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Review: Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 VersionsReviews Nintendo DS Pokemon Game Freak
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: October 7, 2012
Pokemon White 2 Version used for review
If any series has partaken from the Fountain of Youth, it is Pokemon.The effete criticisms of cynical once-fans, jaded by superficially unchanged gameplay and the introduction of hundreds of unfamiliar Pokemon faces, haven’t touched the series. Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 are testaments to this; nearly fifteen years after the original two came Stateside, a fifth generation of Pokemon games hit the shelves. But those years were long to travel, and it hasn’t all been uphill. Time is rarely kind, so one has to wonder, can Pokemon survive the trip? Nothing is gained without something lost, but Black 2 and White 2 Versions does honor to those games that came before.
Two years have passed since the Hero defeated N in the events of Pokemon Black and White, and Unova has changed. You play a new character from the small town of Aspertia City, a new area set at the foot of some mountains. Bianca, now a professor’s assistant, comes to town and gives you a new Pokemon and sends you out on your journey.
It becomes the age-old tale of traveling across the lands, reaching far and wide, but for fans of the series, there’s nostalgia here. Instead of eking a destiny from the unfathomed lands of a new region, the Unova region has the distinct impression of the last game’s events. Players will trudge through the footprints left behind from the last protagonist, while seeing how the landscape changed because of them.
For a Pokemon story, Black 2 and White 2 follow the trend set up by the original two, doing extremely well by virtue of actually having a proper story. It isn’t just “go collect badges with some Team Whatever B-Plot,” instead going for integrating the stories of both the last and the current protagonists, giving backstory to rivals other than just that you happened to grow up together, and giving the world’s characters their own conflicts and motives.
The story is not quite as strong, perhaps, as Black and White ’s story, but the influence of it gives this one more texture, and the characters, influenced by the last story’s events, feel more dynamic. Insofar as a proper, full-bodied JRPG goes, this would fall under the lighter categories, like the Lunar series or Breath of Fire, but it is still distinctly very Pokemon.
Black 2 and White 2 , relative to Black and White , can be compared to the difference between Red and Blue versus Gold and Silver ; built on the same infrastructure, Black 2 and White 2 don’t really deviate from their older siblings that much on a graphical level. Fundamentally, everything looks basically the same as Black and White, save for the fluidly animated trainer sprites at the beginning of battle and maybe a little cosmetic work at the edge, but the UI benefits the most from this sequel and is exceptionally better through small conveniences and interface cleaning.
The Pokedex is, for those who want to catch ‘em all, the greatest of these, with the new Habitat feature. Each area is identified in your Pokedex, and every Pokemon you’ve encountered will be identified. When you’ve encountered them all, the area will receive a “stamp” in your Pokedex, and a different one when you’ve caught everything available there.
Which is a lot of Pokemon. The roster doesn’t seem to be the full selection (649, for those of you keeping count at home), but Pokemon from previous generations are mixed in this time, adding for an immense array of different monsters to pocket. You don’t have to wait until after the dust settles in the main story to round out your team with an Arcanine or a Pidgeot or whatever, as they (in some form or another) are readily available throughout the game. This doesn’t come at a dearth of previous Pokemon, either, as all the Foonguses and Sawks and whatnot are still here, and even the variety of seasonal forms that Deerling has.
Insofar as gameplay itself, this entry is largely the same. Combat is familiar, though with some light changes to movesets and tutor availabilities, and the old metagame populars, like breeding, are still around. There have been a few changes with that, such as the Everstone having a 100% chance to pass down the parent nature, to streamline the process, but ultimately, it all works the same.
Then there are new features like the Pokemon World Tournament (which is mostly a cooler version of Battle Tower) and PokeStar, which replaces the Musicals in the previous version. Instead of doing musicals, players participate in making a movie, which has them following a script in battle in order to get one of several endings. It doesn’t contribute much to the main gameplay, but it does provide interesting prizes and, more importantly, some side stories as distractions if you don’t want to keep pounding at the main story.
Pokemon tends to rearrange tracks and add in a lot of new ones generation-by-generation, but Black 2 and White 2 did this with aplomb. The familiar jams are there, such as the battle theme and biking theme, but they’ve gotten the usual Missy Elliot-esque flip it and reverse it treatment, remixed to suit a new game. The other songs are far more impressive, though, and represent their area of application very well. Certain town musics can get annoying, but the story is paced well enough where that isn’t really an issue.
It isn’t a perfect game, however. Pokemon Black and White posed an interesting level of self-awareness, questioning how okay it was for Pokemon to essentially act as slave and gladiator to human kind. This was a moral issue that acted as a throughline to the entire game, spurring the majority of the narrative and thematic conflict in the story. The opposition of ideals represented an exceptionally compelling, for Pokemon at least, moral conflict that never quite had a resolution, as there was no right answer. While every Pokemon game has a narrative theme, none was so active or obvious as this.
Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 , unfortunately, shy away from this. Instead of indulging in the philosophical debate here, that whole subplot disintegrates into “Team Plasma is bad and steal Pokemon” without any serious deliberation to the theme. There’s no debate there, and this is immensely disappointing. Where Black and White played a risk with that, this entry, instead, favors the (no pun intended) black-and-white morality of the conventional Pokemon story, which feels like a major step back.
And taking steps back tends to be par for the course in Pokemon sequels. Features like the Pokemon following the player, VS Seeker, and the ability to toggle sprint haven’t made their glorious return to the game, despite existing in previous games. One could argue against me that the first two are design choices, but surely the sprint toggle is useful and certainly not game-breaking, as the same thing can be accomplished by simply holding the button.
Nothing is game-breaking, but this isn’t a huge step forward for the series, either. Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 are great experiments in the Pokemon series, having continued the concept experienced in Gold and Silver , while adding in plenty of new ideas to keep the series mobile. Unfortunately, it suffers from simply not moving things forward much. Black 2 and White 2 are definitely worthwhile, albeit not perfect, but fans of the series probably already knew that.
+ Excellent UI improvements
+ Superb narrative landscaping
+ Great mix of past and present Pokemon
+ Dynamic characters
- Lacks strong themes
- Very little substantial series progress made
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
For anyone who says that Pokemon is predictable, Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 Versions may just surprise you.
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