What’s Black and White and Pokemon all over?
Since its inception back in 1996, Pokemon has been one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises to date. It’s become such a phenomenon in popular culture that just the utterance of the name will garner a reaction. Whether that reaction is good or bad usually depends on the person’s knowledge on the subject, but, whatever the case, the name recognition is there. Now it’s time to enter the fifth generation of the Pokemon series, and fans are surely excited about what this new release has to offer.
The fine folks at Nintendo were gracious enough to invite us to a preview demonstration of Pokemon Black and White that showed off a great number of new features for the series. The most obvious is the improved graphics and interactive camera angles you’ll experience during your playthrough. They’re subtle touches, but each Pokemon in the game is now fully animated, and doesn’t appear as much like there’s someone standing behind a cardboard cutout providing movement. During battles, the attacks are also more animated than ever before, and the camera moves along to bring more life to the battle sequences. However, the most interesting use of the camera is within the game world’s new region of Unova.
Each version will feature two distinct locations unique to each game, along with completely different environmental characteristics. When wandering through the urban Black City, you’ll instantly notice the way the camera scrolls around the curved streets, zooms in when ducking through an alley, or pans back to reveal a larger scope when crossing a bridge. Although I didn’t see much of the White Forest, I was assured that it would largely appeal to the more nature-oriented individual.
It’s also important to note that each version of the game will greatly affect how you approach the gameplay. Pokemon Black’s exclusive area of Black City will feature far more trainers to battle than in Pokemon White. Because of this, the Pokemon you battle will be stronger and give you access to different rewards for defeating the trainers in your vicinity. You’ll also have an easier time acquiring items from the variety of shops throughout the city. Alternately, the White Forest in Pokemon White will contain a wide array of wild Pokemon for you to capture that are not available in Pokemon Black. Their starting levels will be much lower and you will also be able to find many other items exclusive to Pokemon White during your journey.
The battle system in Pokemon Black and White is largely the same as the previous versions, but has expanded even further with the addition of all-new Triple Battles. Players will now have a more strategic approach to their battle experience with this three-on-three format, putting great importance on the placement of Pokemon during these scenarios. For example, a Pokemon in the center position will have free reign to attack all three of the opponents, but the Pokemon in the side positions are a bit limited. Their attack range is narrower, allowing them to reach only the Pokemon located in the center or directly in front of them. Players will need to choose the center role carefully, because not only will they have more freedom to attack, but they also become more vulnerable as well.
Another new addition comes as a replacement to the Poketch, which was featured in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. The new C-Gear takes a more streamlined look at a variety of features like Wi-Fi and Wireless connectivity, while also giving much quicker access to a few different multiplayer facets. The focus seems to have been more on building a stronger community, as the game now makes better use of the Nintendo DS’s infrared communication between devices. Battles between friends can take place in a matter of minutes with IR connectivity, as well as direct trades right out of the PC box and an almost-instant exchange of friend codes. The C-Gear can also be customized in a multitude of ways by rearranging, changing, and adding icons or wallpapers to make a more aesthetically pleasing touchscreen.
Pokemon Gold and Silver first brought the concept of day and night cycles to the series, but Pokemon Black and White takes it one step further with seasonal cycles. Lasting a total of four months real time, each cycle brings a change not only to the environment around you, with changing leaf colors or snow-covered walkways, but also grants the ability to obtain Pokemon who are only available during certain times of the year.
It’s a bit overwhelming keeping track of all the new features packed in to Pokemon Black and White. From the new Pokemon Musicals, which replaces Pokemon Contests, to the brand new Feeling Check, which tests the compatibility between two players, what we saw is all just the tip of the iceberg. Fans will have plenty to keep them occupied with the introduction of over 150 new Pokemon, once the game hits store shelves on March 6th 2011. The only real question followers of the franchise need to ask themselves is which version they’re going to pick up, because deciding between the two might be difficult.
During the closing moments of my preview of the game, the two Nintendo representatives asked me which game exclusive Legendary Pokemon I preferred: Pokemon Zekrom (available in White) or Pokemon Reshiram (available in Black). I chose Zekrom based on looks alone, and was informed that their survey throughout the day revealed 100 percent of the male demographic chose Zekrom, while 100 percent of females chose Reshiram. I still stand by my choice. I already have enough of the hectic city life, so gathering Pokemon in the White Forest just sounds a bit more relaxing, and I could use the vacation.
