Pokemon Black Review

What it lacks in originality, Pokemon Black more than makes up for with a vast world to explore and an absorbing battle system that's heaps of fun.

From the moment you befriend your first Pokemon at the start of Pokemon Black, everything is reassuringly familiar: the scientist who sends you out on your adventure, your first encounter with bumbling bad guys Team Plasma, and the stories of a legendary Pokemon that will either save or destroy the world. Some tweaks have been made to the visuals and online functions, and a couple of new battle types have been introduced, but these changes are so small as to be insignificant compared to what Pokemon Black borrows from previous games in the series. Original it isn't; yet despite the formulaic nature of your journey and a disappointing storyline, the engrossing battle system makes fighting and catching one of the many new Pokemon as addictive an experience as ever, and it's lots of fun too. There's plenty of time to catch 'em all as well, with a vast world to explore and tons of side quests and postgame content that's a pleasure to play through.

Pokemon have been around for so long at this point that almost everybody you encounter is an expert on them.

Not messing with tradition, Pokemon Black begins with you being summoned to the lab of a local Pokemon professor, who this time is named Juniper. She asks you and your two friends--Cheran and Bianca--to help with her research by becoming Pokemon trainers and cataloguing the many species of Pokemon for listing in the Pokedex. She also gives you one of three Pokemon to take on your journey: Snivy the grass snake, Tepig the fire pig, or Oshawott the sea otter. Pokemon in hand, you're free to explore the Unova region, interacting with the eccentric inhabitants of its towns and cities, as well as members of Team Plasma, whose cartoonish villainy forms the basis of the story. Deviating from the cozy stories of previous installments, the narrative takes a slightly darker turn, touching on the morality of keeping Pokemon. Should they be incarcerated in Pokeballs? Is it right to battle them? Should they be freed? Sadly, these elements aren't deeply explored, with many of the questions simply glossed over--a missed opportunity to give the game a more mature edge.

The disappointing story doesn't detract from the main crux of the game, though: Pokemon battles. As you explore Unova, you encounter rival trainers and wild Pokemon who challenge you to turn-based battles. Choosing the right Pokemon for the job is key because each has an elemental type, which can be weaker or stronger against other types. Each can execute one of four moves at a time, which can be swapped out as new ones are learned. This rock-paper-scissors-like battle system adds a layer of strategy that's very satisfying when you choose just the right Pokemon to counter your opponent's moves, and it encourages you to explore the region and capture new Pokemon types for future battles. It's incredibly easy to get sucked into roaming around, doing nothing but capturing the little blighters, which is a testament to how well the battle system is designed. Though you can capture as many Pokemon as you like to expand your Pokedex, you can only carry up to six of them at a time, making team selection an important process. As in many role-playing games, you have to spend time leveling up your team by gaining experience points during battles, though there isn't an excessive amount of grinding required to progress through the main story.

The strongest opponents you face are gym leaders, of which there are eight to defeat. Before you can battle them, you must solve simple puzzles in each of their gyms, such as figuring out riddles, moving blocks to access hidden areas, or pushing switches in the correct order to open doors. Defeating gym leaders earns you badges, which make it easier to control higher-level Pokemon that you've gained via trades and allow you to challenge elite trainers later in the game. Certain leaders also introduce you to one of two new battle modes: Three-versus-Three and Rotational. Three-versus-Three mode is as it sounds, pitting three of your Pokemon against three of your opponent's Pokemon. Rotational is similar, but your three Pokemon sit in a circular pattern, with one of them taking the lead at the front. You can rotate the circle during a turn to choose which one you want to use or which should absorb your opponent's attack. These battles provide an interesting change from the usual one-on-one fare, so it's a shame that you encounter very few of them during your travels.

Three Pokemon are better than one.

Both the standard and new battle modes have received a visual makeover. The largely static Pokemon animations have been improved, so your Pokemon now sport a lively jiggle when waiting in battle. The visual improvements extend to the world at large as well, with charming 2D sprites blending effortlessly with 3D buildings and objects. Even the camera angles are more adventurous; at times, the camera will sweep across the environment to show off tall buildings or vast bridges that connect towns rather than display things from a fixed viewpoint. Sadly, the audio hasn't received the same treatment. While the chirpy music is well composed and sounds great, the sound effects during battles are as lackluster as ever, featuring uninspiring blips and screeches that lack the oomph to make a battle come to life.

