for my first game of 2013 i finally finished up pokemon black for DS. although the critics generally seemed to be excited about the newest edition, i’ve taken a much more skeptical view of the amount that the series evolves between releases, and so my expectations weren’t too high. although i did like the fact that they created a whole new roster of 150+ pokemon for the main part of the game, many times the differences felt fairly minor. does it really matter if the bats in the caves are swoobats rather than zubats or that instead of geodudes there are boldores? but there were enough new type combinations (such as joltik, a new bug + lightning type) that it did feel like the designers were making an effort to expand the universe.
another area that people praised was the more-serious story of a crusader trying to free all pokemon from their enslavement. maybe i just didn’t take it seriously enough, but this new type of story didn’t draw me in at all and it didn’t feel much better than the usual “team rocket wants to take over the world” storylines. also among the main new features were the 3-on-3 battles and the rotation battles. these did help shake things up a bit, but they didn’t happen that often and so didn’t force you to focus on designing your team for those types of battle. which was fine by me, since i usually just create a team and stick with it through to the end.
the graphics are better than diamond and pearl (and features a lot of nice 3-D environments that will look great when the inevitable 3DS iteration of the series arrives), particularly in the battles which feel more dynamic due to the pokemon being slightly animated. the battles themselves are noticeably faster-paced than its predecessors with minimal time between messages. one major annoyance (spoiler alert) is the fact that to win the title of pokemon champion you have to battle the elite 4 twice, once to end the first part of the game, and the other after the last 1/3 of the map has opened up. i’d actually beaten the elite 4 the first time a couple of months ago but was really disheartened at having to keep playing to really call the game finished. there’s still a lot to do, though, and the last part of the game goes by without too much tedium. there’s a sidequest to track down the six sages (although it’s somewhat of a let-down that you don’t get anything for doing so, other than TMs), and there are a lot of high-level trainers to go up against, including cynthia (the champion from diamond and pearl) herself.
[geeky aside: for those interested, my final 5 consisted of conkeldurr, serperior, chandelure, vanilluxe, and garbodor. the three who had second abilities all didn’t have my choice (e.g. conkeldurr had guts instead of sheer force), and oftentimes their natures didn’t help much either. serperior was as solid as you’d expect a starter to be, and conkeldurr ended up being a key player with its high physical attacks and HP. garbodor and chandelure were pretty solid, although vanilluxe was fairly weak and had terrible defense.]
another annoyance was that to “see” all 154 pokemon (152 plus victini and keldeo) of the unova pokedex you have to jump through some hoops, namely: train a couple of the pokemon yourself (namely to evolve ferroseed to ferrothorn and deino to zweilous) since you never see a trainer who has them, hatch one (rufflet from breeding a braviary, who you have to get in a trade from pokemon white), and trade several others, although you can do so over wi-fi since they appear within the game (including zorua/zoroark, who was only available as an event pokemon). the most annoying part of completing your unova pokedex is that to catch the final legendary, landorus, you have to have a legendary from the other game of the pair (thundurus or tornadus). luckily i had a used copy of pokemon white that i was able to exploit, but this would be a much bigger problem for people who didn’t and didn’t want to play through the game twice. anyway, this helped me get high enough to beat alder and become the champion, so i guess i can’t complain too much that finishing seeing all the pokemon takes more effort than it did in D/P.
one other annoyance is that pokemon white has an advantage over black b/c the unique area it includes (the white forest vs. black’s city) has pokemon you can catch in it, whereas there are no wild pokemon in the black city. this seems unfair to owners of pokemon black, and i haven’t seen any advantage that black has over white that would counterbalance it.
despite my complaints, this was a perfectly fine, if not revolutionary, entry in the series. what really made the game more enjoyable, though, were the accompanying “games” that enhanced the experience. although the pokemon games have had spin-offs since the game boy color days and the pokemon global terminal website was created to complement D/P, the pokemon global link and pokedex 3D felt fresh. the former provides the same ability as the global terminal did to see trades and various useless stats such as the country that spends the most time fishing in the games, but the global link is much more integrated into the games themselves.
the global link’s dream world provides a way to catch older-generation pokemon from early on in the game with unique abilities (via generally entertaining minigames), and also moves the berry-planting and secret base features out of the games and into the website. this actually turns out to be a great design decision since you can focus your game-playing time on exploring the game world and your time away from your game with more casual activities (well, relatively speaking anyway), and plus you can send items from the dream world back to your game as well. the game developers have tied decorating your house with the number of berries you’ve harvested, and collecting all the different types of berries via trades in the dream world is a fun diversion. i’ve gotten somewhat addicted to collecting all the available pokemon dolls (as you can see in the out-of-date screenshot of my dream world house).
pokedex 3D is less “essential”, but also makes for a very nice diversion. athough the info on evolutions, movesets, and move descriptions, can all be found online, it’s great to see the pokemon in 3D instead of as sprites (previously only seen on console games such as stadium and colosseum and the cartoons), not to mention actual 3D via the 3DS’s unique glasses-free feature. the app tried to play up the trading aspect of pokemon in order to unlock more of your pokedex, but it was more of an inconvenience than an enjoyable task. the app also tried to play up its AR aspects, which i mostly ignored for the same reasons that i ignored the character and mii features of AR games. but in general this was a nice complement to the black and white games: even though it was free it would’ve been worth a few bucks at least. i don’t think i have the need to shell out $15 for the pro version, that features all the pokemon, but knowing me i’m sure i will eventually.
i seem to be saying this a lot, but all in all gen V of pokemon wasn’t revolutionary but had just enough that was new (particularly in its two complementing games) to make it worthwhile. i have zero interest in playing their “sequels” black 2 and white 2 since despite claims they still seem to be more remix than evolution, but hopefully the next generation will actually offer something truly new. hopefully!
minor evolutions in pokemon black and white links:
– bulbapedia continues to be my main resource for all thing pokemon. here’s the link to the page on black and white.
– whenever i play a new pokemon game i often end up reading about training stats and all that, but i never get into it much. but it’s kind of fun to read about effort values and EV yields.
– the comprehensive tier ranking and strategies at smogon university are also interesting to read and i’m sure could be a huge time suck if you got into it. i find that i learn something new every time i dip into it, such as about rarer pokemon like shedinja who apparently has only 1 HP. yes, i know i’m far from being a pokemon master. 😉
– tidbits from junichi masuda’s (the director’s) twitter on the character called “N”
– review at nintendolife.com
– funny connection between munna and the very first pokemon game
– battle tips and original concept art for zoroark and tepig from officialnintendomagazine.co.uk
– entry on wikipedia