Pokémon Black & White Versions Review

Hatching the fifth generation of Pokémon, Pokémon Black and White Versions have not only managed to encapsulate the nostalgia of previous titles, but have also marked the beginning of the sixteen year series’ rejection of the archetype that has influenced every game since the release of Pokémon Red and Blue Version (1996).

This time, players find themselves in the Unova region; a combination of suave urban living, and ridiculously quirky Pokémon. Prior to it’s release, Black/White copped a fair amount of controversy from fans due to the lack of inspiration shown in the newer Pokémon designs. At first, I was also disgruntled by designs of the fifth generation (*insert ice cream inspired Pokémon here*).

However, I became fond of the designs once I began to play. Yes, the Pokémon designs cannot be compared to that of the first generation. But, they also cannot be contrasted to that of the fourth generation (Pokémon Pearl & Diamond; 2008, Pokémon Platinum; 2009) which merely envisioned the uniqueness that has been captured by Black/White.

Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Players: 1 (2+ if you consider battling and trading with other players)
Genre: RPG
Release Date: (AUS) March 10th 2011, (EU) March 4th 2011, (JP) September 18th 2010, (NA) March 6th 2011

As with the age old trend, Pokémon trainers are expected to obtain eight Pokémon badges by defeating Pokémon gyms and their respectful leaders. When all eight Pokémon badges have been acquired, players are able to challenge the acclaimed Pokémon League and it’s Elite Four. Of course, the storyline is not merely composed of trouble-free battling. As expected, an organization of Pokémon extremists has been added to the mix. But this time, there’s a pleasant twist. We’re introduced to Team Plasma, a band of hardcore Pokémon enthusiasts; for all the moral reasons. Team Plasma believe that humans use Pokémon as objects for winning, and do not respect Pokémon as beings in their own right. Unlike Team Rocket, who’s goal is world domination achieved through the blatant exploitation of Pokémon, Team Plasma aspire to take over the world and force Pokémon trainers to release their beloved Pokémon.

Gameplay is linear, with the events of the storyline occurring in a fixed order. Like it’s predecessors, Pokémon Black and White Versions gameplay involves the ‘battling’ of player caught Pokémon between both wild and trainer owned Pokémon to advance through the game. Wild Pokémon battles are again initiated by the player walking through grass, sand, and surfing on water (or fishing), whilst trainer battles are initiated when the player’s sprite comes in close proximity with a trainer sprite. Once again, Pokémon battles between wild Pokémon differentiate to trainer battles. In a wild Pokémon battle, you have the option to flee the battle (also known as the Zubat complex), and (of course) attempt to capture the Pokémon you are battling. Trainer Pokémon battles exhibit the opposite notion; you cannot catch a trainer owned Pokémon, or flee from a trainer battle.

The battle system is merely an upgrade of those featured in previous installments; those who have played older titles will have no issues adapting to this advanced version. The HP and experience bars are still presented in the battle scene, as well as the level of the Pokémon themselves. Each Pokémon still has a set of four ‘moves’ to inflict necessary damage to the opposing Pokémon’s HP bar. Types again play a huge role in battle; depending on the Pokémon’s type, and the type of move used, damage inflicted by a move varies greatly. Items also heavily dictate the outcome of a battle, with Pokémon being able to hold an item, as well as the player being able to use a variety of items (healing items, status restore items, battle based items, and Pokéballs).

If a Pokémon faints, experience is given to the Pokémon responsible for the KO, and other Pokémon who were previously in battle with the KO’d Pokémon(and survived). When a certain amount of experience is gained, a Pokémon will gain a level (resulting in an increase in it’s battle statistics). With every new level reached, a larger amount of experience is needed to gain the next level. A trainer may also only have six Pokémon in their party during a battle. If a trainer’s entire party of Pokémon have been defeated, the trainer with one or more healthy Pokémon standing is declared the winner of the match.

