-consuming process, considering the amount of times one would have to beat the game to stay competitive, but it's actually been addressed. Now TMs can be used anytime, as many times as desired. This is something that Pokemon enthusiasts are a bit skeptical of, but if anything, it is a huge time-saver.
Why Should I Spend My Time And Money?
Pokemon is a series that's either going to be loved or hated. The game has always been an extremely simplistic RPG with light-hearted storytelling, but at the same time, it's also always been a series of intense addiction, which is a pretty big thing to say for an RPG that isn't an MMORPG. Of course, while it hasn't entered those waters yet, there are a good amount of hardware and online features that significantly affect gameplay. Aside from the Global Trade Station and Wi-Fi battles introduced in Diamond and Pearl, new to the game is the C-Gear which is unlocked in the middle of the game that will allow players under the same hotspot to instantly recognize each other and share information–it's pretty much like what the 3DS does now. The game card itself also features built-in infrared technology to make trading, minigames, and other multiplayer interactivity that much easier.
Also, for those who own a DSi or DSi XL, another interesting nuance to the game is the Xtransceiver, obtained from Professor Juniper, that players can use to have live video chats using the handheld's built-in cameras.
While the game isn't necessarily visually striking, enough changes were made to make it feel like there was a huge graphical overhaul. For the most part, the game maintains its familiar feel with the always solid sprites and 2D mapping, but it becomes quite a sight to see when the camera starts to have a mood of its own. In-game battles now have scripted zoom-ins to make the scenes seem more like an actual fight rather than just a list of a commands to choose from, and plenty of the areas in the game are now on a pseudo three-dimensional plain. Players will be crossing long bridges with the camera zooming out to show off the depth and distance the Pokemon trainers travel, and it definitely adds an overdue updated feel to the game's overall look. As for the sound, not much has changed. Pokemon still don't say their own names, and there isn't a word of dialogue to be spoken. The music sets the mood for the main quest and remixes some of music found in the previous games to give it more nostalgic flavor.
As for which game to buy, there's a fairly significant difference between the games this time around. Pokemon Black features Black City, a dark metropolitan area featuring characters and scenarios players won't experience in Pokemon White. Black City also has a wealth of shops and a bunch of tough trainers to fight. Pokemon White has White Forest, which like Black City will feature characters and scenarios players won't experience in Pokemon Black. Unlike Black City, White Forest has 32 Pokemon that you can catch that can't be found in Pokemon Black and a variety of different items as well. Both games are the same, but players that are most interested in utter content should pick up Pokemon White.
Subtle or not, Pokemon is what it is. Some may complain for the lack of changes (again), but the changes made are significant enough to warrant a purchase. Though it would've been nice if what's probably the last Pokemon game on the DS featured more use of the DS's many capabilities, the Wi-Fi and multiplayer features built into the game card alone make Pokemon Black & White quite a package and an easy recommendation for any Pokemon fan new or old, big or small, red or blue, gold or silver, or even black or white.