Pokémon works in mysterious ways. Every time a new entry to the main series (not Ranger, Mystery Dungeon or any of those) is announced my peers and I immediately dismiss it as being the same old thing with dumber looking creatures. However, as the release day gets closer we get more and more interested until we finally buckle and either pre-order it or buy it the day it comes out. It’s like getting a poison ivy rash and not scratching it because you know it’s not good for you, and then one day you break and go scratch crazy on it. You know it might get worse and last longer, but damn it feels good at the moment.
If you have played a Pokémon game before you will know the drill. Pokémon Black and White are turn-based RPGs where the player catches various creatures and pits them against other trainers’ monsters for their own fame and fortune, but in a nice, family friendly way. This installment introduces 153 new Pokémon into the mix, adds some new features and fixes a few problems from the older games making it a much more fluid experience than the other Pokémon titles for the DS.
The story in Black and White follows the same formula as the previous games in the series. You play as a kid in a small town who travels across the Unova region to become the best Pokémon trainer ever. To be the best you have to challenge top trainers in various towns and collect their badges. Once you have eight badges you can challenge the Elite Four and claim your title of Champion.
Similar to the other games, Black and White has villains to impede your progress. This time around the antagonists are a Pokémon rights activist group called Team Plasma. They are dressed as knights who apparently lost their helmets and they are trying to liberate Pokémon from their trainers so people can view them as friends instead of making them fight each other. However, our main character likes using Pokémon for sport so he stops at nothing to stop Team Plasma from achieving their goal. Unlike some of the other games where the villains only appear once in a while, Team Plasma is a constant thorn in your side. This makes the story flow much smoother than it did in the previous games, but it is still very linear.
Once again, the graphics have improved from the previous installments. The camera is angled slightly lower to the ground so the 3D stands out more, and the game makes use of different camera angles depending on where you are. For example, I had a big grin on my face the first time I went into the big city of this game because when I crossed the bridge into the city the camera panned up to an overhead view so I could see just how large the environment was. The locations you visit, especially the various gyms, all have a unique feel to them. I’m still waiting for a fully 3D free roaming Pokémon game, but this is a good upgrade.
The Pokémon sprites also got a makeover. The battles still look similar, but the Pokémon are now animated, which makes the battles feel more organic. As for the new Pokémon, some of them don’t look so hot, but others actually look pretty cool. A couple of my favorites are Zebstrika and Sandile (as well as his evolved forms).
The soundtrack for Black and White is very fun to listen to. All of the songs sound great and fit perfectly into the game. The town themes are cheery and upbeat and the battle themes (Team Plasma’s is my favorite) get you pumped up and ready to fight. The sound effects are also getting a little better. The various Pokémon cries sound better than they have in previous versions, but I feel like at this point they can give them sound effects that define them a little more than some random noise.
The game play has received a few updates this time around, but the core concept remains unchanged. You still walk from town to town catching various Pokémon and battle other trainers to gain experience in a turn-based style. The Pokémon are broken up into types (ex: water, fire grass) which each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and you use them to your advantage throughout the game. Double battles make a return as well as all of the multiplayer stuff like trading with your friends or battling against them.
The upgrades to Black and White supplement the game very well and make it more fun. I will briefly go through the ones I think have the biggest impact. First and foremost is the C-Gear. This new mechanic takes up the bottom screen of the DS and it allows you to communicate with your friends playing the game, local and online. This is awesome simply because you don’t have to go to a Pokémon center to interact with your friends in game. Instead you can trade or battle from just about anywhere. The Pokemon center option is still there, but trading and battling with your friends is much more convenient this time around.
In addition to double battles, triple battles make their debut in Black and White. As you can probably guess, three Pokémon fight at once. The interesting thing is that placement is important. For example, the Pokémon all the way to the left cannot reach the opponents Pokémon all the way to the right and vice versa unless they have one of the specific moves that allows them to reach that far. There are also moves that hit all of the opponents Pokémon, so triple battles can be very interesting and entertaining. A variant of the triple battle called the rotation battle also comes into play. You still have three Pokémon out, but only one can fight at a time. However, you can rotate between the three without wasting a turn.
When trading in previous titles you could only bring in six Pokémon at a time. In Black and White you have full access to all of your Pokémon even if they are not in your party. This makes trading much more convenient and really speeds up the process, although it still takes a while to actually trade from one system to the other.
While this might not seem like a big deal, saving the game has also been improved. In the previous DS titles the message “Saving a lot of data” would pop up from time to time when trying to save your game and that would take forever and a day to finish. This time around saving always takes the same amount of time and it takes less time than before.
While this is not necessarily a new feature, the touch screen controls are worth mentioning. Black and White uses the touch screen as one option to navigate the menus in and out of battle. I find myself using it quite often because it is responsive and way more efficient than scrolling through a bunch of options to get to where you want to be.
There are other minor updates as well. The seasons change every month, conversations are represented by speech bubbles instead of just a block of text, and some Pokémon change depending things such as their health or the season.
Pokémon Black and White takes an already successful formula and greatly improves upon it. All of the major and minor updates as well as the story that constantly moves forward make the game a fluid and enjoyable experience. It is also nice to look at and listen to. I can say with ultimate confidence that this is the most fun I’ve had with an original Pokémon game since Pokémon Blue. Yes, just blue because it is the superior version.