Before the release of Pokémon Black and White Version 2, I could have been described as somewhat of a disillusioned fan of the Pokémon franchise. Having once been a devotee of the Generation I games, I would spend literally hours on end with a Gameboy Colour in my hands, an intensive stare in my eye and ‘catch ‘em all’ spirit burning firmly in my heart. I would eventually amass days upon days of active gameplay, complete the games with a heavy sigh that indicated a mixture of relief and what I like to refer to as “finisher’s anguish” and simply wait for the next games to be released. Even though release day finally arrived for the second generation of games, my spirit for the game had long since waned, surrendering to feelings of disappointment, scepticism, and downright indifference for all things Pokémon. Enter Pokémon Black Version 2, and all of this scepticism all but evaporated.
Lack of 3D gameplay doesn’t hold Pokémon Black Version 2 back one little bit, and it’s clear from the opening sequences that these newest sequels mean considerable business.
A Tour of the Basics
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of Pokemon, Pokémon Black and White Version 2 are the twinned sequels of Pokémon Black and White, existing in the fifth generation of Pokémon games. Based on a proven formula which was set forth by the revolutionary Pokémon Red and Blue versions some sixteen years ago, Pokemon Black and White Version 2 are based on the tried-and-tested roaming RPG format which consistsof wild battles, encounters with Pokémon trainers and a definite ‘catch ‘em all’ attitude that has been the staple sentiment of the series since its very conception.
At its core, Pokemon Black 2 simply requires that you traipse around and explore the environment, seeing exactly where it takes you and experiencing some good-natured yet challenging fun along the way; a premise that has typified the Pokémon experience since the very first title. It demands little to no prior knowledge of previous versions since everything is narrated or explained in detail, and the gameplay itself is as intuitive as a title can possibly be without stepping out into condescending territory. Battling your way from region to region, the most recent release in the Pokémon series draws upon the classic recipe of capturing, raising and battling your Pokémon to maturity and broadcasting your persistent domination throughout each region by defeating each location’s gym leaders. Running parallel to the events of the usual Pokémon nature are the deceitful actions of Team Plasma who, in spite of being a broken organisation as a result of the events of the previous games, are still persistent in their evil efforts and deviant behaviour.
Battle, Catch, Battle: This tried-and-tested style of gameplay is par for the course, and is one damn entertaining round of golf.
Embarking upon a battling cruise, managing ‘Join Avenue’ by developing it into a fully-fledged and bustling shopping centre, starring in a Pokémon-based film, and taking a ride on a subway designed primarily for battling commuters are a few of the options available to you in what turns out to be one of the richest and most diverse selections of side-adventures ever included in a Pokémon game to date. The inclusion of an achievement system equivalent is present in the form of collection medals when you fulfil various parameters and requirements during your journey.
Though Pokémon Black 2 returns us to the Unova region to commence the catch ‘em all action, the region has undergone some definite changes in two years: your starting location is Aspertia City, which stands alongside Virbank City, Floccesy Town, Lentimas Town and Humilau City as some of the brand new locations that form part of the version 2 expansion of Unova. Your commencement in Aspertia City is a first in itself a first, as is the passage of your character through the Unova region by visiting new Pokémon gyms with new leaders, as well as some familiar faces from the previous Pokémon Black and White titles.
The inclusion of new characters also injects some life into the title. Among these are Hugh (who is your direct rival within throughout the game, encountering him and battling him regularly), the new leader of team plasma called Colress, Virbank City gym leader Roxie, Marlon and Pokemon trainer Benga. Characters that were present in the previous titles such as Cheren, Bianca and Iris have also undergone a makeover which sees them differentiated enough from the previous titles to justify their inclusion a game which refers to itself as direct sequel to the previous one.
Members of the evil organisation make increasingly frequent appearances throughout the game, with their activities being central to the main storyline. Every game needs an antagonist with misguided ideas and ideals!
Original and Best
In order to progress in the game it is still required of you that you adhere to the age-old Pokémon tradition of amassing, training and battling your collection of Pokémon against anyone who will stand up and face the sweet music bitter defeat. Your primary purpose of the adventure remains unchanged; when you strip the game’s storyline away you are still left with the classic formula of facing the regional gym leaders in order to acquire the colourful gym badges as your proof of victory, allowing you passage to the next area in which you repeat the process. Before you know it, you have battled your way to the Pokémon world tournament, the final battle with your rival and eventually the Pokémon league, battling against the elite four and entering the Pokémon hall of fame.
