Pokemon is one of the longest and most successful game franchises to ever be released, beaten only by the legend himself, Mario. Since 1996 Nintendo has released a strong and steady stream of games consisting of the main Pokemon series as well as spin-offs, covering 5 generations, 649 Pokemon and a hell of a lot of my hours. Now the newest additions, Black and White 2, have hit the stores of its home country, Japan. However, the game won’t be seen in America until 7th October and in Europe until 12th October, I’ve managed to get my reviewer hands on a Japanese copy to cast my eye over. Oh and by the way, as it’s me writing the review, you are of course entitled to your video version of this article, ramble free, right below here.
So onto the actually purpose of this article, the review. As with any review I do, I will break the game down into 5 categories: story, gameplay, graphics, sound and as it applies in this case, multiplayer. Lets head straight in and give Pokemon Black and White 2′s story a good examining.
The plot in Pokemon has never been the game’s strong point, and if i’m honest, black and white 2 is no exception. The story is effectively used as a tool to keep the game rolling, a reason to keep training your Pokemon and a excuse for millions of trainers to be chucked your way. As with every other game in the series, the plot involves an attempt to take over the world by an evil organisation for completely illogical reasons. But hey, at least this time there’s no crazy land changes like in ruby/sapphire… oh wait the whole region nearly gets frozen… You do have a group of allies as you attempt to stop the evil organisation know as the new team plasma, and your new found friends end up being the old plasma guys from Pokemon Black and White, providing an interest twist that is rarely seen in the plot of Pokemon games. Whilst you don’t end up playing the game is direct sequel mode to Black and White 1, instead using a completely different main character and rival, there are certainly many continuations from game 1. Set two years later, many characters are still hanging around including Cheren, Bianca, Ghetsis, N and Alder. Whilst many of their roles have changed, the land they inhabitant has remained generally the same. The direction you must take is completely different, with game freak using the story well to give the region a whole new feel, introducing a load of new cities and routes to explore. And what of the actual monsters you can catch in this game? Black and White introduced generation V, a whole new batch of 155 Pokemon to be caught. The problem with this new batch was that lack of imagination was clearly beginning to show, but to be fair where do you go with 493 already existing? Unfortunately for Pokemon it’s reaching a point where creativity is being stretched, the point at which you can battle using an ice cream is really not a high point for the series. Luckily, Black and White 2 claws itself back in this department. Whilst Black and White was generation V exclusive during the main game, #2 brings back previous generation creatures right from the start and right through the game. Whilst not all 649 are attainable (I will be stunned if they ever release a game where you can really catch em all in house), a major chunk of them can be caught and trained to your hearts desire. Whilst I have no major issues with the latest generation of Pokemon, it’s always nice to be able to have a team merging some of the old classic’s with the new powerhouses.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly had no problems with Black and White, but Black and White 2 really provide a step up and build upon the solid foundations laid down. The progression in time is something never seen before in the Pokemon series, but it’s something I would love to see again. To be able to see a region progress through time is a welcome step for the series that habitually jumps between regions at every available chance. Added to that the link with characters, and I found myself happily linking back and smiling as I found the place that had claimed the life of my entire team in Black, or beat a trainer that was the last battle from my offensively named starter before evolving to its final stage. Sad? Probably, but it’s something nice to see. And whilst the plot won’t be winning any Oscars any time soon, the writers over at game freak are beginning to actually write rather than creative a game progression tool. Plus the game lets me take on the Elite 4 with the same team as I did in Red and Blue 10 years ago, and that’s certainly no bad thing.
So whilst the story has the improved, how has the gameplay progressed passed the simple battling that made up the original games? At heart no, the turn based mechanic of Pokemon is still the same as it has always been, but that’s because it works! It would be a really daft idea to change the integral parts of a such a winning formula, and the developers decided to do the complete opposite, instead creating the perfect complements to their well oiled machine. What are these complements you ask? Well the first one is the additions of difficulties. Yes, after 16 long years you are now able to make your Pokemon experience harder or easier as you wish. Whilst the main game has always been achievable and suitable challenging on its sole difficulty, the “one size fits all” mentality is a frustrating one,and with difficulties, Nintendo really have jumped the last hurdle to shake off that mentality forever with its Pokemon franchise. Or at least I would hope so. Difficulties isn’t the only thing that the audience has been shouting for that has been worked in however, as the arrival of the potentially awesome Pokemon World Tournament shows they really are listening over in Japan. Combining battle styles from previous battle frontiers with a new mode enabling you to fight EVERY gym leader and champion from EVERY region (pretty much) in the main games, we finally have the battles we have been waiting for. The opportunity to face any gym leader from Gen I,II,III,VI and V in a battle really is a great one, and one that will definitely keep me amused, let alone you. But if you don’t think such attractions will keep you entertained, why not try and complete all seasonal and daily/weekly events. Game Freak really seem to be having fun with this one, chucking in events that can only be unlocked during certain month of the year (the real year), with the simple goal of keeping people playing. With a carrot dangled in front of you to carry on, who isn’t going to want a nibble? Alternatively to the World Tournament comes the PokeWood (PokeStar in EU/USA), a way to create your own Pokemon based movies if that’s your thing. Unfortunately the Contest alternatives in Unova really don’t seem to click, as both Musicals and PokeWood just seem a little gimmicky. I understand Pokemon isn’t necessarily the most mature game in the world, back dancing around in silly top hats or creating a romantic love scene by battling with someone just seems to be pushing it a little too far. Contests worked and they were fun, why not go back to what really did go down well? Luckily not all of the creations over at Game Freak have that gimmick air about them, as my final one in the gameplay section really does feel like a great addition. What is that addition you ask? That addition is a medal system I reply. Participated in 1000 battles? Show off with a medal! Caught all fire type Pokemon? Show off with a medal! Black and White 2 features a new system giving you medals every time you complete certain goals. I have in the passed been the victim of a little post-main game boredom, but now there really is a sense of achievement as you move forward, even after the story has reached its dramatic end. The gap between beating the story and completing everything ever was always a little large, and this definitely goes some way to plugging it. It’s interesting that I haven’t described all the features available in the newest edition, there are plenty of things that you can go discover yourself. But even with just what I have described here, the game really has moved forward from its simple “hit-hit” days, and whilst the working core is still there, the build we have on top are brilliant.
