Tuesday 15 March 2011

Game REVIEW: Pokemon Black & White (DS)

NB. This review is based on the White version of the game. While some of the differences between Black and White will be addressed I have not played Black version, and therefore some differences I cannot comment upon.

The time is upon us once again. A new generation of Pokemon has arrived, and this time its mixing things up a bit. For Pokemon Black & White (Generation 5) Game Freak take us to the far away region of Unova, where Pokemon from previous generations are considered rare and (until you beat the Elite Four) are uncatchable in the game. As usual you take the role of a new trainer ready to start a new adventure along with your starter Pokemon - grass snake Snivy, fire pig Tepig or water otter Oshawott. As you challenge the gym leaders with the aim of one day becoming Pokemon League champion you face the threat of Team Plasma and their mysterious King, N - whose goal is to liberate Pokemon from humans.

A whole new story brings a whole new map, and the Unova region is perhaps the most diverse yet. With four seasons cycling every month or so, locations change and things open that may not be open in other months. The cities themselves are livelier than ever, with the enormous Castelia City towering over any city Pokemon has presented before. Black & White's narrative is the true highlight though, the story putting anything that has come before it to shame. Team Plasma's attempt at liberating Pokemon is an interesting angle that should have been explored long ago, and remains the focus point of the game until the second before the credits role. I don't want to give away too much to players, but let's just say the game's main plot doesn't end with you beating the Elite Four champion for once...

The new Pokemon are an interesting bunch. With 150 brand new Pokemon and none of the older ones to help you along the way, Game Freak's plan of making Black & White a whole new experience for old players and newcomers alike was an effective stroke of genius. The Pokemon themselves have a good range, from the cool (fire/ghost Chandelure, electric/bug Galvantula and dark/ground Krookodile are among my my favourites) to the cute (early Pokemon Lillipup) to the frankly ridiculous (ice cream Pokemon Vannilish/Vanniluxe and rubbish bag Pokemon Trubbish are highlights) but wandering the grass wondering what the hell will pop up next is half the fun. Black & White have some very interesting type mixtures (including many which haven't appeared in the games before) and with new abilities and moves there's a lot for more competitive players to think about. Several of the game mechanics have also changed for a newer game experience - with the amount of exp. being distributed after a battle depending on level differences and (one I'm sure many will be happy about) poison no longer taking affect outside a battle. Introduced in the mix are triple battles (like double battles, but with 3) and rotation battles (3 Pokemon on a rotating platform, with one attacking each turn) so even the most experienced players will have some new tricks to learn.

As is the standard with Pokemon games there are two different versions - Pokemon Black and Pokemon White. While before these never really extended further than what Pokemon could be caught in them and (sometimes) slightly affected the narrative, this time there's much more to it than that. Alongside each game having its exclusive Pokemon, each version has its own unique area (Black City and White Forest) and even its own exclusive gym leaders (the final Opelucid gym has different leaders depending which version you play).

There's so much I haven't even covered in this review (Such as the Dreamworld, an entirely online experience to the game due to open soon) and I haven't completely finished the game myself yet, so there's still plenty of surprises in for anyone reading this AND myself. The initial concept shots didn't wow me, and I wondered if this really was going to be the greatest Pokemon game yet like many reviews had been suggesting. But it is, it really is. Gold and Silver are still my favourite Pokemon games due to the nostalgia, but Game Freak have really stepped their game up with this generation. Catching them all is brand new all over again.


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