Tuesday 15 March 2011

Game Review - Pokemon Black & White

Format: DS

I think that without a doubt my favourite games to review are the Pokemon titles on Nintendo’s handhelds. There’s just something totally mesmerizing and special with every installment of the series and I just can’t for the life of me, not buy them. Pokemon Black and White are unique additions to Game Freak’s franchise, predominately because this is the first time we have seen two sets of Pokemon games come out for the same handheld. Indeed as we come to the end of the Nintendo DS’s stint in the limelight, it is graced with one of the most solid RPG series to ever be created. This is not to say that this is the same game again; improvements have been made. While Black and White stick to the traditional formula that we all know and love, there are subtle changes in pretty much every aspect of the games, making them the most in-depth, enjoyable and fun installments in the Pokemon series.

From this point on I am just going to refer to the games as Pokemon to ease unnecessary pluralisation of everything that I say. Pokemon begins and feels much like every other Pokemon game you have experienced, a professor explains the world to you and gives you your very own creature to take on a life-changing adventure full of mystery, drama and excitement. At first glance little has changed, but it is still early days as the game has to cater for newcomers and explain how everything works. Speaking of newcomers, I write Pokemon reviews based on the assumption that everyone understands how they work, I find it hard to believe that no one has at least encountered a Pokemon game before. For those of you who are new, the premise is simple, the execution of said premise, is a wonderful adventure filled with challenge.

In the world of Pokemon you are assigned a Pokedex; a recording device. Your goal is two-fold, you must find all existing Pokemon and fill up your Pokedex, which is by no means an easy task considering there are now over 500 Pokemon with 5 generations of critters to see between games. A more realistic goal is to beat 8 Gym Leaders across the world and acquire their badges, which in turn allow you to partake in the Pokemon League and become the Champion of the Unova region. Using Pokemon also goes from simple to incredibly tactical if you choose to take the more competitive route. Pokemon come in many shapes and forms and all range in different elements. Certain elements are stronger against other elements and this rock-paper-scissor style mechanic is how the game begins. Once you dwell deeper into the game you will find that it is a lot more complicated than said mechanic, as Pokemon become available in dual-types, have different attributes, different abilities, different move-pools and plenty more to keep you occupied with. Needless to say, the stereotype that Pokemon is merely for children is absolute nonsense as RPG lovers alike will find an incredibly fulfilling and engaging game on their hands should they choose to partake in the Pokemon world.

So what does make this installment of Pokemon different from all the others so far in the series? First of all, an entire new batch of Pokemon, 150 to be precise. The new additions unfortunately are the worst the series has ever offered in terms of aesthetic design. Ice-cream cones, chandeliers, an actual schnauzer dog, ideas were certainly not flowing through the design team when they thought of these little guys. Fortunately and like with all the other games in the series, you will find certain Pokemon that you will like and even those who you don’t immediately take a liking to, you will bond with as Pokemon does what it does best, creates a bond between you and the creatures you travel with. If you do happen to be incredibly stubborn, you will be glad to know that upon completion you will be allowed to trade over all of your old favourites onto the new games and explore the new world with your previous teams.

Next up, the new set of bad guys. Team Plasma meddle in and around your journey preaching the ideas of equality between human beings and Pokemon and how essentially, we should not treat them as pets and make them battle each other, very anti-pet cruelty. In all seriousness, the game is a lot more story driven than any of the previous games that felt like any and all dialogue was completely pointless to your adventure. You do inevitably get sucked into the ordeals and these morale questions do get you thinking and it’s when you start engaging with your own morality is when you really feel engrossed in Pokemon’s story.

The graphics have also been upgraded somewhat. While characters in the world and Pokemon still look the same, environments are much more vibrant and finally the series has introduced large buildings and massive cities, which with the help of a brand new camera angle, really give you a sense of their size and depth. In particular is this ridiculous fascination with massive bridges; I guess the designers really wanted to show off their ability to understand scale of size, as they opt to make you pointlessly cross bridge after bridge for no apparent reason. Pokemon in-battle have been given some animation movement, but it is still the same throw a move at your opponent’s sprite and then they throw one back. Actually the moves have been cleaned up to and made more visually pleasing and destructive. It’s just a shame the Pokemon don’t react to the moves. Audio is perhaps Pokemon’s weakest attribute, as once again the annoying squeaks and squeals of the Pokemon feel like they have come straight out the original Game-boy. The music, while charming, doesn’t really add any drama to the serious moments the game offers, but the travel music plays the role well as you go from location to location.

The introduction of triple-battles and rotation battles is also an interesting and entertaining addition to the Pokemon formula. Triple-battles does pretty much what it says on the tin, pitting 3 on 3 with certain move restrictions, for example your left Pokemon cannot use a physical move on your opponent’s furthest right Pokemon due to the distance. Rotation battles are even more strategic, with only your front Pokemon being able to take damage, you and your opponent choose whether to attack or to use your turn to rotate another creature to the front line. This opens up for some exhilarating battles and is an example of how the series can progress.

Pokemon is all about interactivity and with every installment of the franchise, Game Freak have tried to make connecting and playing with your friends easier and easier. Well, with the introduction of the C-Gear, things have gotten even more accessible. Always on your bottom touch-screen unless in battle, C-Gear allows you to instantly battle and trade with friends wherever you are in the game and it even allows you to trade Pokemon in your PC, so no more needing to run back to a Pokemon Centre, fetching the Pokemon out of the PC and then running to the trade and battle corner, this is all stream-lined for a smooth and easy-to-access experience.

Ultimately Pokemon is an iconic franchise, one that has one of the best traditional RPG formulas of any game in the last 20 years. Constant improvements to the series’ have made it the absolute blast it is today. While the new Pokemon might not be the best the series’ has had to offer, the game itself is probably the best. This is the hand-held game to own, no other game will suck you in and keep you invested for as long, I should know, having averaged 70 + hours on every one of my copies I’ve owned over the years and a whopping 120 on Platinum. Pokemon Black and White are in my opinion an enhancement on the best game ever made. Pokemon is back and it’s freaking awesome.

Technical presentation – 7.0

Graphics – 7.0

Game-play – 10.0

Replay value – 9.0

Final score – 9.0 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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