Several new modes have been added to the online functions, now called C-Gear communications. The C-Gear is displayed on the bottom screen at all times when not in a battle, allowing for quick access. You can connect to other players via infrared or a Wi-Fi Connection to the Internet, allowing you to battle, trade, and use a new feature called Feeling Check. Battling and trading your Pokemon with others is great fun, and unless you buy both the Black and White versions of the game, it's the only way to collect all of the different types. Unfortunately, you still have to deal with the dreaded friend codes to battle people you know, but thankfully, random battles and local battles are code free. If you prefer something more sedate, you can play the Feeling Check minigame while linked with another player locally, which tests the compatibility of your Pokemon with others via a rhythm game where you try to tap in time to onscreen markers. It's not the most exciting of experiences, consisting of nothing more than a few blinking lights and some beeps, but you're rewarded with bonus items to use in the single-player if you're in sync with your friend.

Pokemon Black has more fun with its camera angles than previous iterations.

Another online feature is Pass By, which keeps the DS's wireless connection on to exchange information with passing Pokemon players, even when your DS is closed. Statistics, such as which starter Pokemon they chose and how far they've progressed through the game, are logged, which is neat if you want to see how other people are training their Pokemon. Even if you never touch the online features, there's still a ton of content to enjoy once the main storyline is complete--legendary Pokemon to catch, side quests, and three new towns. Thanks to a new seasonality system that freezes parts of the world in winter, previously inaccessible areas are opened up, allowing for more exploration and additional quests to discover.

The small tweaks in Pokemon Black, such as the improved visuals, new battle modes, and enhanced online features, go some way toward making it feel like a new experience, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that this is the same game that's been released countless times before. And yet, underneath the formulaic narrative lies a deep and engaging RPG. The quality of the battle system and that undying urge to catch 'em all means you're still sucked into its world, eager to explore its extremities just to get that one Pokemon no one else has captured yet. If you've never seen the appeal of the series, then the lack of innovation in Pokemon Black will do little to change your mind. Fans, however, should snap it up straight away.

The Good
Charming visuals
Engrossing battle system
Collecting Pokemon is incredibly addictive
The Bad
It's the same Pokemon formula you've seen before
7.5
Good
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Discussion

8 comments
Anon947
Anon947

You know what else I forgot to mention?

Lol @ the idiots saying the back sprites look like they were made with "gameboy graphics". The back sprites now show the entire Pokemon, and the camera zooms in on them during battles.

 

Sprites ALWAYS look more pixelated when either blown up or zoomed in on, because go figure, they're MADE with pixels! And really, even during battles, most of them look perfectly fine.

 

But when you look at the back sprites from the Pokemon's status screen? They look great. Most of them are a lot better than earlier sprites, and certainly much better than anything the gameboy could have dished out.

 

 

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

God I'm psyched to finally be getting this. I know that I'm a bit behind with B/W 2 coming out next month, but I do not care. Pokemon just never gets old.

Anon947
Anon947

Exactly. Now you're getting it.

 

Also, I should have mentioned this before, but here's another quote from this review that supports my caim:

 

"but it's difficult to shake the feeling that this is the same game that's been released countless times before."

 

I already explained why the gameplay is fine. However, this is wrong to because if it were the same game, it would have:

 

> The same region

> The same plot

> The same Pokemons

> The same characters, gym leaders, etc.

 

Basically, if every Pokemon game after Gen 1 was "the same game released countless times before", then they'd all be remakes of the Kanto games, but with each new game we got:

 

> a NEW region

> NEW Pokemon

> NEW Characters

> NEW plot

 

and basically new everything. The ONLY things all Pokemon games have in common are the gamplay formula and the main oblective being to beat 8 Gym leaders and the E4, but those are the backbone of the series, so they're needed for the sake of consistency, otherwise it's not a real sequel. However, EVERYTHING ELSE is different, so they all feel fresh and new.

 

So you see, Pokemon is indeed NOT the same game over and over, and people who think that are wrong.

 

majin_anders
majin_anders

That's a good point you're making, and I think the writer should have elaborated a little on his statement.  You're right about the gameplay formula being fine and I might've misunderstood. What I read from his statement 'same Pokemon formula', I interpreted it as storywise and not so much as it is a problem with the gameplay mechanics. The reviewer expressed that himself when he raved about the improved battle system/camera angles etc.

