Review: Pokémon Black/White

Pokémon fever is back and ready to rekindle the spirit that first captured your imagination

Format: DS Dev: Game Freak Pub: Nintendo Out: 04/03/11 Players: 1-5

It’s one of the most famous video game franchises of our generation and back in the late 90s swarmed playgrounds and Game Boys everywhere. If you have no idea what Pokémon is and need and outline description, you should drop out of uni now and go have another childhood. Seriously, go now.

Pokémon Black/White is the newest installation of the franchise and is the second new generation on Nintendo’s freshly surpassed DS console. The core gameplay isn’t far removed from the first generation Red/Blue games we know and love. You still leave your home and mother to travel the world, you still pick one of three starter Pokémon from your local professor and you still journey across different cities gaining eight gym badges in order to face the Elite Four at the end.

In fact, there isn’t a lot in the game that won’t seem familiar to anybody that’s played a Pokémon game before, but it’s hard to see that as a bad thing. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The game does however bring us new, updated visuals in a new, more 3D environment, and it’s great. The new Unova region was designed by drawing inspiration from New York rather than Japan in previous games. Despite an awkwardly distasteful ‘Ground Zero’ area, the new areas provide us with great looking city scenery.

Battle mechanics are still the old turn-based system we’ve seen before, but have been slightly updated with infrequent double or triple fights. Random encounters with wild Pokémon in grass areas are still here but are, again, infrequent ‘shaky grass’ areas that occasionally pop up and offer you rarer wild Pokémon.

A new Pokémon game means whole new Pokémon, of course. A frequent complaint about the new games are how the new Pokémon will “never be as good as the originals” and though that might be true, the mystery of what your favourite will evolve into and how strong they are going to be adds a level of excitement I had playing the original games.

As soon as you start you’ll be amazed at how sucked in you’ll become. Pokémon Black/White is far more story-driven than any other game in the franchise and it really pays off. Instead of progressing throughout the cities with no purpose other than getting shiny badges, Black/White offers a great, but not convoluted, storyline revolving around the freedom of Pokémon from their human owners. I was pleasantly surprised with the plot curveball thrown in this time round – don’t think anyone was expecting this sort of moral dilemma in a Pokémon title.

The incorporation of an innovative online community drags this game into the new decade and adds a new level you could only dream of back on the Game Boy Colour. You can trade and battle with players from anywhere in the world, the days of link cables are a thing of the past. As always, the difference between the different colours is minimal at best. With only a few title exclusive Pokémon, only the most hardcore of gamers will buy both. Each title has an exclusive area, you’ll either find the ‘White Forest’ or ‘Black City’, but neither is particularly vital to the experience. If you find yourself having to choose, I’d recommend Black purely on ‘Black City’ having slightly more to offer.

I haven’t been as absorbed in any game as I have been in Pokémon White for a long time. Game Freak have truly perfected the formula for these games. Critics will focus on the lack of change in these newest titles, but it’s clear the adding of frivolous new features for the sake of it would detract how great this arguably boiled down game is. The thrill of catching and training Pokémon is back with vengeance. Any fans of the original games will have their faith rekindled with these games and any one new to the series is in for a treat. Haven’t had this much fun on a game in a long time, definitely my game of the year so far.

Dan Key

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