Two high quality games that, in many ways, have rejuvenated the Pokemon series.____________________________________________________________________
I've been a Pokémon fan going all the way back to when I played Pokémon Blue on the Game Boy Color. That was twelve years ago and since then I’ve also played Silver, Crystal, Sapphire, Emerald and Diamond. One thing you would notice from playing all five generations is how little the series has evolved over this time. When Game Freak decides to tinker with the Pokémon formula - assuming that all the planets are aligned - the changes are, more often than not, minor. But is Generation V the exception? The answer is yes and no. I would be lying if I told you that Pokémon Black and White for the Nintendo DS is radically different. The truth is that just enough tweaks have been made to the formula to reinvigorate the series.
What makes B&W unlike the previous games is that the Gym Leader subplot and the Team Plasma plot are combined into a full narrative. You're probably thinking now, "After fourteen years and five generations, this is what they come up with?" But to be fair, this is the first game to feature an antagonist that is interesting and three-dimensional. This antagonist, aptly named N, at many points throughout the game, challenges you with an intriguing - but in the end lacklustre - question of morality about the relationship between Pokemon and humans. While the game’s story could have been improved on, at least it's something different. ____________________________________________________________________
No generation is without a bad Pokémon or two. In this respect, B&W is no different. While there are plenty of awesome new additions like Musharna and Bisharp, the abominations Vanilluxe and it's pre-evolutions are all contenders for the ‘Worst Pokémon of Any Generation’ award. What makes B&W stand out, though, is that this is the first generation since Red & Blue to include only its regional Pokedex. This is at least until you finish the main story, unlocking all the previous generation’s Pokémon for you to catch. Whether you love or hate the new Pokémon, I didn’t run into the “elusive” Zubat once and that made me very happy.
This time around, navigating through the region is as frustrating as ever, but in a good way. I dread walking into caves without any repellent on and I avoided tall grass at all costs. At the same time, though, enduring through this means you will come across many worthwhile items. These items will be the ones you cherish the most when you're versing formidable opponents at the tail end of your journey.
You won’t be surprised to find out that the Pokémon battles are the best part game. As always, they’re involving because you need to account for all the different Pokémon types; offensive, defensive and supportive moves; items such as potions, berries and in-battle effect items; and status ailments such as being poisoned or frozen. In Ruby & Sapphire, they gave us double battles which are terrific because they require even more strategy. This generation has now gone one step further by introducing triple battles and rotation battles. If you're the kind of gamer with an inner-tactician, you will have a great time with both of these new battle types. However, while these are available in online multiplayer - so you can verse your friends - the triple and rotation battles have too small of a presence in the singleplayer campaign.
The Pokémon are now animated, finally replacing those lifeless, still sprites. For example, the bigger Pokemon flex and pose, the cuter Pokemon fidget and hovering Pokémon bob up and down. Small touches like these make the battle sequences that much livelier. Also noteworthy is the game’s more diverse and saturated colour palette, making the various routes and Gyms of the Unova region picturesque. Plus it sounds as good as it looks; especially Team Plasma’s battle theme music, which I have to say is completely bad-ass.
A big problem with this game is how it has mishandled its new online features. It’s confusing to even wrap your head around what some of them do. There’s one feature that allows you to put one of your Pokémon to sleep so it can enter the Dream World. I did this to only then visit the browser-based interactive game that I immediately gave up on after only ten minutes. This is because no matter what I did I couldn’t make any sense of it. Hopefully, you will have a better time using the new online features than me.
If you’re a Pokémon fan craving for a fresh rethinking of the Pokémon series, Black and White almost delivers it. The familiar elements of Pokémon formula will hit all the right buttons, but all those buttons have been hit too many times. It’s the changes to the formula – granted some of them are hit or miss - that gives new life to the series, and if you’re someone who has never played a Pokémon game, it will nevertheless be an enjoyable ride. So what are you waiting for? Go catch ‘em all.