More Pokémon, More Fun
If you want to know how popular Pokémon games are, the new Black and White versions were pre-ordered 1.08 million times in Japan, and on launch day sold 2.6 million copies. Moving on.
Many, many of us enjoy Pokémon, with its lovable, portable creatures and delightful simplicity. We may joke about how little has changed since Red and Blue, and about how much money Nintendo has made since then without really having to be at all innovative, but we love it. Well, Pokémon fans are in for a treat with the latest pair of games, as a surprising amount of new features can be found within the region of Unova.
The most exciting features to be found in Black and White are the new battle mechanics. If you thought double battles were awesome, soon you will experience the joy of triple battles! They’re a lot like double battles, only the Pokémon on the left side can’t attack their opponents on the right side, and those on the right can’t attack those on the left. The monster in the middle can attack all three. Double battles were probably the best idea to come out of Pokémon since its creation due to the fact that they require a different strategy than single battles, giving more variety in a game that could possibly be described as monotonous. Triple battles will therefore make Black and White even more exciting. The fact that some Pokémon won’t be able to reach others will add yet another level of strategy to the games.
On top of this, there will be rotation battles. These also use three Pokémon, but they fight one at a time. What makes them unlike single battles is that the player can change to one of the other two Pokémon without using a turn. It’ll be like having three Pokémon who know Baton Pass. This kind of battle will require a completely different strategy, and should be quite a bit more entertaining than using the same move with the same monster over and over.
Less exciting are the numerous other additions, such as changing seasons, actual highways with moving traffic, and of course, a whole load of new Pokémon. Nintendo continues to scoff at round numbers by adding 156 creatures. That’s more new Pokémon than has ever been in a game, even if some of them do look like old ones that were painted different colors. Then there are the features that replace old ones, like the Pokémon musicals (instead of Pokémon contests), the Battle Subway (rather than the Battle Towers/Frontiers), and the C-Gear (to replace the Pokétch). Most importantly, there are two new, awesome, legendary Pokémon to catch: Reshiram in Black and Zekrom in White.
There are also plenty of new features that are only usable by those lucky enough to own a DSi. These players will be able to access the Pokémon Global Link, which will allow them to battle random people over the internet in an effort to increase their global rank. They can also get to Dream World, where Pokémon and items from previous games can be found and brought back to Unova. The High Link feature will allow players to go into their friends’ games and complete special missions for power ups. This is all exciting news if your DS has internet. The global rating system in particular seems like it will have the potential to make some Pokéfans very obsessive.
The most surprising addition to the game is some decent graphics. Compared to anything else, they’re not impressive, but compared to all other handheld Pokémon games, they are. The camera actually moves during battles, zooming in on the creature attacking or being attacked, making for a more dynamic experience. In the city, the screen rotates around the 3D buildings. There are honest-to-god cutscenes, one of which features a green-haired guy holding a crown and a close-up of someone’s eyes. It almost looks like it could be close to being on par with the other Japanese DS games. This is unexpected considering how little the Pokémon series has focused on its visual appeal beyond the cuteness/coolness of its monsters. It might cause players to care a little bit about the story, or it might just be weird.
Speaking of story, Black and White’s villainous organization is Team Plasma, and they’re a bit different from the other Teams we’ve seen so far. They’re not just terrorists. They’re eco-terrorists. Team Plasma, led by their leader who is seriously named “N,” is dedicated to the liberation of Pokémon from humans. N and his cohorts believe that humans use Pokémon as tools, and wish to create a separate world where the monsters can live in peace. N even lets his own Pokémon go after each battle, which makes him somewhat less of a hypocrite. This may be a sign of the general maturation of the Pokéfans, because I don’t think children would appreciate this kind of moral depth. Don’t people treat Pokémon as slaves? They are captured, imprisoned, renamed, and forced to battle and (in Black and White) prance around on stage in goofy costumes. I imagine that it’s going to be hard to think of N as a “bad guy.”
The Pokémon series has never had a reputation for trying new things or having a whole lot of depth, and it’s never needed these things to be enjoyable. However, it’s always nice to see developers putting in some extra effort to keep things interesting, and if a large chunk of the Japanese population is to be believed, it’s paid off. Famitsu, the weekly Japanese magazine, gave Pokémon Black / White a perfect score of forty out of forty. It’s hard to imagine that the series has improved so much as to be perfect, but I suspect that Black and White will be an improvement—one which I am looking forward to playing.