theuselessgod's Pocket Monsters Black (Nintendo DS) review

Not quite the revolution, but still the best Pokemon game to date

Pokemon Black/White

The Short

Pros

- All new adventure with 152 new pokemon

- You won't see any pokemon from previous generations during your initial adventure through the game world; all new pokemon

- Battles are presented in pseudo 3D for the first time, with the pokemon being fully animated throughout

- Excellent graphics and music

- Day/Night cycle as well as a monthly seasonal cycle

- TMs can now be used repeatedly

- Story plays a much bigger role, with more characters and variations on the theme than any other Pokemon game

- Excellent music

- Marked as a "new" Pokemon game, it certainly feels much different than its predecessors, mostly for the better

Cons

- Despite having "new" pokemon, they are all still very similar to previous generation's

- Still 2D sprites, which means when they zoom in on the new 3D plane they look kind of...bad

- Bottom screen is replaced by the C-Gear, which uses wireless features that the causal player will probably never use

- No new region to visit after the game, though it does have a lot of post game content

We are coming to the (current) end of our Pokemon journey

The Long

It's been a long time since Pokemon Red/Blue started this whole mad craze. The obsession has died down a little, though the series still pulls both the dedicated fans and newcomers with every release. Game Freak and Nintendo have managed to do well keeping with the same formula, despite calls to change it over the years. After rereleasing HeartGold/SoulSilver, fans had been wanting something new from their Pokemon. Seeing the remake really made people (myself included) see how much has stayed the same, and we were ready for not just another rerelease (like Pokemon Diamond/Pearl)

So here we are, with Pokemon White/Black, the latest in the Pokemon franchise. Nintendo made a big deal saying this was a brand new take on the Pokemon series, with more changes than you can shake a stick at. Does it live up to fan expectations?

Battles look quite good.

Well, there are certainly the laundry list of changes and improvements here. Let's blitz through them, shall we?

Improved Graphics - Probably one of the biggest pushes, the battlefields are now in actual 3D, meaning you can zoom in and out, pan, and do all sorts of other crazy things to keep the action fast. While it looks good, the battles still take place in Gradiantland, and the characters are still pixelated sprites (albeit animated ones). this means when it zooms and pans around them, when you get close they look kind of...bad. High resolution pokemon probably would have helped them look less bad. But I still think it's a good start, and the ability for the game to provide camera control spices up the battles in ways that we haven't seen before.

Other improved graphics are the overworld, which has again seen an overhaul. There's much more 3D in the world this time (though again: you are still a 2D sprite). Cities can be spun around, and you aren't locked to a simple "overhead" view in every situation. It looks really good, so kudos to them for that. As it stands, this is probably the best looking Pokemon game yet, if you can get over the pixelated battle graphics.

City graphics look loads better, and give a better sense of scope

Day/Night and Seasonal Cycles - The Day/Night thing is back, though it's even better in this one (the cities at night, as you can see above, is really cool), but as an added bonus there are seasons now. They don't follow the actual seasons, but change on a monthly (real time) basis. This is really cool, because it also switches up which pokemon are available when, as well as changing the way the entire game world looks.

Musical Changes - The music in this game is really good, but they've done some tweaks that make it better. In battles, if your pokemon run low on health the battle song will fade into a more intense, stressful song until you put out one with more life. And when battling bosses (Gym leaders), when they are on their final pokemon the song also changes to a more victorious one. It's a little thing, but a good one.

Team Plasma's song is caaaatchy.

Better Story - The Pokemon games have always been very sparse when it comes to story, and for good reason. It works because you are meant to carve your own path and use your own imagination. Diamond/Pearl tried to do a balance of both telling you a story and making you "choose your own adventure," and it worked ok but not great. Pokemon Black/White, however, actually has a really well crafted story that provides the perfect balance between player investment and the game telling you what is going on. The "Team" (aka the bad guys) this round are Team Plasma, who aren't trying to conquer the world or blow anything up but rather are fighting for pokemon rights. It's a really interesting setup (considering the moral ramification of capturing animals for the sole purpose of making them fight forever for you), but they never get very deep with it, probably because it's still a kid's game. The lack of depth is a little unfortunate, but it is still the strongest and most interesting story in the series.

You also have two "rivals" in this game, who leave with you and both take very unique paths on both pokemon training and careers. It's neat to see how other people in this world aren't all just wanted to be pokemon battlers.

This game has a unique story, which is a good step forward for this series

All new pokemon - Unlike the previous games, where it was sort of a mis-mash of every pokemon from every single game, Black/White only has the brand new 152 pokemon until you've beaten the entire game, meaning you won't see any repeats your first run. While this is actually really cool, the "new" pokemon are almost carbon copies of the old ones. Geodudes are replaced with Roggenrollas, which are the exact same type, level at almost the same level, and evolve the same way. So they are new pokemon, I guess, though the promise of the experience being wholly unique isn't entire accurate.

Some battle changes - Now there are triple battles (which are exactly what they sound like), and rotation battles (where you can switch between three to fight one-at-a-time). It's a fairly basic change, but a decent one.

Pokemon Musical - This isn't a pro, though it did replace the awful contests. Now they can be in a musical! That sucks too. Done.

The new pokemon are some of the best

Those are the basic improvements, and they are complimented by an improved UI, a faster-paced battle system, and some of the best looking new pokemon since Gold/Silver's batch. I'm pretty picky and jaded against my pokemon, so seeing new ones that actually look good and have that needed mix of "unique" and "kind of insane" that first the series well.

People complain about Vanillish, but I think it's awesome, in a sort of stupid way

The music in this game is also a return to form, with some of the best songs in the series. The boss/Gym songs are all excellent, the Team Plasma battles (as you can hear above) are great, and it even has a remix version of that kickin Cynthia song from Pearl/Diamond/Platinum that's even faster and more intense. I'm glad that song finally got a good game.

The new final boss song is also excellent.

While I still stand by the fact that Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver are my favorite on the DS (and perhaps favorite ever), I will openly admit that Black/White is technically a superior Pokemon game. While it isn't exactly the alleged revolution to the formula that Nintendo claimed, it still makes enough major improvements and refinements to help this game feel more modern than ever before. It's a hard call whether to recommend this game or SoulSilver, so I'll just tell you that you should buy both, and play SoulSilver first. Because for all my nostalgia, it's hard to go back to any other Pokemon game after playing White/Black. It's a large step in a right direction, and here's hoping Black/White Version 2 continue with the improvements.

So you should go get this game. Right now. Five out of five stars.

Hooray for new battle graphics.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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