Pokémon has been an absolute triumph for Nintendo. From its complete grade schoolyard domination as a trading card game to its torrential sales on every Nintendo handheld released. Each entry in the Pokémon series has dominated commercially and, for the most part, critically.
Is Pokémon Black and White the next epic entry in the franchise? Or is it a far cry from the Pokémon perfection fans have come to love from the series?
For perspective, it helps to clarify that this is a pure Pokémon experience. You’ll beat, catch, train and grind your way through all sorts of environments over 40+ hours in order to challenge the Elite Four and became the next Pokémon League Champion. What does that mean? This game doesn’t stray from the tried and true formula that’s made Nintendo billions and billions (probably) of dollars. If you hate the Pokémon mechanics of old, this game won’t be for you.
Instead, for frequenters and die-hard fans, Pokémon Black and White is simply incredible. It’s a glorious combination of the little things and the big things. Stuff like tweaking trading systems to completely overhauling the graphic visuals of cities. Both large and small, the changes in this game will make Pokémon fans smile from ear to ear, constantly.
First up, players will be able to seek out more than 150 entirely new Pokémon. And this generation is outstanding. There’s a great mix of types, strengths and downright goofy bastards throughout the title. That said, there are clearly some Pokémon that serve as little more than feigned monsters from previous versions. Zubat is now Woobat (not kidding), Rattata is now Patrat and Pidgey is now Pidove. Throughout the game, you’re going to see a whole slew of fantastic, interesting Pokémon. But you’ll also see monsters that are a little too similar to creatures of old for comfort.
Until you complete the game, however, you will only see new Pokémon. The old ones will not show up until every thing’s all said and done, so you won’t be sifting through piles of Geodudes just to get to the good stuff. It’s all new Pokémon, all the time.
As you’re tracking all these new, glorious monsters, you’re going to be taken through a beautifully designed world. Unova, the region in Black and White has four seasons across night and day. Each environment is stunning, especially large cities. The first time you approach a major metropolis, you’ll go over a large, winding and cinematic bridge. The camera will zoom out and you’ll catch a bird’s eye view of the massive structure. And then you’ll see a skyline. For a Pokémon game, the cities in Black and White are unlike anything fans have ever seen. Are they completely necessary? No. But they look great.
The downside here is that since the cities are portrayed from different perspectives in order to give a 3D look, the top-down camera in towns is gone. That makes it a little more difficult to navigate cities instantaneously. In previous Pokémon titles, the viewpoint made exploring simple. Now that it changes so often, it’s a little more difficult to maintain your sense of direction.
Where the story’s concerned, players will be privy to standard fare. You’ll fight a team of baddies as they’re up to no good, looking too deeply into the history of Pokémon and wreaking havoc on the region. By-and-large, it’s the same tale it’s always been. However, instead of a pure rival, you have two best friends that constantly meet with you, speak friendly with you and challenge you. It’s not a relationship of hate, but a relationship of friendship. The change is, well, nice.
The other major addition is C-Gear. You can connect to friends and strangers instantly from anywhere in the Pokémon world. Not only that, but you can initiate a trade and manage your entire Pokémon collection from the trade screen. That’s right, no more needing to trade from your party only. You’ll be able to voice and video chat with players over wireless, initiate speedy contact with IR or hook up with all sorts of worldwide trainers via the online system. Through my testing, however, I found C-Gear absolutely decimated my DSi’s battery life. I wound up turning it off a lot, which the game insists will take away from my experience.
The rest of the experience consists of tweaks and upgrades. Tall grass now comes in a dark variety that sometimes attacks you with two Pokémon at once, the Poké-mart is in the Pokémon Center (awesome), when using the last potion you’re notified that it’s your last potion, two EXP. Shares and all sorts of other goodies. Beyond the major visual upgrade and the new wireless communication system, Pokémon Black and White is basically a full, systematic series of wonderful tweaks. While playing the game, I found myself hard pressed to find subtle changes that I felt hurt the experience.
I’m going to admit to something here. In a game that you will easily spend more than 50 hours enjoying, it’s extremely difficult to wrap up the full ride in a single review. Rather than gloss over every single change and moment within, I’ve decided to break this review into two messages. If you hate Pokémon, stay away. If you love Pokémon, this game is astounding. For fans, I’ll say that Pokémon Black and White could easily be considered the best in the series. But it’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution.
On that note, we at CraveOnline.com are going to extend coverage of this title beyond a single review. PC Gaming Writer Mike White and I intend to continue to put this game through its paces for the next few weeks. In that time, you can expect a slew of editorials and examinations concerning different portions of the experience. We will retroactively update this review with the new features we post.
Expect a two-way discussion of Pokémon Black and White by the middle of next week, and an editorial on the story’s subtext before that.