Welcome Back to Obsession. We Missed You!
In the world of Pokémon, it seems life culminates at adolescence, when all children are sent off into the world to have a Pokémon adventure. And what adventures these kids have! Though the structure is always the same (wander around in the tall grass for hours finding Pokémon and then go beat gym leaders), Pokémon is that rare series that works primarily because we know what to expect from it. There’s never been any real surprises when you pick up a Pokémon title (in terms of gameplay), and honestly, I don’t think Pokémon fans would have it any other way.
That’s why when you hear that Pokémon Black and White is still the same game, you should be excited. Sure, there have been some visual tweaks, and some added online functionality, but at the end of the day, you’re still going to be wandering through the tall grass for hours on end waiting for that rare Pokémon to finally appear. Is this a bad thing? No. Is it expected? Absolutely.
But as long as you’re cool with the lack of formula-changing in Pokémon Black and White (and really, who wouldn’t be?), then you’ll have a lot of fun with Black and White. The Unova region is absolutely massive, and there is plenty of room to explore and find the 156 new Pokémon hidden between the two games. One thing that surprised me was how organized Unova was, compared to Sinnoh and Johto. It almost feels linear, which is a good thing if you have a tendency to get lost, but not if you want to return to an area near the beginning of the game in a quick fashion.
Unfortunately, this becomes a problem, as the game encourages you to re-visit areas frequently to find new Pokémon. Black and White have a new season feature that changes both the environment and the available Pokémon depending on the time of year. The game’s internal time-system has the seasons changing every three months, and you’ll have to do a lot of backtracking every season if you are trying to catch all the Pokémon on your game card without trading. Still, the seasons system is engaging, and it keeps you immersed in the game far beyond the simplistic day/night system that was used previously.
Also new to Pokémon Black and White are triple battles and rotation battles. Triple battles are fairly straightforward and allow players to engage in 3-on-3 Pokémon battles. Rotation battles are similar, except instead of using all three Pokémon at once, you can rotate between the three Pokémon you call without using a turn as you normally would. These battles help break up the monotony that is grinding in the Pokémon universe.
The biggest new feature is the completely-overhauled online mode, which adds considerable depth to the experience. The game uses a new connection mechanic, known as “C-Gear,” to facilitate the online features of the game. Once the C-Gear is obtained, players can connect online to play in random battles, trade items, and upload their Pokémon data to the Pokémon “Dream World.” Although you will still need friend codes to play with specific players, the random battles are a certainly a welcome feature, and one that is long overdue for the series at-large. The dream world feature is a pretty nifty add-on and allows you to view your Pokémon and play mini-games with it online, when you are away from your Nintendo DS. Though participating in the Dream World feature is not a core part of the gameplay, it is a cool little add-on, and one Pokémon fans will surely appreciate when the companion website launches later this spring.
Visually, Pokémon Black and White has been substantially upgraded from its predecessors. The world of Unova is more detailed than the world of Sinnoh, and there are a lot more animated elements. The interface has also changed considerably, and the always-on time mechanic has been replaced with a more intuitive display. The visuals during battle sequences have been upgraded, Pokémon models are a lot crisper, and battles feature a roaming camera that shifts focus every so often. Though the game still retains its signature pixel-based look, everything seems smoother this time around, and the upgrades definitely add to the overall experience.
Though your time with these games will likely mirror the same core experience you’ve had with every Pokémon game since Gold/Silver, with 600+ Pokémon now necessary to complete your Pokédex, you’re likely to get plenty of replay value out of this one, and the addition of an expansive online mode makes it easier than ever for you to catch ’em all. While the core experience and story mode will probably only take astute gamers ten hours or so to complete, the meta-game is designed to take a very long time, and the changing of the seasons, coupled with the Pokémon that must be found on alternate Pokémon titles ensures that if you really want to go for 100% completion, you’ll have to commit some serious time to your game.
Pokémon Black and White is a no-brainer for fans of the series, and on the off-chance that you’ve never picked up a Pokémon game before (where have you been for the last decade?), Pokémon’s simple formula makes it easy to jump right in and start collecting. Though the latest two entries don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the delightful familiarity, coupled with the much-improved online experience, make this game an easy recommendation, and one that will definitely pull you back into Pokémon obsession. I know I’m trembling right now just thinking about finding time to level up my Oshawott just a little bit more before getting back to work, going to sleep, or doing anything else. It sounds crazy, but Pokémon is just that important.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
Pixel-based graphics have definitely been upgraded since Diamond/Pearl, and look great. 4.2 Control
Button and touch-based controls are simple and intuitive. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There are both new and familiar tunes in Pokémon Black and White, and they all sound great. 5.0 Play Value
With more than 600 Pokémon to catch, you won’t be putting this game down any time soon. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best