Pokémon Black/White Version 2 Review
Pokémon Black/White Version 2 Box Art
System: DS
Dev: Game Freak
Pub: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
Release: October 7, 2012
Players: 1 + Multiplayer Activities
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence
Unova All Ova' Again
by Becky Cunningham

In some ways, a review of a Pokémon game boils down to a simple question: Do you like Pokémon? The basic formula of the venerable series has changed little over the years: Set out on a journey to become a Pokémon master, catch a bunch of alternately cute and strange monsters, pit them against other monsters in turn-based battles, and progress through the nation's gym badge system until you get the chance to take on the Elite Four and beat the previous Pokémon champion into the ground.

Of course, the series has become more complex and interesting over the years, and this fifth generation of Pokémon games places a major emphasis on connectivity, both with other players and with the suite of supporting products that The Pokémon Company has produced. The original Pokémon Black and White featured Unova, a far-off region of the world that was populated only with new Pokémon until after the player had toppled the Elite Four and Champion. It also dedicated a full half of the DS screen real estate to a passers-by multiplayer interface—something rarely useful to us spaced-apart North Americans. Though it was a solid series entry, I found it overall to be lacking compared to the recent Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes, having moved a few steps backwards in terms of interface and quality of life improvements.

Pokémon Black/White Version 2 Screenshot

Now, for the first time, The Pokémon Company is releasing a direct sequel to a previous Pokémon title instead of a simple enhanced third version. Pokémon Black/White Version 2 continues the story of Team Plasma two years after the hero of Pokémon Black/White defeated the evil Ghetsis, who hid his scheme to control the world behind a front of "freeing" Pokémon from humans. While most of Unova believes that Team Plasma has disbanded, it has actually split into two factions. One has gone full evil and is stealing Pokémon for its own personal gain, while the other is trying to make up for what it did under Ghetsis' leadership by caring for orphaned Pokémon.

It's a pretty decent story as far as Pokémon games go, and Black/White 2 has the most coherent storytelling method yet. This is due to the role of the traditional "Rival" character in the game. This time around, he's a genuinely nice guy who is a friend of the main character. He has a very personal reason for going after Team Plasma, and you'll want to help him once you find out what that reason is. Instead of showing up at inopportune moments to challenge the player to a duel just to be a jerk, this Rival encourages the player to get stronger, and you and he work together at regular intervals through the story. His presence, plus that of various other major characters (many of whom return from the original Black/White) throughout the game, gives the story a far better sense of direction and progression than Pokémon games usually have. Though the player returns to familiar areas throughout the game, they've changed a fair bit, so they're still relatively interesting to explore.

Pokémon Black/White Version 2 Screenshot

Of course, the bulk of Pokémon gameplay still involves capturing and battling Pokémon. While the original Black/White featured nothing but Unova-region Pokémon, that decision led to a lack of Pokémon diversity in some areas. Black/White 2 adds a healthy selection of older Pokémon to the roster, even shaking up what you'd normally find in early areas a bit. For example, the first Fighting Pokémon the character encounters isn't the traditional Machop, but a far more stylish and popular Pokémon from a previous generation. Things get a bit more predictable after the first few areas, when the character returns to the areas of Unova that were present in the first game, but the overall difficulty of the battles has been upped slightly due to more complex movesets of the wild Pokémon. This is a nice bone to throw to Pokémon veterans, who will actually need to think a bit about the battles in the single-player campaign for a change.

The battle system itself hasn't changed a bit since Black and White, though the new gimmick battles like triple and rotation battles show up more frequently. Instead, Game Freak has worked on giving players plenty of things to do beyond simply trolling the tall grass and grinding endlessly. While the underwhelming musical theater from the previous game returns, the star of the show is the Pokéstar Studios, a movie-making minigame that's actually rather fun. The player films a Pokémon fighting sequence, being careful to follow instructions from the movie's script as closely as possible and getting the occasional chance to improvise a line. Once filming is complete, the full movie with all the lines and special effects can be viewed. If the player does well during filming, the movie will be a success and the writers may pen a sequel.

Pokémon Black/White Version 2 Screenshot

Other new features are similarly well-made. Join Avenue is a row of very useful shops that expands as the player interacts with others locally or via Wi-Fi. Even loner players can receive new shops by gaining fans from Pokéstar Studios. The Pokémon World Tournament allows players to fight in tournaments against Gym Leaders and Champions from previous games. A Memory Link feature allows the player to transfer information from a Black/White save game, which unlocks a series of events that show what's happened in the last two years, along with having characters refer to the previous Unova Champion by name. There's even the ability to place opposing trainers in "easy" or "challenging" mode after the main game has been completed, though this would have been nicer as a difficulty option at the beginning of the game.

Several small quality-of-life changes end up making a big difference in Black/White 2, as well. The Pokémon box system is more convenient and features the ability to batch-move Pokémon around. If a player is using Repels and one wears out, the game automatically asks if s/he wants to use another, a nice small touch. The "Extralink" online activities are now far easier to engage in and can be done solo.

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