Spoils to the victor: Progress in the game is still denoted by fighting the gym leaders of the different areas and obtaining gym badges as proof of your victories. As with all Pokémon titles, his constitutes the main course of action within the game.
These events are sure to sound familiar to long-serving Pokémon fans since similar events were to transpire in the first generation of games, forming the basis of the adventure and serving as the blueprint for all Pokémon games to follow. The acquisition of a multitude of that particular region’s selection of Pokémon, eight gym badges and the defeat of the Elite Four (the members of which differ with each Pokémon game) are the primary goals which remain at the core of Pokémon Black and White Version 2, with the intertwining storyline and secondary tasks simply running in parallel and acting mainly as nonessential variables which for most fall into the shadow of the overwhelmingly challenging and rich adventure ahead.
Secondary Adventures and Distractions
Should you find your enthusiasm in decline for the occasionally-repetitive task of capturing, training and battling your Pokémon against others, Pokémon Black and White Version 2 offers up a decidedly generous selection of secondary activities which will be sure to keep you entertained in the meantime. After reaching Virbank City, why not branch out into the profession of Pokémon-themed movie star in which you are tasked with the responsibility of shooting and screening movies whose plots consist largely of unprovoked Pokémon battles. Considering your stint at Pokéstar Studios is merely a side-show in what is an already lengthy game with a multitude of adventures to keep you occupied, the level of customisation that is possible in creating your movies (script selection, move selection, editing of dialogue etc.) is quite astounding, and the forty possible movie outcomes possibly even more so. Producing all forty possible outcomes will lead to receiving critical acclaim and the building of a celebratory bronze statue in your honour.
Pokéstar Studios allows you to display the acting talents of your Pokémon and pursue a mini-career as a Pokémon movie star.
Upon reaching Driftveil City, you have the option of entering into the Pokémon World Tournament, a competition in which you are pitted against eight of the best Pokémon trainers in the world, winning Battle Points along the way. The number of possible tournaments you are able to enter into depends on you fulfilling certain requirements along the way such as winning certain categories of tournament a minimum number of times. Entering into the tournament sees you fight against leaders from all of the regions from within the fiction Pokémon world. In this manner, the Pokémon World Tournament is a secondary activity which will instil a sense of nostalgia for true Pokémon fans.
The Pokémon World Tournament begins with registering three of your Pokémon for battle. This is your chance to battle the gym leaders from previous generations of games.
The final, and definitely the most comprehensive of all the secondary adventure activities within the game, is the completing of the Unova Pokédex challenge. While not an essential part of the adventure, this challenge is one that a truly dedicated Pokémon fan will find impossible to ignore; after all, such a task reflects the entire sentiment on which Pokémon is based, and catching them all is the only way one can truly claim that they have completed the game. The encountering and capturing of the available 297 Pokémon in the Unova region is an incredibly difficult and time-consuming task, but it is most definitely an achievable one. Unfortunately, you do need Pokémon Black or White Version to complete the Unova Pokédex in its entirety, so there may be some disappointment from some, while for others, their failure to own the previous games will be the perfect excuse as to why they have not managed to fill the ‘dex in it’s entirety. The reward for your efforts comes in the form of a virtual certificate; this is a prize which many will feel they dodged a bullet for not taking the time to achieve.
One of the many aspects of Pokémon which can be depended on is its unique and consistent visual style. I’m going to take a confident stance on the matter and state very strongly Pokémon Black Version 2 looks just as good as the gameplay feels, and does a fantastic job of maintaining the fabulously distinctive artistic style that Pokémon has possessed from day one.
Its choice of colour and highly familiar textures are of course largely recycled from the previous title in order to make it possible for the games to have been released a mere year and a half after their predecessors; those who are of the opinion that this is in any way detracts from the game’s appearance should consider the impatience of the average Pokémon fan and their eagerness for the next instalment in the series.
Aside from some aesthetical changes made possibly with the invention of more powerful hardware technology, the format of Pokémon has remained incredibly consistent throughout the years.
At the same time, the game includes an abundance of allusions to the previous titles and features characters from the previous games,as well as being set in the Unova region of the Pokémon world, which also happens to be the same very same world which acted as the setting of Pokémon Black and White Version.