Anon947
Anon947

[i] I do fully understand where you're coming from but I agree with the reviewer in that the formula in which you start the game in your room, walk downstairs, greeted by mum, see a scientist, come across the bad guys is wearisome and repetitive. [/i]

 

Except that the bad point was "It's the same Pokemonn formula you've seen before", which obviously implies that he was pulling the "it's the same game all over again" crap.  Sure, they can swith around the opening events of the game, but that's not the point. The point is, the Pokemon gameplay formula is fine, always was, and there's no need to fix what ain't broken. That's why it's a stupid complaint.

 

[i]  You can't compare a game like Pokemon to Sonic and Mario Bros. which are platformers [/i]

 

But I wasn't comparing them to begin with. The point that I was making was that in ANY game series, the main games should stick to their roots,and build upon the formula they have. Sonic (the genesis triliogy, anyway), Super Mario Bros, and the other games I mentioned have the same gameplay formula as their predecesors, which is GOOD, because that means that the sequels are good because they're consistent. 'It's the same Pokemon formula you've seen before" implies this is bad.

 

[i] I think it was a bit amateurish of you to compare Pokemon (which technically, is considered an RPG) to unrelated genres like platformers [/i]

 

I think it's contradictory of you to say you understand my argument when you just clearly showed me that you have no idea what my original point was. The genre has nothing to do with anything; it's the fact that those series I mentioned kept and built upon their gameplay formulas, but when Pokemon does that, for some reason, people start whining about how it's "the same game all over again" (by the way that complaint is actually universally wrong). That was my point from the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

majin_anders
majin_anders

Seriously, 'Anon947'? I see you're point completely but you came across pretty rude. I do fully understand where you're coming from but I agree with the reviewer in that the formula in which you start the game in your room, walk downstairs, greeted by mum, see a scientist, come across the bad guys is wearisome and repetitive. They could definitely have changed that around and included a story that was a little more fresh. You can't compare a game like Pokemon to Sonic and Mario Bros. which are platformers. If every Halo game started off with waking up in a spaceship, walking to the captain to get weapons and walking out of a spaceship, maybe with a few *minor* detail changes, I would have stopped after the first one. Games like the ones you mentioned have a unique feel to them because you're right, they have a formula, but they built on them in a considerably innovative way.

I think it was a bit amateurish of you to compare Pokemon (which technically, is considered an RPG) to unrelated genres like platformers, and fighters which aren't supposed to be as focused on plot. You shouldn't tell people they have no idea what they're on about because you didn't understand where they were coming from. Your argument was valid, but the way you demonstrated it was amateurish and rude.

Anon947
Anon947

"The bad: It's the same Pokemon formula you've seen before."

 

What an incredibly dumb statement. 

Pokémon keeps the same gameplay formula, and constantly refines and builds upon it. This is the way ALL main series video game sequels should be made, in any series, NO EXCEPTIONS. Pokémon keeps the same gameplay, yes, but adds to it, and gives us NEW plots, features, Pokémon, music, overworlds, maps, enemies, and overall setting. That's all you have to do to make a correct sequel to any video game franchise; yes it's that simple.

 

If Pokémon is "the same game all over again", then so is: Sonic 1-2-3K, Super Mario Bros., Banjo-Kazooie/Tooie, Zelda, Spyro 1-2-3, Vectorman 1 and 2, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, Super Smash Bros., Halo, and Gears of War. And everyone who played those would notice that with each new game, you knew what you were getting, but also, each game also had its own, unique feel to it. Again, I cannot stress enough; this is how to correctly make a sequel in any video game series!!

 

Mark Walton, you have no idea what you’re talking about when you say "it's the same Pokémon formula you've seen before" as a bad thing in your review, and the games don't lack in originality for being a correctly made sequel, so you're wrong about that.

majin_anders
majin_anders

'What it lacks in originality, Pokemon Black more than makes up for with a vast world to explore and an absorbing battle system that's heaps of fun.'

Pokemon Black/White Version More Info

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  • First Released
    • DS
    Pokemon Black Version features new Pokemon for players to catch, train, and battle. There are also exclusive Pokemon to catch in each, such as the Legendary Pokemon Reshiram that can only be caught in Pokemon Black Version and the Legendary Pokemon Zekrom that can only be caught in Pokemon White Version.
    8.6
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    Developed by:
    Game Freak
    Published by:
    Nintendo
    Genres:
    Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    All Platforms
    Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence