Pokemon has reached its 5th generation of games. As a staunch fan of the series, I’ve accompanied it since its birth, and there’s no new release which I don’t go mad about the new games. When black/white were announced I couldn’t help but feel it was a little bit too early, the DS’s successor was just a matter of time and certainly the pictures showed a much more advanced game graphically. I thought these games would get postponed but they ended on the DS anyway, so let’s get down to business.
I believe most fans of Pokemon know the formula by now. There has been some major improvements over the course of its life, some were groundbreaking and completely changed the way we played, like second generation’s day-care center, for Pokemon procreation. Double battles, abilities, and natures can also be called major, but to a degree. As I see they did not make the game any better or added constructive depth, they simply made the game more complex, and mostly not in a good way.
In this generation we have few major announcements to make, most of what catches the eye instantly are the graphics, with some 3D visuals, rotating environments and eventual cutscenes in important moments of the story. The added triple battles seems ridiculous, it’s like they ran out of ideas and did the most obvious choice of all, one more Pokemon battling at the same time. Some might find some fun doing that kind of battle in meta-game but it’s hard to even think one would dedicate time and effort into crafting an entire team based on triple battles. I can’t see why someone would ever want to battle with more than one though.
As always, a whole lot of Pokemon debut this generation, as well as many fresh moves. There are a whopping number of 156 new Pokemon in White/Black, never before have we seen so many new Pokemon in one new generation, even if the first one is counted which brought us the beloved first lot of 151 pocket monsters. Those were the days. The new Pokemon do feel fresh and inventive, some have pretty interesting aesthetics, I don’t believe this comes nowhere near close Pokemon’s most tempestuous days for new entries (AKA third generation). The new monsters are a welcome addition to the series.
A wide selection of new moves can be found as well. Especially fighting type moves, following the strange trend of this generation to add fighting Pokemon and moves. There are so many new ones. If you think about it it’s not that strange, previous generations were pretty scarce when it came to fighting type, some day it had to change. It’s nice that we get to see new entries outside the common water/fire, or any of those types saturated with Pokemon already.
When they create something, they stick to it. Gym leaders are no exception. As always, you fight 8 of them, if somehow you manage to get a gym badge out of them all your participation on the Elite Four is granted. The overworld map design is pretty straight forward, you almost feel forced to ask yourself whether they got lazy or simply left to get creative on the go. The visuals do feel they could become memorable, at least most of them. Most of the fun one could have in previous games was rediscovering new areas where they had already passed. Using surf on that obscure lake on route who knows where, venturing through the grass or a cave only to find a Rare Candy have always been priceless.
Another new introductions is seasons, yes seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn. They do not function like real life though, they have a month cycle, every month the season changes, and with it many distinct aspects change as well. Like Pokemon appearing in certain seasons or at least changing location. The Elite Four has seen a breeze of freshness as well. Now, for the first time in the series, you don’t have to necessarily follow the order of battles. When you enter the Elite Four you can choose whatever path you want to go first. Of course it doesn’t matter which order you choose, you still have to battle them all to face the champion.
The story tries to take things to a whole new level this time. Pokemon have always had pretty safe stories, that got the action going and the good old formula would kick in for the real Pokemon experience. This time they managed to make things a little more complicated. It revolved around a guy who had the dream of freeing every Pokemon from its owner. His moral inclinations are fairly logical: people make Pokemon suffer with all the battling and stuff. I don’t think that’s far from the truth, after all, if the humans in the Pokemon world like battling so much, then go fight themselves, right? There’s no denying that fainting a Pokemon and passing by a Pokemon Center several times a day shouldn’t be called “love”.
So, this guy called N (yes, they gave him the name “N”) thinks that way, but even though we could philosophically discuss whether he’s right or completely right, we wouldn’t have a game to play. So we’re left with the arguments of the people around Unova that Pokemon and people form a friendship, a bond that transcends all, even battling, so everything is all right. More like feudal lord and his vassal, but anyway. They will fight their way to take these mad ideas from the mind of that guy N. Also, there’s another guy who shares N’s ambitions, and we’ll see that not everything is what it seems.
The story develops in a more coordinated way than previous games, and the emphasis is much broader. Still, the story fails in moving even the ones who couldn’t care less. Mostly because it’s still depicted in a childish manner, I know Pokemon is not the most adult-focused game around, but by now, with all the added depth for the meta-game, you’d think we had gotten over that. They go far with desperate measures to make the story stand out, giving the two main legendaries big part in it, which ultimately fails.
Taking advantage of the Nintendo DS’s several features and online capabilities, we’re introduced to many hot stuff, some back from previous titles in more, well, complicated ways; some new and still complicated. For starters, everything you do happens on the upper screen of the Nintendo DS, the lower screen is reserved for the social interactions you might want to have with other poke-trainers around. There are numerous types of stuff you can do.
Every time you start the game a text comes up and asks if you want to turn the C-Gear on. While it’s on, several wireless/online/infrared features get enabled. Among these features there’s the Entralink, whenever you use it you are teleported to the center of Unova to the place called Entralink. It’s a large place with some NPCs and allows interactions with other players, by letting you vising other player’s worlds, as well as other players come to yours, and such.
The Xtranceiver is a voice and video communication system, used to mainly connect with friends nearby, although it can be used online. The player can communicate to up to 3 more people. For video signal is required either a DSi, a DSi XL or a 3DS; if a regular DS or a DS Lite is used, only voice is available. For online usage there’s the Game Sync, which allows the player to upload his save file to the Pokemon Global Link website and receive some bonuses from that through the access of the Pokemon Dream World, allowing you to send a Pokemon through the internet and playing with them. giving players the possibilities to obtain new items and Pokemon. You have to have an account on the website.
As for the infrared features players can battle, trade, or play mini-games. There’s also the tag log, a little feature that keeps track of people you might have passed by and had a Nintendo DS with Pokemon white/black and the C-Gear turned on, not the easiest task to tell the truth. There are so many interaction features that it’s easy to get lost, will take a while until you test them all, and who knows, it could be fun with some friends.
Generation after generation Pokemon tries harder to keep things interesting and fresh, even though they refuse to change the core gameplay, they’re positively sure the new elements make up for another great experience. I’m not going to say this is the best Pokemon game ever because it’s not, but it’s also not the worst. Ranking a game in a series with many solid titles, and some masterpieces, is no small task. Pokemon White/Black manages to stay true to the series quality, even though most of what’s actually new and fresh feels uninspired. All in all, a solid experience.