Hey Pokefans out there, it’s the greatest week of the year: The week a new Pokemon game arrives on shelves and demands we Catch ‘Em All one more time, just for kicks. The 5th Generation is now out with Pokemon Black and White versions adding over 150 new Pocket Monsters to the roster, but is this the one worth picking up if you’ve never played Pokemon? And if you have, is the series going a little overboard? Read on for the full review.
A lot of people will be wondering, “Hey Chris, that fancy-shmancy 3DS is about to come out, right?” Yes random person, the 3DS comes out this month. “So then, um, why is Nintendo releasing a new Pokemon game for a handheld console that’s about to be obsolete?” Good question. The answer is $$$$$$$, to put it lightly. Pokemon games are among the highest-selling games of all time no matter when they’re released. What’s surprising is that the game wasn’t held and updated for the 3DS as a launch title or something, instead marking this as the first new generation to appear on the same handheld as the previous generation. It feels weird, but oh well, money is money.
I’ve covered Pokemon Black and White in a preview not overly long ago, and I can tell you that not a lot of anything has changed since I wrote those words. The graphics are both an improvement and a disappointment, the sound is an extreme disappointment, and the narrative isn’t really breaking any new ground. Don’t worry, I’ll reiterate those points one at a time.
While each Pokemon looks pretty cool from a distance, nice and colorful and full of personality and whatnot, the DS screen inevitably blows them up in size, showing the pixels a little too clearly and making the presentation look dated despite the graphical updates. The Pokemon finally move when in the battle, dancing about in a manner that adds more personality to the experience, but each static frame looks like the character sprites were ripped nearly directly from the 4th Generation, or even the 3rd Generation if you’re extremely critical. And if you like Pokemon, who cares? Me, I want some more here. The DS is supposed to be nearly as powerful as an N64, so why haven’t we had a Pokemon game with Stadium-like graphics? Having rich 3D backgrounds while in the overworld only emphasizes the graphical shortcomings during battles.
When it comes to sound, I’m tired of the chiptune noises of Pokemon entering battles, attacking, and fainting. The sounds haven’t been updated since the 1st Generation, and that’s not okay. It just isn’t. Having sound clips from the Game Boy era isn’t the worst thing a game can do, but when the point is to show off some impressive technology, why are we forced to live in the past? If I want nostalgia I’ll go play Blue Version again. I’m paying $35 here, so I better be getting my money’s worth.
The surprisingly thing is that the game tries really hard to do away with the nostalgic aspect of the game. You will encounter a total of zero previously seen Pokemon until you’ve beaten the main game, a surprising choice to make, though one I understand. This allows everyone to be on even ground since it’s all new, relatively speaking. You won’t instantly know what Pokemon will appear in a random battle, which Trainer has which type, or which foolish uni-Type team each Gym Leader has before you even enter the city. It pushes the idea of “New Pokemon Game” to the forefront, but then you remember that the graphics and the sound are still stuck in previous generations and it makes me scratch my head. Either you want the nostalgic factor or you want a new experience. I feel like Game Freaks have a foot in both worlds but can’t decide where to firmly plant themselves even after enough time to debate.
Still, Pokemon veterans won’t be shocked to learn that you play a Pokemon Trainer in their tweens who has a mother but not a present father-figure, you get a starter that’s either Grass, Water, or Fire, there are eight Gym Badges to collect and an Elite Four to conquer, and some overarching enemy force is out to get you. This time the enemy force is Team Plazma, a sort of PETA-esque group devoted to the liberation of Pokemon everywhere. I’m a bit surprised, but this evil group isn’t entirely one-dimensional. You’ll actually get a chance to know Team Plazma’s leader a lot more than previous Big Bads of the series and get a chance to see things from an entirely new perspective. So kudos there Game Freak for something done right. Not reinventing the wheel, but still good nonetheless.
The big changes to the battle mechanics are 3-on-3 battles and rotation battles. The first is exactly what it sounds like with three Pokemon lining up on each side taking turns pummeling the Pokemon lined up on the opposite side of them. Rotation battles are a bit more of a new thing as three Pokemon are sent out but rotate through who’s in the lead spot, making for a pretty unique battle. It’s just a shame that it isn’t utilized more often, but then again you wouldn’t want to get smashed over the head with something so different from the standard.
I’m sort of disappointed that the games are still leaning on the concept of different versions, making you either buy both to get the full game or find friends to play with. Last generation I had two best friends who also bought the game, traded with me frequently, and encouraged my involvement. I do not have that same luxury for Black and White, so I’m left with the option of either hopefully running into people in my immediate life who also play Pokemon (not likely considering my family), or I have to try doing things online as best as I can. The online aspect works well enough, but battling random strangers doesn’t really have the same appeal to me as battling people I know. I’m looking for problems, yes, but there’s no way I can acquire all 649 Pokemon with just one version, or even both versions for that matter. I’m gaming on a budget with an extremely limited social circle, so there’s no way I’m even going to be able to come close to the entirety the game has to offer me and that seems like a huge letdown.
So, are Pokemon Black and White Versions worth your money? Absolutely. It’s a great game for newcomers and longcomers alike, but it’s not going to convince any holdouts that this is the time to rethink their anti-Pokemon stance. The series is hitting its peak, but it doesn’t feel like the peak it should be considering how long it’s been around. “Entitled much?” Why yes I am.
There, my review is done and I’m ready to open the floor up to comments from you wonderful readers. Who out there is prepared to purchase a new Pokemon game? Or have you already snagged a copy? Which version did you grab? Leave a comment and let me know. As for me, I have to go make more Pokefriends before I can continue down the path of a true Master.
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