Any game that has it’s origins in the 90′s will undoubtedly have improved it’s graphics. Mario did it, so why can’t Pokemon? Well in answer to that, Pokemon can. Really, really well. Whilst Black and White 2 still sit on DS rather than the upgraded technology of the 3DS, i’m still not sure an original fan would even recognise that Black and White 2 are in the same franchise and Red and Blue. From the black and white of the original games, Pokemon has advanced into 3D views, beautiful animations and fantastic cutscenes. The work that has been put into the look and style of both Black and White and Black and White 2 is immense and it really shows. There are a few sections of the game where the camera wanders off the show you your scenery, and it’s in these moments you really get to appreciate what a job Game Freak have done on presenting the entire region, with not a performance hit in sight. But it’s not only the main world that’s seen the wand of upgrade, as both NPC and Pokemon animations are a vast from anything seen so far. There is a point in the game where Cheren stands, tapping his foot waiting for you and it’s small tweaks like this that really make a difference to the way the game is viewed and flows. The Characters suddenly feel like they are alive rather than the inanimate and slightly annoying blobs that have existed so far. Pokemon too move and jump about as you would expect. Sprite animation during battle has been used in the Pokemon series before, but it consisted of the same couple of seconds rotated over and over like a broken record, which destroys any immersion that may have created. This time animations have been given a much longer loop, so unless you are wasting you life simply watching the animations (in which case, your playing it wrong), I doubt you will notice the loop particularly. In fact it tends to feel more like your little critter is just jumping around randomly like nobodies business. The graphics department has definitely seen an upgrade over at Game Freak, and I can say that it was worth every second spent creating, the views on this game shine fantastically
Whilst the other sections are packed full of detail, there isn’t really much you can say about the sound in Pokemon, mainly due to its very limited use. Whilst many would recognise that familiar but annoying tune when you run into a wild Pokemon whilst casually strolling through the grass, aside from that the notoriety of the audio is very limited. That however has not stopped Game Freak from working on it. Pointless? Maybe. Noticeable? Somehow definitely so. For what would seem a very limited scope, the audio in Black and White 2 really feels like its moving with the times. The electronic style music for the rival battle actually made me want to run in to the audio just to give it another listen, and I spent even the smallest journey on my bike due to the delightful jingle that comes with your character pedaling his life away. Whilst the Pokemon cries still sound like a child about to burst into tears most of the time, what struck me was how such a small component of the game affected how I was playing, a gesture to how well the audio been worked into the game. And that’s how audio should be like, right?
Multiplayer for any Pokemon game has historically consisted of battling of trading, with not much else seeming possible. The problem with this however, comes from the fact this only involves 2 people. With Game Freak stating they wanted “up to 100 people” to be able to play together on the newest edition, some serious overhauling was needed. Pokemon Black and White 2 really does through some idea’s out there. The corner stone of battling and trading still exists, but a host of new features such as Unova link, Fes Missions and Join Avenue there suddenly becomes a lot more available to do in the Pokemon world with all your friends. Unova link consists of 3 sections: Key Link for trading items with others and changing difficulty as mentioned previously, Memory Link for trading back in time with Black and White and 3DS Link which allows trading with 3DS games such as the Dream Radar. Join Avenue allows to become mini estate agents between you and your friends, allowing you to build each-others avenue’s up in order to get better items or just harass your unsuspecting friend. Finally Fes Missions provide an entirely new spin on the way you can play multiplayer, introducing missions you can complete with your friends including things such as scouring the lands for specific berries or listening to the much improved encounter music over and over in order to find a specific Pokemon. It’s all timed of course so you really do have to work together to get the job done. 100 people together? I can’t imagine so but it’s certainly an increase on the two person cooperation the series has relied on so far. For all those interested in the battling, do not fear, Gen V has introduced some absolutely fantastic additions to the meta-game, as well an hidden abilities which have mixed up the tiers completely, driving Smogon into overdrive. Whilst I have not managed to try these multiplayer features myself (stupid DS with the “wrong” internet), you can really tell that Pokemon is trying hard to improve the multiplayer interaction between it’s players. At the end of the day battling and trading will always be the main multiplayer attractions, after all that is what Pokemon is in a nutshell, but the little bells and whistles certainly don’t hurt.
This game is very far from the classic game that were originally released in Red and Blue, so if you are looking to reflect on your glory days of the original 151, this won’t satisfy your thirst, and the same can be said if you have a deep hate for the Pokemon series. But if you are willing to give it a shot I can’t encourage it more. Pokemon Black and White were very good games, minor faults but none the less very good games. So for Nintendo and Game Freak to go away and cope back with something that I can easily say is an improvement is damn impressive. Any problems that were that have definitely been addressed, including some long standing issues such as difficulties and the world tournament. As well as the multiplayer and graphic tweaks, it really does seem like they are trying to make the games we actually want, which is a sharp difference to some of the bigger games released over the years. Whilst I could say play Black and White 1 then play this, whilst it is a enjoyable experience so to say, it’s really not necessary, and I really wouldn’t blame you if you skipped straight too this. But definitely do try Pokemon Black and White 2, that is something you do have to do.