Meet and Greet
The usual Pokémon introduction happens at the beginning, which, while differing in content according to the exact Pokémon game that you play, is always identical in its format. The game always begins with a meet and greet with your main helper/guide (who is certain to feature heavily in the game) asking you for your gender and name for personalisation purposes. You even get to name your rival this time, which is a level of personalisation that could only have been dreamed of when playing the Pokémon games of generation I/III. For old time’s sake, I decided to name my nemesis Gary, since I never got over the completion of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow in the first place.
The introductory sequence plays out its function as a tool for tailoring the game to your chosen naming specifications while acting as a method of softening the impact of the storyline information and previous happenings that may have been missed from the previous few titles. The introduction allows the informed, die-hard fans to refresh their memories while simultaneously allowing players who are perhaps new to the Pokémon world to slowly dip into the mythology and back-story that makes the Pokémon universe such a diverse and rich source of entertainment. If after reading the blurb on the back of the case and after playing through the brief introduction you are somehow still struggling to follow the journey through the history of the Pokémon universe in general, then I suggest you take a look at the History of the Pokémon World page at Bulbapedia.
The antagonistic role is fulfilled by the persistent Team Plasma, who instead of going their own separate ways at the end of the previous game are still very much at large and are ready to pop up to cause all kinds of Pokémon-related trouble at every opportunity; this trouble is usually preceded by chunks of dialogue which discusses the ideology of Team Plasma which relies of the idea that Pokémon and human should be separated and exist as equals and almost exclusively leads to frequent attempts to steal Pokémon from various people throughout the game.
Change can be a Good Thing
Though consistency throughout a series of games is often necessary when creating of a sense of continuity throughout, change is still necessary from game to game, and Pokémon Black Version 2 offers plenty of this. Though the general background music of various locations throughout the Unova region at times has the tendency to sound a little silly, it would entirely defeat the purpose of creating a sequel to simply re-use the previous game’s musical themes note for note; my initial scepticism came from the love (and I’m not ashamed to call it that) I developed from hours upon hours upon literal days of playing the original Pokémon games. Most of the musical themes are remixed and revamped versions of the previous background music and fulfil the function of providing variation, style and a sense of light-heartedness that the Pokémon genre has always been able to retain.
Taking full advantage of the dual-screen capabilities of the Nintendo DS is feature of double-battles within the game, both in the wild and trainer encounters. This is by no means a feature that is new and exclusive to Pokemon Black Version 2 (it made its debut appearance in Generation III of the Pokémon series of games) but due to the improved animation and character sprites, there is a clear sense of improvement upon the games which preceded it. The visual action and battling dramatics that are typical of all Pokémon games take place on the top screen, where the move selection and user-input processes are displayed on the lower window. Your decision to rustle through your bag, rifle through your Pokémon collection for a better alternative or to take the cowards way out by running away are all made from the lower screen; this is also where you make your selection of moves in battle .
One of the features that has made its debut in Pokémon Black and White Version 2 is the welcome upgrade to the Pokédex known as the ‘Habitat list’. Putting an effective end to the frequent puzzlement over what Pokémon you have, and more importantly, haven’t caught so far in your adventure, the habitat list serves as a ‘what’s what’ of each of the Pokémon that can be encountered in the game, and indeed functions as a ‘where’s where’ for the creatures that you can expect to see in each zone. Gone are the days of trawling through the internet and attempting to find a comprehensive list of the Pokémon you should have caught by that point in the game; now you are definitively provided with a list of the Pokémon you can expect to see in any area that you have visited.
It wouldn’t be a true Pokémon game if it stopped their however; the habitat list also catalogues your encounters with these Pokémon, the number of these encounters and with what types you had the fortune of meeting, as well as indicating whether you have managed to catch them or not. Due to the meticulous nature of many Pokémon fans when it comes to ‘catching them all’, it seems quite remarkable that such a feature has been absent from all Pokémon games up to this point, and it is a feature that future Pokémon titles could do with retaining.
Is Pokémon Black Version 2 the best incarnation of the Pokémon sentiment yet? Some may be sceptical, but this game is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and the most in-depth game of the entire series. Though the standard procedure of capture and battle through to the Elite Four is the same as it has always been, there are enough tweaks to make the game feel like a proper sequel, and the most entertaining version of Pokémon yet.