Pokémon Black and White Versions also feature two new types of Pokémon battles; triple, and rotation battles. Triple battles are just that; a battle with three Pokémon battling from each trainer’s party, following the rules of single and double battles. Rotation battles are similar to triple battles due to there being (generally) three Pokémon (six including the opposing trainer’s Pokémon) in battle at one time. Of course, only two Pokémon battle each other each turn, with the fun being you can choose which Pokémon will take centre stage without losing a turn. Both battle types are a pleasant take on the arguably repetitive single battles and have added another desperately needed element of challenge in gameplay.

Controls have definitely improved since Pokémon Platinum (2009) becoming slick, and overall, more liberating despite the limitations of the series’ signature ‘checkerboard’ design. Although, fans are beginning to wonder. Is it time that Game Freak and The Pokémon Company take a leaf out of Creatures Inc’s book, and eliminate the use of the checkerboard design, and move on to a more free movement based design like that in Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs (2010) It seems like a double edge sword with the checkerboard movement being so coordinated with the DS/DSi/3DS’s hardware.

Graphics are aesthetically pleasing, with Pokémon Black and White Versions demonstrating the most vibrant palette of colours yet in the series. But, aside from the brilliance in colour, and the enlargement of sprites, there has not been a substantial growth in graphics quality since Pokémon Platinum (2009). The 2.5D effect implemented in the fourth generation games has only slightly improved in Black/White, epitomized by innovation in the design of towns and cities. In a way, it is disappointing due to the hype that was generated before the release of Black/White world wide in regards to graphics. However, they are not unpleasant by any means with Black/White still having some of the most eye catching pixels on the Nintendo DS. Unova offers a treasure chest of mystery to be explored, being the largest and most intricately detailed region yet.

Pokémon veterans Go Inchinose and Junichi Masuda have returned once again to compose for the series, composing a variety of compositions ranging from battle themes oozing adrenaline, to town themes soothing the soul. The compositions exude the essence of the original Pokémon beats; when you play, you know you’re playing a Pokémon game just due to the catchy, ear-worm sparking tunes.

The features included within Pokémon Black and White Versions are immense. Replacing the Pokétech of the fourth generation, the C-Gear allows players to swiftly trade and battle with other trainers, swap friend codes, check compatibility between two players (known as ‘feeling check’) and connect to other features such as ‘The Dreamworld’ using wireless communications. The C-Gear also implements a communication based function; the Xtransceiver. The Xtransceiver allows up to four players to talk to each other, and see each other if they are using a Nintendo DSi/XL/3DS. Although a bit daunting at first, the C-Gear becomes an invaluable piece of Pokémon technology with battling and trading with friends and other players becoming not as time consuming as it was in previous titles where the Pokemon center was the only (sluggish) option.

Arguably, the most defining feature is ‘The Dreamworld’. By connecting to the Pokémon Global Link website using the C-Gear, players are able to enter ‘The Dreamworld’ through the dreams of a chosen Pokémon. Within the Dreamworld, players have access to a variety of mini-games, are able to harvest berries they have found within the game, decorate their ‘dream house’ (similar to that of secret bases from previous games), and of course, catch Pokémon. Unfortunately, the Dreamworld is only accessible for one hour per day, and cannot be accessed again until 24 hours have passed since the last session. Pokémon Musicals are also a new feature, replacing the Pokémon contests featured in previous games. Although applying the same concept, Pokemon Musicals are a refreshing take on Pokemon contests which have been present since Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire Versions (2002).

Overall, Pokémon Black and White Versions are original, yet series dependent games that are enjoyable for Pokémon fans of all ages. They offer both fresh ideas, as well the incorporation of the ideas that have contributed towards making the series a handheld legacy. Although some aspects of the games are unfortunately disappointing (such as the lack of improvement in graphics), Pokémon Black and White Versions make up for it with their array of new, exciting features. If you ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhed’ at Sinnoh, then Unova will stun you.

Pokémon Black and White Versions are available from game retailer EB Games for AU$68.00. Electronic retailer Harvey Norman are advertising at a price of AU$66.00, with competitor JB Hi-Fi offering the game at a slightly lower price of AU$59.00. Retail giants Target and Big W take the cake however, offering at the lowest price of AU$55.00.

8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.