Review: Pokemon Black and White (Black Version)

If you know me, then you know how I feel about the Pokemon games. I’ve been playing Pokemon since Blue came out, and back then I loved every second of it. Battling with my friends, becoming the pokemon league champion, and catching every single pokemon were all parts of this great pokemon journey.

Then as the games kept coming, I slowly started to feel less and less enthusiastic with each new release. Eventually, it came to the point where I started to grow tired of the series, as it felt like more of the same. Sure, there were new pokemon and additions to the games, but ever since Gold, the magic was gone. I wasn’t going to play Pokemon Black/White, but a friend convinced me to give it a try and now here I am, after 50 in-game hours, about to talk about how Pokemon Black made me feel like that young boy who first embarked on his journey to become a pokemon master.

The game starts off like previous entries. You live with your mom and there’s a professor in your hometown looking to have her pokedex completed. Professor Juniper decides to give you and your two best friends some starting pokemon and a pokedex each so you can record information on the various pokemon in the region. This starts your pokemon journey, and what seems like everything we’ve seen before. However, the game’s story and characters are quite different from its predecessors. Cheren and Bianca, the best friends of the player, are very involved in your adventure and actually get some decent character development. Cheren goes from a young boy who only yearns to become stronger to someone who wants to figure out the meaning of strength. Bianca starts off as a bubbly girl excited to go on a journey, but then starts to question her place in life and her future. And not only did the supporting cast have maturer themes behind them,  the antagonists did as well. Team Plasma is an organization that wants to liberate pokemon and free them from lives of servitude. Yeah, you heard me. I have to say, Pokemon Black’s story is, in my opinion, the most interesting of any in the series to date.

But what really makes the story so easy to enjoy is the game’s pace. As soon as I started the game, the plot managed to keep going at a pace that gave me a constant feeling of progression. There was hardly was any backtracking, and once I did all I had to do in town, the story would edge me on to the next area. Mind you, the latter half of the game does tend to drag on more than it should. I was turned off by the long dungeons with high encounter rates because they really took me out of that earlier feeling. I’m one who hardly ever used repels in the previous games, but here I found myself stocking up and using them by the dozens. The later dungeons, with a few exceptions, just came off has unnecessarily frequent and lengthy, hindering the great pacing the first half of the game had established. All in all though, the story is strong enough to overcome that, and still managed to hold my interest until the end.

The new graphics really make the world of Pokemon come alive.

Now, one of the first things you’ll notice when you start up the game is the change in graphics. The game goes for a pseudo-3D effect, giving the player a sense of depth and letting up on the overhead view fans are used to. At first this didn’t seem like much, but as I progressed through the game, my mind was blown on more than one occasion. The game really makes use of the new visuals, and the overwhelming feeling of amazement I had as I first entered Castelia City, which is displayed above, is a testament to that. I was honestly excited for every new city and gym awaiting me, looking forward to seeing what surprises were in store.

Three-on-three and rotation battles are welcome additions to the franchise.

The gameplay is pretty much what you’re used to in a pokemon game. You still have your standard one-on-one battles with teams of up to 6 pokemon, and the two-on-two battles that were introduced earlier in the series. However, this game adds two new ways to battle: three-on-three and rotation battles. While three-on-three battles are pretty self explanatory, rotation battles are worth talking about. The player chooses three pokemon to have out on the battlefield at once. But rather than having all of them attack, you can only choose one pokemon to make an attack each turn. When the pokemon’s attack is chosen, that pokemon gets shifted to the front and does its attack. Once the pokemon shifts to the front, that same pokemon will be the one to take the receiving attack that turn. In this sense, it’s like a one-on-one battle, but the kicker is you don’t know which of your opponent’s three pokemon will be making their attack. I feel that this combination of rock-paper-scissors and pokemon makes for a very fun new way to battle.

On top of the new battle modes, the game made a few changes that I was very pleased with. Poisoned pokemon now only take damage during fights and not on the field, so the status effect isn’t as annoying as in the past. Plus, there are pokemon doctors that fully heal your pokemon after you’ve defeated them in battle. This is great for those long dungeons when you might not have brought enough healing with you. Also, TMs are now reusable, which means no more worrying about which of your pokemon gets that sought-after new move. And now there isn’t as much of a reliance on HM moves during the main game, so you aren’t really as forced as you were in previous games to have a pokemon with each HM move. Changes like these may seem small but, when added together, they make the experience much more enjoyable overall. Seems like the people at Game Freak listened to common complaints and did a great job fixing them.

This gym has you force your way through walls of honey...I'm not making this up.

The most important thing to note about this game though is its innovation. I’ve fought through 8 gyms before, but never like this. The gyms this time around are actually quite creative, making the trip to the gym leader just as fun as the fight itself. In one gym I found myself being launched out of cannons, while in another I was on a roller-coaster. Not only are these cool, but they help break up the monotonous gyms of the past. Plus, did I mention that the main game consists of all new pokemon? Not some new pokemon mixed in with old ones, but every pokemon you run across will be new. This is a big aspect of why I didn’t easily tire of the game. It’s a great feeling when you see a new pokemon and say to yourself “I gotta catch it!”, knowing it would have a place on your team. While I felt some of the pokemon designs were questionable, overall there were many really interesting pokemon to discover.

Given what I keep hearing from other players, I think I’m one of the few people who didn’t power level his team for the final confrontation. I went into the pokemon league with my pokemon as they were, and found the Elite Four and final boss battles to be pretty difficult. Only one of my pokemon made it to level 50, and that was after the final boss fight. Then again, I do like a challenge. It may have been because I decided to stick with my pokemon all the way to the end (including the crappy ones…I’m looking at you Simipour), but I felt accomplished when I defeated the final boss. The momentum built up towards the finale really made me appreciate the game as an RPG, not just as a Pokemon game.

Overall, Pokemon Black/White took what people love about the Pokemon series and made it better. I’ve been tired of constantly playing the same game over the years, but this one is different. While essentially following the same guidelines as the previous games, Black and White keep this adventure fresh with an interesting story, a good supporting cast, a memorable soundtrack, and a whole slew of new pokemon. There’s so much more I can say about the game, like how easy it is to battle and trade with people online, that there are things like pokemon musicals to take part in, and so on…but I’ll just keep it simple. If you’ve ever loved a Pokemon game in your life, you’ll enjoy Pokemon Black/White.

2 thoughts on “Review: Pokemon Black and White (Black Version)

  1. Pingback: Music of the Month: March | The Wired Fish

  2. Pingback: Review in Progress Top Ten : Episode 1 (Reviews 1 – 10) | The Wired Fish

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