Pokemon Black & White Review – A new beginning

[Guest review by Darryn Bonthuys]

It’s that time again. Time for a new generation of Pokémon to step up and take over, at least until developer Game Freak decides to recycle another one of their previous games into a graphically updated rerelease for the DS.

Now in its fifth generation, Pokémon Black & White brings over 150 new creatures into its stable, asking players to once again catch ‘em all, in order to be the greatest of trainers.

The all too familiar quest of catching, raising and battling with the monsters is still in place, a core feature that has seen very changes to its formula over more than ten years of assorted games and sequels, but this time, Game Freak has managed to inject the franchise with a moderate dosage of freshness, giving jaded fans of the franchise a few surprises along the way.

Players once again travel the countryside, this time the Unova region, in a quest to catch as many Pokémon as possible while battling gym leaders in order to qualify for a chance at fighting the Elite Four and current champion.

Along the way, players will also have to deal with the shenanigans of a Pokémon liberation organisation, Team PETA, err, Plasma. They’re not too happy with the current state of human/Pokémon affairs, and have decided to free all the critters from their trainers and pokeballs, by using the power of a legendary beast.

It marks a change for once that the antagonists of a Pokémon game are actually looking to do make the worked better, and not just trying out for world domination for once, making players actually feel guilty about catching and keeping Pokémon in their pokeballs.

What could have been an excellent tale of morality and ethics is quickly swept aside however, speedily resolved once Team Plasma is defeated. It’s a bit of a disappointment, but then again, the game is targeted at the younger members of the gaming community.

Pokémon Black and White is an absolutely massive game, easily spanning dozens of hours of gameplay, in order to just complete the main quest.

If you’ve never picked up a Pokémon game before, the core gameplay is still as addictive and simple as it was when the original games launched. All Pokémon consist of different types and elements, with each one being effective and weak against opposing forces in a ro-sham-bo fashion.

While most battles consist of one on one affairs, there will be times when players get challenged to two, or even three on three fights, opening up the doors for innovative strategies.

Most Pokémon also has the ability to evolve into a more powerful form, some dependent on the amount of levels that they have gained or exposure to certain stones, while others need special circumstances to be fulfilled.

Grinding and levelling up your Pokémon is still largely the same, sometimes laborious process, but this feature has received a few tweaks. Pitting your low level companion against a more formidable opponent will result in a more rewarding dose of experience points being given out.

What makes Black/White a refreshing departure from previous titles, is its emphasis on encountering the newer Pokémon.

While previous instalments would give players one or two new Pokémon’s lurking in the bushes, surrounded by the all too familiar sight of rattatas and machops, Black/White keeps their appearances to rare locations, resulting in locations and events that will surprise even the most experienced of Pokémon fans.

Visually, Game Freak has decided to be a bit bolder with this latest iteration in the franchise. While some Pokémon reek of lazy design choices, the more vibrant additions to the roster skip and bounce around on the battlefield, thanks to some cute and endearing animation, a much needed improvement over the static images of previous titles.

3D backgrounds are better integrated with this version as well, although sprites still look quite pixelated when observed up close. Some cities are bigger, requiring multiple screens in order to explore, while a catchy soundtrack keeps the action pumping. It’s just a pity that the Pokémon themselves still make sounds that are reminiscent of their gameboy days.

Amongst the other changes made to the game, players can now do their shopping inside of Pokémon centre, while certain visual cues will alert players to the special abilities of their opposition.

C-Gear, an application that allows for a persistent online state, is always available on the touch screen, making trading and battling Pokémon with friends a whole lot easier, while numerous other devices and apps are unlocked during the course of the game.

Scoring

Gameplay: 9.0/10

It’s still the same Pokémon game at its core, but sometimes, sticking to the same formula is still a good thing, especially for younger gamers that are new to the franchise. Various tweaks and modifications will be immediately noticeable to long time fans, but nothing too drastic has been added to this generation.

Design and Presentation: 7.0/10

Game Freak has finally managed to put some effort into the visuals of a Pokémon game, but it’s not all awesome sauce. Some Pokémon are still horribly and sloppily designed, while pixilation of creatures is an ever present problem.

Value: 9.0/10

You won’t get as much time out of any other game on a handheld as you would a Pokémon game, as it will take hundreds of hours to catch ‘em all, while the online component can further extend the longevity of this title, at least until gamers get sick of it.

Overall: 8.0/10

It’s the same Pokémon game we’ve come to know and love, but this time, some serious tweaks and turns have been added to it. Older fans will be surprised at how much effort has been put into this title, while the younger players will have a blast learning all the subtle ins and outs of catching and battling Pokémon.

[Reviewed on Nintendo DS]

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