Ah, Pokémon. The series has been going for over 10 years now but still manages to sell to the masses thanks to its cute critters and some of the most involving gameplay ever to hit a handheld. Despite being hugely popular still, if you go back and play every Pokémon game from the main series back to back you’d struggle to find ten things different between each one bar the different Pokémon and the environment. That’s the problem though, isn’t it. If something isn’t broke, why fix it? Pokémon has always been pretty much the same throughout its entire history, but still, the highly addictive gameplay and absolutely wonderful premise still sells, and it’s for that reason alone that Black & White have hardly evolved a bit since last time around. Don’t be deceived in thinking that they’re bad games though; in fact it’s quite the opposite, the two titles are probably the best games since Red & Blue, and that’s definitely saying something.
So yes, you won’t be surprised to learn that not much has changed since last time around. The aim of the game is still to capture a bunch of little creatures called Pokémon, to treat them as your friends and ultimately to pit them against other Pokémon in battle. Once you’ve captured a Pokémon you raise their levels by defeating other Pokémon in both the wild and against other trainers. The ultimate goal is to build a squad capable of defeating the 8 gym leaders dotted around the map and finally become the best Pokémon trainer around.
A new team is back to try and foil your plans too, this time coming in the form of Team Plasma. Unlike previous titles, Plasma are essentially PETA in Pokéform, working to free Pokémon from their captured states to live as one with humans. Apparently they’re a tad confused though, and you’ll find yourself battling Plasma throughout the game as they pit their Pokémon against yours; pot, kettle, black, Plasma? Plasma actually make the story more entertaining than before, their radical ways makes for a change in pace from the previous titles and it’s entertaining to see how things pan out.
There’s a load of new Pokémon for you to capture, but not all are up to scratch. A few are just plain ridiculous, such as Vanillish, who’s essentially an ice cream. None of the starters are anywhere near as cool looking or even as useful as previous ones too, which is a shame seeing as the earlier Pokémon are the ones you usually develop a stronger bond with. This is probably just me being petty though because there are a handful of truly memorable additions, especially the two legendary dragon types that are accessed later in the game, but it’s easy to pick up that the developers are starting to run out of ideas. Either way, you won’t run into any previous Pokémon until the latter half of the game. This gives you time to get to grip with the new bunch much better, giving you chance to learn their moves, work out who works well against who and generally builds up the excitement felt when everything was new and unknown.
Amongst the new additions to the gameplay, seasons change from month to month, similar to the night and day system added in Gold & Silver. As well as altering the look of the environment, characteristics of some of the new Pokémon change too to match the new weather conditions. Rotation battles have been added too. They’re a little confusing, so bear with me. You choose three Pokémon to battle your opponent’s team of three, with one Pokémon on each team at the front similar to that of a single Pokémon battle. You choose an attack from any of the three Pokémon you have in play, launching at the Pokémon at the front of the enemy squad. If you choose an attack from the Pokémon not at the front of your team, your Pokémon rotate so that your chosen attacker can attack. The attack is then launched at the enemies front most Pokémon, even if the enemy has chosen to rotate. It’s harder to explain than it is to play, and it takes a while getting used to either way. Despite being fun at first, you won’t go out your way to enter a rotation battle because they simply do not differentiate enough from previous battle modes to make you that interested.
Multiplayer is still a big part of the game, and with more options than ever it’s one of the best Pokémon multiplayer experiences to date. You can compete against the world through a Wi-Fi connection in any battle mode with a selection of options available, and while you won’t be able to boost your squad levels up during these battles you’ll be able to enter ranked matches so you can compete to be the best trainer in the world.
The Unova region is one of the prettiest regions you’ll come across in the Pokémon world. Thanks to the new 3D look, the environment is lush, exciting to explore and many of the cities are multi-layered to give the game whole new dimensions. Battles have also been improved, the zooming, dynamic camera makes battles far more exciting, as well as the Pokémon moving around instead of being completely static like in previous titles. It’s these little things that make Black & White so darn entertaining.
Pokémon Black & White are easily two of the most engaging additions to the series. With excellent presentation, some great additions to the Pokémon world and the typical lengthy and enjoyable campaign you’ve come to expect, the nail has well and truly been hit on the head. Whether or not the series can go anywhere from here is a difficult question; some of the ideas demonstrated in the latest titles show signs of developers running out of ideas (see rotation matches and some of the new Pokemon), but while the future may be uncertain for the series, Black & White are more than enough to get you by until the next instalment.
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