Not Even Once
If it’s one thing that we can rely on Pokémon to provide for us, it is consistency. Many years have passed since the first generation of games, and these years have seen many, many Pokémon games with the perhaps the greatest difference between them being the ever-changing names that appear to be taking inspiration from the visible spectrum of colours. What the series lacks in revolutionary shake-ups between titles, however, it makes up for in depth of gameplay. Pokémon has always involved engaging battles, a wealth of creatures to catch and develop, and perhaps most importantly, a turn-based battle mechanic that deserves its own ‘not even once’ advertising campaign due to its tantalising potential to create addicts of even first-time players.
That title screen: Another adventure begins
So does Pokémon White Version have the potential to reduce us all to obsessive fools furiously tapping the buttons of our DS systems until our Pokémon are just that one level stronger? In spite of Pokémon’s remarkably strong hold over millions of fans out there (including me), Pokémon White Version still has a lot to live up to, so what does it actually do to make me want to hold on until I’ve forced every single Pokémon into the confines of a Pokéball to spend the rest of their days as instruments of battle and Pokémon-related career-furthering?
The Road Most Travelled
From the outset of the adventure, it is pretty clear that we will be walking down a path that has been travelled many times before. I’m not talking literally here, since like every leap to a new generation, Pokémon White Version takes us to the new and unexplored region of fictional adventure called Unova, with all the new characters, gyms, trainers, rival encounters and evil presence that comes along with it. The familiarity I’m referring to is in reference to the traditional linear role-playing adventure format: the initial choosing of your starter Pokémon from a selection of three types (Water, Fire, Grass), the embarking upon an adventure to take on eight gym leaders, the elite four and the champion with Pokémon that you have captured along the way, the battling of wild Pokémon, and acting as a general beacon of light that shines in the face of the disruptive Team Plasma and their questionable morality; these are all ideas that have been explored previously in varying manifestations and forms throughout the generations of Pokémon.
Team Plasma’s stereotypical cartoon-like villainy features once again in the game, though it makes a notable departure from the once overly-slapstick and harmless silliness that was once typical of Team Rocket, this time turning away from the warm rays of light-heartedness and edging into the shadows towards darker themes of morality, metaphorical grey-areas and the motivation behind the practice of capturing and training Pokémon in the first place.
I’ll have the usual: The game sticks to its tried and tested procedures. And that isn’t actually my name
Grab your Pokéballs
Far from an attempt at a crude piece of humour, the title above actually pertains to the welcome addition of 156 new Pokémon to an already impressive collection that had developed from generations one to four, making the new total a little over 650 in total. You will be introduced to many of these new creatures in the initial stages of the game since the initial few hours of gameplay seem to heavily feature these new creatures, with Pokémon from past generations appearing gradually and a little later in the course of your adventure. Completing the Pokédex still requires that you obtain some older Pokémon in other ways such as trading in creatures from games of previous generations.
Starting positions: New starters mark a new generation
Of course, in spite of the substantial number of Pokémon available in the game, quantity doesn’t necessarily (or usually) denote quality; this is reflected in some of the more questionable additions to the Pokédex. Many reviewers I’ve read take particular issue with what is essentially a generously-poured ice cream cone with additional flake (Vannilluxe; the name even hints at a flavour), but I have just as much issue with Pokémon like Timburr and his/her evolutions that are for some reason in possession of lengths of timber, steel and stone for use as weapons. It isn’t for me to question appearance of new Pokémon, though, since it doesn’t affect the gameplay.
Aside from aesthetical differences, Pokémon White has a considerable number of gameplay features that sets it apart from games of the previous generation. Perhaps the most significant shake-up to hit Pokémon for a long time is the introduction of two new types of battles: the triple battle and the rotation battle. Triple involve the inclusion of (quite obviously) three Pokémon where moves for all three are chosen on your turn and executed in order of your Pokémon’s speed stats. Rotation battles are a little trickier in that only one Pokémon attacks at any one time and you can choose to rotate between your active Pokémon. Since your opponent is allowed to do the same, you may be planning a super-effective attack against a susceptible enemy Pokémon, only for this vulnerable creature to be rotated away and swapped for one that you didn’t plan for. Triple and Rotation battles are the sort of shake up to the gameplay that you don’t get to see very often in the main-series Pokémon world. Changes are often incremental and gradual, with any shifts in format being approached with extreme caution, even in light of the call for revolutionary alterations from fans all over the world. The new battle types are therefore nothing but good news, and are an example of change where it was needed; change not to the well-established and wildly successful battle format, but to the previous lack of alternatives to what was previously available.
Seasonal cycles also make their debut in Pokémon White where the seasons change on a monthly basis, bringing rise to some beautiful aesthetical changes as well as a few practical changes that vary according to the particular season. Some areas are only accessible during certain seasons, such as areas in Route 8, Iccirus City and Twist Mountain become accessible due to piles of snow gathering during winter. Certain Pokémon are also season- dependent (or at least more commonly seen with the changing of the seasons), such as Vanillite being more common in the cold depths of winter. Deerling/Sawsbuck’s appearances also change according to the season. These seasonal cycles serve to create a true sense of the relative passage of time throughout the game, as well as allowing for some replay value when going back and exploring old territory with newly-accessible areas as a result of the season change.
Wild Pokémon capture now also now incorporates a ‘phenomena’ feature that means that certain rare/final evolution Pokémon by stepping into a patch of rustling grass or dust cloud (caves only). Audino and Emogla are Pokémon that can only be caught by wandering into rustling grass, for example.
The beauty of the dual-release of the Pokémon series of games is the dichotomy between the two that manifests in a selection of version-exclusive creatures between the games. Pokémon White Version has Pokémon that can only be found within the game and that are not present in Pokémon Black Version, such as Petilil, Liligant, Solosis, Duosion, Thundurus, Rufflet, Braviary and the mighty Zekrom, with even more available after beating the Elite Four. This is the way it has always been with Pokémon, creating demonstrable link between the two titles of the same generation and making it altogether more challenging to complete the task of catching all of the Pokémon and completing the National Pokédex.
Black, White, Grey
It’s always quite difficult to make a concluding statement when talking about any one of the main Pokémon games. The titles are so well-established that any criticism about them is somewhat overshadowed and belittled by the sheer number of worldwide fans of the series, as well as the quantifiable success that the franchise has achieved in selling tens of millions of copies worldwide. There isn’t one main-series game that has disappointed me so far, and Pokémon White Version is no exception. What I’m trying to say is that Pokémon White Version doesn’t represent a revolutionary departure from what the fans of the series have come to expect from it, and the game most definitely does not suffer as a result. There isn’t any noticeable break from the norm here, aside from the obligatory new region and fresh range of characters, the game isn’t winning awards for originality.
But hasn’t Pokémon already proved its originality to us? The release of Red and Blue all those years ago essentially created a new sub-genre of game, and all the titles that followed have merely been the perfecting and refining of this innovative, return-based battle format. Pokémon White, like all games before it, offers an entirely new adventure, a generous offering of new creatures, a rival, an opposing evil organisation to thwart, and a long, challenging adventure for you to get stuck in to. This game is the best Pokémon title yet, and there’s never been a title in which to catch them all.