Review: Pokémon Black and White (Nintendo DS)

Have you been looking for a totally awesome, totally new Pokémon experience? Well, Pokémon Black and White is almost totally awesome and somewhat totally new. Pokémon Black and White may be the best Pokémon game to date, in fact. Though, that statement may not be worth its face value. While Black and White have yet again elevated the series with new features, greater detail, and more of those beloved creatures, it suffers from its own 15-year proven formula. That’s not to say there aren’t tons of redeeming qualities that make Pokémon worth playing for the 7th time.

The game takes place in the Unova region, a far departure from the Japanese-like islands of the previous titles. The region is loosely based on New York City and sports a fancy new PokéCenter/Pokémart one-stop joint. This setting is extremely refreshing in presentation and detail and also touts a more diverse representation of culture. Throughout this new journey, pokémasters to be will battle Team Plasma, a misguided pokémon rights activist group. The story follows the trend of the last few games in that Team Plasma is an idealistic bunch of miscreants who want to bring forth a new era via a mysterious legendary pokémon. All of this is set to the all too familiar tune of yet again getting all eight badges and defeating the Elite Four. Perhaps the story isn’t the revolution some were looking for. Now, to be fair, the story is executed in a slightly more mature and developed fashion. With memorable characters and a stronger sense of direction, the story really ups the notch a few clicks. For those who don’t mind the formulaic approach that the games take on, the story can be quite satisfying.

With the story merely being pretty good, the adventure itself almost needs to stand on its own. The good news is it does, as always. It is worth mentioning that some of the smaller nuances make Black and White possibly the most interesting Pokémon game to date. For example, the first gym leader the player challenges is dependent on which starting pokémon was chosen. Savvy players will have a chance to receive a unique pokémon, also based on their starter, for the sake of an extra advantage. Toss in some interesting puzzles and rollercoasters, and players are in for quite the voyage. In addition to Black and White’s main game, there is plenty to do after the story is complete. There are new areas to access in which players can collect pokémon from previous generations, or go to the black or white world depending on the respective title. The Black City is a metropolis where trainers are no-nonsense and money hungry, where as the White Forest is filled with hippies and happy thoughts. All in all, the adventure plays out the same, but feels more unique and developed.

Truly, the biggest changes in Pokémon Black and White are the pokémon themselves. This happens to be one of the least impressive changes. Nintendo/GameFreak seems to believe that adding new Pokemon is necessary. That may not be the case and in fact, may be only hurtful to the series. It is quite clear that they are running out of ideas. Being at a loss for satisfying new pokémon is dangerous business, as Black and White only allow trainers to catch the new 156 pokémon until the game is completed. Many of the new pokémon seem like rehashes, if not poorly designed. Where most pokémon of ole come off as practical re-imaginings of animals found in true nature, these pokémon come off more as random fantastical musings of a particular art style — a whimsical and childish one at that. That’s not to say that they are all lame, as there are a few truly awesome ones, but I subjectively feel as though the return of older pokémon in lieu of construction working pokémon [see below] would have been better. Perhaps it’s worth giving Nintendo/Gamefreak respect for taking a risk with their pokémon this time, but I have a hard time believing the majority of these pokémon will be appreciated en masse. From there, the next big change from the previous HeartGold and SoulSilver series is the level of detail across the board. The game uses a new viewing angle that presents itself in a top down 3D perspective, while retaining the engine of the previous iterations. The tiles still behave like they do in all preceding games, but the new take on perspective does make the game pop quite a bit. Not only that, but everything seems to have its own unique animation. The pokémon sprites still look junky; however, all the sprites have their own movements, the battles show more depth of field, and the fighting animations have been changed – in many cases, spruced up. Also, cut scenes make a larger and more impressive presence. All of this is quite extraordinary, despite some returning flaws, and makes it seem as though the technology of the soon to be replaced DS is actually being utilized (interesting timing, huh?).

There have been tons of changes and features added in this generation, many of them being tweaks for the social experience. There are not just a few new social mechanics, but many. The most important addition is the networking interface called C-Gear. It brings together IR and Nintendo Wi-Fi features. C-gear allows trainers to battle and trade outside of the PokéCenters – FINALLY! Transferring over pokémon from previous titles is now a mini-game in which trainers launch pokéballs at their pokémon using touch controls. It’s far less satisfying than the transfer park from previous titles and seems a bit gimmicky. Also, there are features like the Miracle Blaster, a way to receive various items from other players, pass-by stuff, and standards like IR battles. A lot of these smaller features will be unrealized by many players, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Black and White also boasts a few new impressive additions in gameplay. While not all of them translate so well, most are welcomed. There are simpler changes, like the ability to reuse TMs, and additions that are more impactful. Day and night, as first seen in the Gold/Silver series, is restored as a game affecting feature. Black and White marks the introduction of seasons. The game’s appearance will change in very impressive ways based on a one month cycle. It also affects pokémon and the areas that may be explored. Though the awe of this feature wears off over time, watching the seasons change will be interesting and give trainers a good reason to come back to the game and explore new areas. Another addition is rotation battles and triple battles.  In rotation battles, pokémon battle one on one and switch each turn between the two available pokémon. In triple battles, three pokémon are sent out on both sides and can attack Pokemon that are either right in front of them or one to either side. While the rotation battles are more interesting and provide an added sense of strategy, neither of them are all too exciting being that they all attack independently from each other. It just feels a bit unnecessary and would be remedied if the pokémon’s attacks were somehow synergized.  Doubles, two on two battles, can now be found in the wild — even less interesting.

Overall, Pokémon Black and White are sure to be pleasers for those who want to pick up the series or desire yet another adventure in the world of Pokémon. For the most part, things are improved. Despite using the beat into the ground formula the series has built itself up for the past 15 years, these titles freshen up things quite a bit. It would seem as though the positives and negatives of the game could be said about any of the previous titles, but the little things really do matter. Sure, it may not be that leap of faith some may have been hoping for, but Nintendo isn’t exactly known for taking risks. At least fans can take solace that the series does what it can to stand out with unique animations, a new perspective, and some fine tweaked features that have been missing far too long. Many of the new pokémon are lame, but luckily all 600+ can be caught later on. For those completely tired of the series, these games won’t be that breath of fresh air; but for those who are ready for another pokéventure, it’s never been better.

4 out of 5.

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Author: Gregory Hutto View all posts by
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  • Jared Larson

    Construction Pokemon? Really? Lord, that’s stupid. I don’t think Evolution works like that.

    Great review, Greg! You almost make me want to play it. If it wasn’t turn-based, and I wasn’t involved with DA2, I’d run out and get it.