Pokemon Black Version 2 Game Reviewed
It’s a well known fact that Pokémon is like the gaming equivalent to marmite; you either adore it or abhor it (though Pokémon doesn’t spread quite so well on toast). Many people simply love to hate the long-running series of role playing games while those who enjoy them will spend simply hours on end with their Nintendo DS in hand, a look of ferocious concentration on their face and a catch-em-all desire in their hearts. As one of the old-school lovers of Pokémon who owns the entire first generation of games for the original game boy, I approach all generations of Pokémon games that followed with a healthy scepticism and guarded temperament, usually in the hope that I will instantly dislike any titles which followed my precious first generation of games which filled me with such joy and sense of accomplishment in my youth. It couldn’t have been more than half an hour before Pokémon Black Version 2, however, until my guard was lifted and the dying embers of my enthusiasm for Pokémon were kindled back into a roaring flame. That’s right, people, Pokémon Black Version 2 could very well be the best one yet. Pokémon nay-sayers: get out now; this review simply isn’t for you. Pokémon fans: proceed to the next paragraph at your leisure.
Titularly Speaking: The Dual-Screen functionality of the DS has never been so taken advantage of.
To Put it Simply
Should you be a little light on your Pokémon knowledge, Pokémon Black Version 2 is one half of the two newly-born babies of the Pokémon series of games. Twinned with Pokémon White Version 2, it stands proudly in the fifth generation of Pokémon games and takes place in the ‘Unova’ region of the Pokemon universe, which possesses its very own collection of Pokémon as well as incorporating many of the creatures from the previous generations of games to create a diverse and challenging collection of creatures for Pokémon fans to aim their Pokéballs at. Catching them all won’t be easy, but the game makes sure that you will have shed loads of fun whilst doing so.
The game is based on the wildly successful wandering RPG format that has formed the basis of every single Pokémon game to date: the catching, training and battling of your Pokémon remains integral to the gameplay, while the task of taking on gym leaders and facing off with the misguided protagonists of Team Plasma gives your adventure the direction and purpose that every game needs. Wandering the land and putting the ‘role’ into ‘Role-Playing Game’, you are given the opportunity to name and take charge of your main character and guide him through the Unova region as you enter into encounters with wild Pokémon, take on a multitude of challenging trainer battles in a variety of different formats and attempt to expose and overcome the mischievous shenanigans of the comically persistent Team Plasma. It is a very successful format that has formed the basis the Pokémon series since its conception, and it is one which makes entertainment for hours on end inevitability.
If, like me, your scepticism about this most recent title of the Pokémon series stems from the relative lack of interest and knowledge in the titles that precede it, then you have nothing to fear: prior knowledge is not a requirement of the game, since the introduction confidently lays down the missing pieces from two year gap between the games while everything else you need to know is explained to you by various helpful characters that you encounter in the game. Pokémon Black Version 2 is for all intents and purposes a largely self-contained unit which rarely requires the player to possess an in-depth knowledge of previous events, which will set extremely well with newcomers to the game, and will simply mean some dismissive skimming over text for those who are already familiar with the whole affair.
It is safe to say that the fantastic ladies and gentleman that are responsible for the creation of Pokémon are pretty steadfast in their Pokémon ways: if one were to put Pokémon Red (from the first generation of games) directly next to this title for some comparative viewing, then you would most certainly be able to point out more similarities than differences between the two. Now, for most games, this would be a point of heavy criticism, but Pokémon seems to manage to exist outside of the plane of normality in terms of expectations from one game to the next. Rather than messing with a formula that is well over a decade old and still going strong, the Pokémon games seem to evolve with a gracefully unapologetic steadiness, and a self-awareness that the whole magic of the Pokémon series relies on this very consistency that has been displayed over the years. Catch, battle, and repeat.
Past and Present: Pokémon has clearly held steadfastly to its root
Apart from the obvious differences to the graphics which are afforded by the perpetual advancement of gaming hardware, what it involves to actually play Pokémon has scarcely changed: battles still take place in the same way, you must still venture through the region to win gym badges and battle an elite four, and you will inevitably encounter the meddlesome Team Plasma with increasing frequency and ferocity as you progress through your journey. You still receive a choice of three elemental starter Pokémon at the beginning. Pokémon centres are similar in appearance and identical in function to how they have always been. You can still use your bike to get around, and your rival will continue to challenge you to battles as your teams of Pokémon become stronger and stronger. As you can see, consistency abounds within the Pokémon universe, and far from being a limitation of the game, it makes for a sense of continuity and highlights the recognition that this formula simply works. After all, five generations of games that span sixteen years is a kind of longevity that many games can only dream of achieving.
