majormitch's Pocket Monsters Black (Nintendo DS) review

A fitting swan song

Pokemon is one of the most successful franchises in gaming history, and Black/White is bigger and better than ever. Everything you know and love about Pokemon remains fully intact- this is still a fun, unique RPG that manages to strike a good balance between accessibility and depth. It may not drastically change or improve those very fundamentals we've known since 1998, but that doesn't stop Black/White from being a must buy for anyone who's ever liked anything about Pokemon.

Pokemon games have always had an accessible "my first RPG" kind of feel to them, and Black/White is no different. It's super easy to get your teeth into the game's basic mechanics, but that doesn't mean there isn't sufficient depth to be found here. Balancing a team to handle the wide variety of Pokemon types and moves available can be as intricate a process as you want it to be, especially given that Black/White adds a hearty 156 new Pokemon to the mix. The game smartly gives you access to only the new guys until you complete the main game, which both serves as a great way to keep everything from getting overwhelming, and also to showcase the new stuff. There are some great additions to the roster as well, and I even came away with some new favorites. It's a testament to the artistic team at Game Freak, and one of the things that keeps the series going strong- it's all too easy to get attached to the guys in your team.

The campaign in Black/White is also a satisfying length, and there is plenty of bonus content available upon completion. A lot of additional areas open up, Pokemon from the older games get added in, and of course, you can engage in "competitive" Pokemon battling. Such fights can be incredibly thrilling, but getting to that point is a convoluted mess. Learning the intricacies of IVs and EVs is a chore, and the actual process of training a "competitive" team is not only dull, but takes forever and a day. In fact, that's one of the biggest problems with the game as a whole- nothing moves at a reasonable pace. The story is a slow burn, navigating menus is clunky, and battles aren't as snappy as they could be. This is all par for the course with the series, and it's the kind of stuff that seems like it'd be easy to fix after all these years. Even so, the game does get some visual and audio improvements, and has more robust online options than ever. I'm still waiting for some kind of online matchmaking that lets me use a full team of six, but Black/White's online features are otherwise great.

Black/White follows the Pokemon blueprint pretty closely overall, which could be a positive or a negative depending on how you look at it. I would certainly love to see Pokemon improved in a few key areas, yet the series is also a relatively unique experience that can't be had anywhere else. So if you're hellbent on getting something completely new, then don't bother. But if you either have a sweet spot for the Pokemon formula or have never played a Pokemon game before, then Black/White should prove to be a fitting swan song for the Nintendo DS.

For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.

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