Review by Senran
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Life is good for the staff behind Pokemon games. The series is still full of vivacity, the games seem to only increase in sales with each new addition, and the series as a whole has maintained an excellent standard of quality, despite its sage-like age in the modern world. Last year, fans were blessed with the flawless Pokemon Gold and Silver remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver, after eons of begging and speculation. But it wasn't long after the release of those games in North America that the next generation of Pokemon was announced. After completing HeartGold, I really had a hard time believing that HeartGold and SoulSilver could be topped in terms of quality. I weathered the storm that was Black and White's pre-release wanting to hate the games, initially having nothing but bad things to say about much of what I saw before the games were released anywhere. But Game Freak managed to create a game that frankly gave me no choice but to love unconditionally, as I have every other entry in the series. Pokemon Black and White managed to push aside my initial reluctance to admit that any of the games could top the Gold and Silver remakes. They are worthy of positive comparisons to HeartGold and SoulSilver, and in some ways even manage to top them.
Game play: 10/10. Each new entry in the Pokemon series seems to add its own contribution to the basic formula of game play in the series, unprecedented or not. Big changes include Gold and Silver's weather system, and Diamond and Pearl's physical and special split of moves. In terms of standard battling, Black and White really don't make much of a bang. The only change would be in the aesthetics department, as all sprites are now constantly animated throughout battles, in contrast to only going as far as a little dance or pose at the start of a battle in the games of the past. Black and White do, however, bring two new types of battles to the fray - triple battles and rotation battles. If you're familiar with the double battles introduced in Ruby and Sapphire, then you probably already have a hunch of what triple battles are. Instead of sending just one or two of your Pokemon out to battle, you send out three. Rotation battles are little more innovative, however. You send out three Pokemon just as you would in a triple battle, but only one Pokemon fights at a time. The gimmick, however, is that you can rotate exactly who is battling at your command. These two new types of battles are new and no way a bad idea, but they aren't necessarily big news.
What really deserves praise are the very designs of new Pokemon themselves. it's not a new generation without a truck-load of new Pokemon waiting for you to catch and meet. But the new species introduced in Black and White stand out from the others because of the sheer amount of quality. Compared to Pokemon introduced in previous generations, the number of great designs greatly outweighs the amount of bad designs, by an excellent ratio. Coming from someone who started off in Kanto with Blue version, Black and White mark the first time that the six-Pokemon-per-party rule actually makes me feel limited, since there were so many designs that I loved but didn't have the space to use (Cinccino, Leavanny, Chandelure, I could go on). In my opinion, when the words "bad fifth generation designs" come to mind, I can only think of a handful of Pokemon (Stunfisk, the Tympole line). I'm sure that even veterans who only love the original 151 designs can find at least six Pokemon from the Unova region that they will cherish. The fact that there is great diversity throughout areas in terms of wild Pokemon only makes things all the more enjoyable.
Speaking of areas, Black and White's Unova region does not disappoint. Barring Ruby and Sapphire's Hoenn, the regions of Pokemon were never really worth critical acclaim. It seemed to always be city-town-forest-city-cave, rinse, repeat. Unova's cities and towns are the first time since Hoenn that the areas feel individual. Unova features a New York City-like metropolis, an amusement park-themed city, and even a city that is visually different based on whether you're playing Black or White. The region also isn't polluted in caves, streams, forests and other hell-holes, which is great. But the best part may arguably be that Hidden Moves are unnecessary to traverse Unova. HMs have long plagued the Pokemon series, but in this game, they're only prominent in post-game areas. But even that isn't much. One veteran-HM, Strength, can even let you push boulders into holes to make permanent shortcuts and paths.
Black and White continue with the tradition started in Ruby and Sapphire of having some kind of non-battling diversion called Pokemon Musicals. The Musical Hall, located in Nimbasa City, is somewhat reminiscent of the dressing-up part of the Contests from Diamond and Pearl's Pokemon Contests in that you select props to dress your Pokemon in. Using decorations such as top hats, canes and guitars, you dress your Pokemon up to match the appropriate theme of the musical. During the musical, you can appeal using certain props. Nothing worth critical acclaim, but it's a fun little diversion to see your Pokemon dancing in a top hat, cane and monocle.
This game also has a battle facility for the combat-ready side of you. The Battle Subway (also located in Nimbasa city) is essentially the Battle Tower, but on wheels. You battle seven trainers in a row. For each win, you advance to another subway car. After seven battles, you end up at a subway stop where you can continue your challenge or return to Nimbasa. Again, not complicated at all if you're familiar with the Battle Tower from last generation's games.