We’re not in Pallet Town Anymore
So what exactly gives Pokémon Black Version 2 a right to call itself a direct sequel to the title that precede it? Well, firstly, there are a significant number of aesthetical changes to the game, such as the redesigning of the Unova Gyms and the including of entirely new locations in the region such as your starting location of Aspertia City and others such as Floccesy Town, Lentimas Town and Humilau City. New characters like Hugh (your direct rival), Colress and Roxie will keep your interactions throughout the game fresh and varied while redesigns of previous character and locations will provide some echoes from the past for long-standing fans. I was even excited about the redesign of the battle menu and the mid-battle organising of your possessions into relevant categories such as ‘HP/PP Restore’ and ‘Status Restore’ (apparently the small things in life really are the most pleasing).
Dual-wielding: The incredibly useful multi-screen battle menu has had a re-vamp
Expansion of the Unova Pokédex to include more Pokémon from previous generations will have the avid Pokémon collector simply giddy with joy, and more importantly creates a stronger inter-generational link between the collections of Pokémon, as well as significantly expanding the sheer size of the collection itself. As someone who will never quite get over the greatness of Generation I, the past beckons to me when I encounter Pokémon such as Magmar and Psyduck frolicking alongside later-generation offerings like Klink and Audino. The integration and expansion of the Unova Pokédex is a feature which stands out in the game, offering more choice for the new player and a link to the past for the Pokémon veteran.
Perhaps the most significant feature to make its debut in the game is the innovative ‘Habitat List’. This expansion to the long-running Pokédex allows the player to identify all of the Pokémon in their current area of exploration, listing them conveniently in order, and even telling you whether or not you have yet encountered/captured them. Considering the fact that the very essence of the game is the amassing of Pokémon, I am surprise that this tiny stroke of almost-genius was not included in previous games.
Secondary Adventures and Sideshows Galore
Those who find themselves awash with apathy about the collecting of gym badges and battling of the elite four to become the Pokémon champion will bathe in the glorious selection of secondary activities that branch off from the main stem of gameplay. Perhaps the most significant of these features is the Pokémon World Tournament, which makes it debut in Pokémon Black Version 2 and allows the player to systematically encounter the gym leaders of yesteryear (i.e the previous four generations of games) in one convenient location. Its significance may be inconsequential to new players, but to those who were there from the beginning (and those who know what I mean when I say ‘Missingno’), this feature allows you to encounter gym leaders that you were convinced you had left behind in previous games.
Further peripheral delights can be found in the pursuit of a Pokémon-based movie career in Pokéstar Studios. Fame and adoration await if you successfully shoot all the possible scene combinations with the various endings and positive reviews from viewers (try and avoid a Christian Bale-esque meltdown, though). However, I think we can all agree that the more important prize here is the giant bronze statue of yourself upon fulfilling all parameters of the challenge. If you wish to branch out into the aural arts, then why not try your hand at creating (from a list of predetermined options) your very own Pokémon Musical in Nimbasa City? Dressing up your Pokémon has never been less creepy!
And... Action! Even Pokémon could do a better job at acting than Nicolas Cage at Pokéstar Studios
Finally, the Battle Subway is exactly how it sounds, where outrageously disruptive Pokémon battles are actively encouraged on the carriages of the trains within. Battle points are the spoils of this activity, and they can be used to purchase various items of differing value at the main kiosk. Thanks to the Battle Subway, you will be unlikely to ever experience commuter’s boredom again (and in spite of the mid-journey battles, the service is still better than Virgin).
One of the most inviting features of these extra-curricular pursuits is that participation in them is not compulsory, with the general idea being that you can dip in and out of these adventures whenever you please; their completion is neither compulsory nor essential to the progress of the main adventure. They simply exist as a series frolicking adventures that are supplementary to the main game, and that’s exactly how I like it.
Armed with some good-natured gameplay, the starting Pokémon of your choice and the long-burning fame of Pokémon spirit directly at its heart, this game will take the hand of any long-term Pokémon fan and show them that it is a game which offers both warm familiarity for the player who is resistant to change, as well as the introduction of some refreshing alterations to the gameplay for those who are partial to a spot of deviation from the norm in their sequels. It boasts a more expansive collection of Pokémon that is more numerous than ever before, dishes out a serious helping of secondary adventures that should satiate your ravenous hunger for alternative activities and most importantly, stays true to the ‘catch em all’ mentality that has made the Pokémon series of games such a wild success. Far from the incremental differences that (barely) set apart the games of previous generations, Pokémon Black Version 2 manages to usher in enough deviation from the previous titles to justify its salutation as a true ‘sequel’, while managing to maintain the aspects of the game which make Pokémon, Pokémon.
Quantatively Speaking: 95/100 (I just cannot put this game down)
Reviewed by Craig Sherratt