Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pokemon Black/White

Pokemon - Black VersionI would like to start by stating that yes, the target age of the Pokémon game series passed me by some years ago. In fact, I have been playing the series since the first games, Pokémon Red/Blue version(s), were released in the United States in 1998. Since my youth, I have played absolutely every installment and enjoyed them thoroughly. Perhaps it may be due to a yearning to reliving my childhood that I continue to play these games. Whatever the reason, it seems Pokémon discovered a formula in gameplay that has worked so soundly that is has remained unchanged for well over a decade. In fact, with its phenomenal global success, the series is Nintendo’s second most lucrative, losing only to Mario. Pokémon remains a perfect example of the idiom "if it is not broken, I see no reason why I should attempt to repair it, as that would be foolish". The only exception to this rule is the ice cream cone Pokémon Vanillite. Honestly, it's an ice cream cone that evolves from a small cone to a single scoop to a double scoop. Ice type or not, Pokémon that idiotic make me want to void my life.

If you are reading this review, it is likely you’ve played a Pokémon game in the past, so I will not bother going into details in the basics of gameplay. You begin as a trainer starting a Pokémon journey, obtain a starter Pokémon, have a rival, are required to trade between both White & Black versions in order to complete your pokedex, eight gyms and the Elite-Four, all quite standard by now. However, Nintendo has added minor changes to the latest entries in the series, as they have done with each previous generational release, to make the new experience feel renewed. First off, rotation battles have been introduced. By now, we have already become quite acquainted with dual Pokémon battles, so Nintendo decided to change the styles around a wee-bit when going into a triple battle. Rather than just lobbing out three Pokémon simultaneously, a turn-table is used as a platform to spice things up a tad. This subtle change means the one on one aspect of battles remains intact, while allowing Pokémon to change positions on a whim, adding a new dimension to gameplay. Additionally, a new wireless system has been added to the game, allowing players to trade and battle with other players in the vicinity without needing to even go into a Pokémon Center. This feature makes the gameplay more versatile by giving players the option to be more spontaneous in their battles, greatly increasing player interactions.

The Nintendo giveth, and the Nintendo taketh away, however. Instead of simply including berries or mini-games or making pokeballs out of dried fruit, Nintendo decided to force a radically new limitation in the game. In the past, trading was available between old and new generations of Pokémon, allowing players to create any team they desired based on their previous games. Of course there were limitations in how far one could level them up between gym badges, but it still did not stop players from mixing and matching as they pleased. This time around, however, the trading is limited exclusively to other Black/White cartridges and that limitation is not lifted until after defeating the Pokémon League. In my opinion, this was a fantastic idea on Nintendo's part. Instead of just introducing a new region with new Pokémon, this restriction forced the player to actually use what was in this new area without resorting to older Pokémon and strategies they already understood. This situation is not unlike having to use a new rifle because of its scarce availability. What’s a Colonel to do when his trusted Lee-Enfield finally wears out while he’s taken up residence in Germany for a short while but learn to use and appreciate the Mauser? Push your comfort zones, chaps! 

Though the game is quite fun and is overall enjoyable, it is not without flaws. The game’s graphics appear to be approximately 85% unchanged since the series’ inception. Cut-scenes have been added and a few areas such as a metropolitan city look graphically impressive on the DS, but otherwise the game still has the same over-head, simplistic interface. Most frustrating of all, places like the city in comparison to the graphical boondoggle of the rest of the game make it painfully apparent that Nintendo could be doing a better job, but simply is not. In fact, several of the newer Pokémon are just recycled versions of older Pokémon, such as Excadrill and Sandlash. Honestly, use the Googler Machine to find an image of those two and tell me they are not related in some way. Another minor detail of note—technical machines (TM's) that can teach Pokémon different attacks are now reusable. This subtle difference completely changes certain strategies from previous games in a negative way. In my opinion, it seems a bit of a mistake to allow powerful TM's to be used infinitely instead of forcing the decision to be upon only one Pokémon, but it is a factor that does not impact gameplay in a detrimentally large fashion. Honestly, I adapted to it just fine. What I certainly have not adapted to is that ice cream cone Pokémon! I apologize, but that incredibly ludicrous creature is just…it's an ice cream cone! AN ICE CREAM CONE, BY GOD!
The Colonel's Conclusion:

In short, if you're already a fan of Pokemon, nothing will stop you from playing this new generation. The new game’s style of catching small woodland creatures to force into gladiatorial combat is mostly unchanged and equally as enjoyable as its predecessors. In all honesty, Pokémon Black/White is a fresh semi-reboot of the series and I felt more nostalgic in playing through it with new Pokémon because I could not rely on my past accomplishments in my new journey. It felt exactly as I did when I played Pokémon Red/Blue so many years ago, banking only on the sense of familiarity within the context of the game universe. If you're a fan, you shall most assuredly want this, and if you are not, welcome to a new adventure!


Honestly, an ice cream cone? Bloody hell….
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