Black and White are also backward-compatible with last generation's games. In the same vein as Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold and SoulSilver's Pal Park, you can migrate Pokemon from the aforementioned games using the Poke Transfer Lab, accessible after beating the game. However, you have to play a rather... unnecessary mini-game before you can migrate the six Pokemon you desire. Nothing too bad, but I personally would have just preferred a simple migration straight to the Pokemon PC.
One thing I don't really appreciate is the heinously useless C-Gear, Black and White's mirror to previous Trainer tech tools such as the PokeGear, PokeNav and Poketch. To start, whenever you start up your game, it asks if you want to activate C-Gear connections, something that you should really do manually after the game starts since no one ever leaves their C-Gear on. This making soft-resetting a pain. Even worse is that there is no option to turn off the start-up message. The C-Gear is also useless when off, so you effectively play with an unnecessary bottom screen when you have it off. The only real benefit to the C-Gear is the infrared trading option, which lets you trade without having to go to a Pokemon Center's Union Room. However, despite the C-Gear being a digital paperweight in-game, it is significantly important when it comes to the Pokemon Dream World, which will be explained later on in this review.
Music And Sound: 10/10. Game Freak seems to be on a hot streak. After witnessing the overall glorious themes from HeartGold and SoulSilver, I thought I had heard the sounds of the promised land. But Black and White's sound track may be the best yet. Almost every theme is enjoyable, and even the less than stellar tracks are pretty pleasant. What really wins me over, however, are the themes for the cities. To me, each every one of the city themes are just excellent. The themes for Castelia, Nacrene and Opelucid (Opelucid actually has a different theme depending on your version, but both are equally awesome) Cities as well as Lacunosa Town are easily some of the finest tracks in the game. I'd even go as far as saying Lacunosa Town's theme is my favorite Pokemon theme of all time. Bonus points to the game's development staff for giving each town and city its own individual theme, something unprecedented in the series. The only gripe I have with music is that in some areas, you have to stand in a certain area or talk to certain characters to hear instruments that contribute to the full theme, which kind of puts a damper on such a fantastic sound track.
Story line: 9/10. Given Pokemon's longevity, one would probably be skeptical if I were to say Pokemon finally had a game with an actual plot. But, after over a decade, it happened. What's better - it's actually good. Just by watching the game's opening animation, you can see that the characters in it will be of relevance. While Game Freak hasn't necessarily kicked the longstanding tradition of going from town to town to collect badges until you can challenge the Pokemon League to the curb, that;s not all you can expect to do this time. Team Plasma, Unova's native group of cronies, seeks to segregate the worlds of humans and Pokemon, under the lofty belief that Pokemon will be free from suffering with humans out of the picture. It's your job, of course, to stop them.
The best part about he game's story is that the characters are actually relevant and not just a group of forgettable people you wash your hands of after a fleeting battle. Your rivals, Bianca and Cheren, have been your friends since childhood and at the beginning leave home for their journeys by your side. The Gym Leaders are more than just statues that stand at the end of their gym all day waiting for your challenge. They actually have backgrounds and personalities and this time play a large role in the story. A certain character you meet early on, N, is also key to the game's plot, if you weren't able to deduce this from the game's opening. In all, the things I see at the conclusion of the game's story are things I would never have expected to see in a Pokemon game.
Wi-Fi: 7/10. Black and White's online play for the most part doesn't really wow me. To start, many of its features were imported from Platinum (VS Recorder, Battle Videos, Global Trade Station). But it seems to have removed good features that HeartGold and SoulSilver had, such as being able to automatically set your Pokemon's levels to a certain amount in Wi-Fi battles, as well as the removal of co-op battle facilities (in this game, the Battle Subway). A new feature, however is the random battle mode, in which you engage in battle with a random player online. While this seems like a nice idea... it is actually quite the opposite. Whereas in some games such as Mario Kart and Mega Man Star Force where games only last a few minutes, Pokemon battles can last half an hour and beyond. And if in the unfortunate event that you end up connected with a sore loser, your half-hour can be wasted just by your foe disconnecting. Even worse is that there is no effective penalty for disconnecting online.
Another online feature is the Pokemon Dream World, which is spiritually an online PokeWalker. After registering with Pokemon.com's Trainer Club, you can synchronize your game with the Pokemon Global Link at Pokemon-gl.com. This allows you to play in the Dream World, a place where you can find items, Pokemon with special abilities and other goodies to send to your DS game. While the PokeWalker was without debate much more convenient, the Dream World is actually kind of nice.
Unlike my feelings toward the future after playing HeartGold and SoulSilver, Black and White leave me feeling optimistic and happy that Game Freak still tries to top their best every time. If you're looking for a new start in Pokemon, Black and White are the games you're going to want to play. The games are new player-friendly as well, so anyone can jump in and catch 'em all.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Pokemon Black Version (US, 03/06/11)
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