More of an expansion pack than a brand new game. But this is still Pokemon, and it's still tons of fun.

User Rating: 7.5 | Pocket Monsters White 2 DS
Pokemon White 2 is a first for the popular Pokemon series. In previous generations, the games would typically follow a pattern of releasing the first two versions, then a "third complete" version that features all the things that were missing from the first two versions (ie. Being able to catch both Legendary mascot Pokemon). However, Nintendo pulled the metaphorical rug out from under all of the gaming world, and instead released two new versions that are direct sequels to the original. How did this new approach pay off? Read on to find out.

The game begins much like other Pokemon games; you are a (pre) teen boy or girl in a region in the Pokemon universe (in this case the game returned to Unova). It isn't long before you obtain your first Pokemon from the local Professor. You can choose from one of three Pokemon, each one a different type (fire, water, and grass). From there, you set off to get all eight of the region Pokemon Gym Badges in order to challenge the Elite Four, thereby becoming the strongest trainer in the land.

This is, at its core, the same Pokemon story we've been getting for years and years now. The only way you can tell that a little more thought went into this version is that there are several references/ changes or additions in the world than were present in the original Black/ White games. The problem is that, where the originals used some new plot devices such as two rivals (who were childhood friends) and a morally ambiguous enemy Team, Black/ White 2 fail to summon the same feeling of novelty. Team Plasma, who weren't quite as arguably bad as other teams since their philosophy was freeing Pokemon from Trainers, has now been split into two parts, the good and the bad (or Black and White, if you prefer). It completely removes any interesting ideas the original stories had (although since most players already know that Team Plasma was, ultimately, power hungry and evil, the same approach would have just been redundant and boring). Because of this, the story in this game is nowhere near as interesting as the originals. Not only that, but many plot elements feel forced or fake.

For instance, your rival in this game is furious at Team Plasma for some unknown event that happened five years prior to Black/ White 2. When you do find out why exactly he's so furious, it comes off as incredibly cheesy and implausible. Additionally, the pacing of the storytelling is a little off… Team Plasma is barely in the game until the final few gym badges, but the conflict ends so quickly that any even remote sense of tension that could have been there is just gone.

Ultimately, the story is barely even mediocre. There is a certain sense of nostalgia that comes from exploring Unova and seeing how it's changed after the two years of in game time have passed, but the strength of the writing simply isn't strong enough to warrant any interest.

Thankfully, it's not so invasive that sitting through the many story scenes feels boring. This is Pokemon, and the focus is still on the simple but deep battle system and Pokemon collecting. This time around, Unova is filled with around 300 Pokemon for you to collect, spanning all the previous generations of the games. It's a staggering amount that hasn't really been seen before. On top of that, there are lots of new places to explore in Unova that weren't present in the original game, and a good chunk of new features and side activities to extend play time.

For instance, there is the Join Avenue, which is a shopping strip that you run. Here, you can encounter people with a dream to open shops. If you allow them to open one, you will gain access to hard to find items or services that can be quite useful (such as a gym that can instantly raise the level of one of your Pokemon). It's a neat little place that can be quite involving if you choose to pursue the side quest. Another somewhat neat feature is Pokestar Studios. Here, you can read from a script and star in your very own movie. Each movie is basically a minigame where you need to memorize what the script said and choose and action form a list that you feel best fits what went with the script. Depending on how well you followed it, the movie will make a certain amount of money. It's a decent little diversion that can be quite fun.

One of the bigger additions is the Pokemon World Tournament. Here, you can take on various gym leaders or important story characters from various different games in the series. It functions much like the Battle areas in other games, like Battle Tower or Frontier, in that you earn Battle Points based upon how successful you are in the competition. Not only that, but it's highly nostalgic to face off against characters from other games in the series.

There is also a random dungeon of sorts that unlocks after you beat the game. There are ten Areas for you to accomplish, and they're all different every time, which leads to good replay value. Basically, in each area, you need to perform two tasks: The first is defeat the Gate Trainer, who controls the door that leads to the Area Boss. When you beat the Area Boss, you beat the area, and are free to move on to the next, or replay it to your heart's content. However, it's not as simple as it sounds. You see, you can't use recovery items, and Nurses are only able to be used once. On top of that, almost every room has at least one trainer in it, and you don't know which one is the Gate Trainer. But, when you beat someone, they'll often give you a hint about who the Gate Trainer is. It creates a rewarding system of both strategy and planning. Additionally, the Areas get progressively tougher as you go on. Eventually, they'll have up to four floors per Area. It's a challenging, but rewarding new feature, and it's great for training high level Pokemon since you gain EXP and money from the trainers.

There is also a new Medal System that functions much like Achievements or Trophies on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Basically, you complete a certain challenge and you receive a Medal for it. Some of them are rather simple, such as saving a certain amount of times, or winning a hundred battles against trainers. Others are much more difficult, such as beating the Elite Four with one Pokemon or completing hundreds of trades. It's an interesting system that offers neat rewards for challenging yourself and being social with other Pokemon players.

The issue I have with the game is that much of the optional content feels like fluff… It's cool that they added it in the game, but ultimately feels more like filler than brand new content. While some additions, like the Pokemon World Tournament and the random dungeon mentioned above, are great, others just feel almost pointless. The Medal system, while kind of cool, just feels like an excuse to add some kind of completionist list of activities to do. Pokestar Studios also feels overall pointless… Aside from earning Medals and just playing the game, there isn't really any tangible reward or reason to play it too much.

Additionally, the game feels far too restrictive during the story. It isn't until after you beat the game that the region finally opens up to you and you're free to more or less do what you want. But during the main storyline, the game will often restrict you, forcing you to go in a certain direction.

Finally, the lack of new Pokemon (apart from new Kyurem forms) really gives the game a somewhat stale aftertaste. For instance, why should I train a Volcarona when I've already trained one to high levels in Pokemon White just the year before? Why should I catch the three dogs of Unova when I already have them in White?

At the end of the day, though, this is still Pokemon. It's lots of fun to fight and train your little critters, and there is a large abundance of rare Pokemon to catch from previous generations. The fact that the game adds so many features is a plus, but the lack of anything truly new makes this game feel much more like an expansion pack than a brand new Pokemon game. The game almost seems to contradict itself… while the story makes it clear the game is for people who have played Black or White, the fact that most of the Pokemon seen in the game are in the previous versions means that people who haven't played Black or White will get the most enjoyment out of the game. If you're a Pokemon fan, and are craving something to tide you over until X and Y come out, Pokemon Black or White 2 should do the trick. However, don't expect to be as wowed by Unova this time around, in spite of its new features. If you haven't played the original games, this is the game to get… It has tons more content to offer, and it will all seem fresh to someone who hasn't already journeyed through Unova before. So long and thanks for reading.