Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pokemon Black 2 Review 9.0

Score: 9.0 
Recommendation: 5/5 Stars

When Pokemon Black/White were first released, the first reaction in my hoarse throat I could utter was simply “I’ll wait for the third iteration, Pokemon Grey.” Pokemon marketing has been such an obvious cycle of repeats, it would be crazy if they didn’t release a new color. Well I was both right and wrong; not only were two new iterations released, but they’re definitely not the “Grey” game I was looking forward to - but that’s a good thing. I was expecting the same ol’ stuff, but at least a better game than what Pearl/Diamond/Platinum could provide (I’m looking at you snail-paced battles, honey trees, and Bidoof). I got that and plus much, much more than I originally hoped for in the far land of Unova. 

Black 2/White 2 are the first direct sequels to any previous game in Pokemon history. This may sound like it’s catering to veterans who played the original Black/White, but as a newcomer, I can safely say I didn’t feel left out or frequently said “huh?” through my journey, because like any and all Pokemon games it caters to every new and old fan alike, no matter the skill level. This is what made Pokemon special in the first place, and it’s the reason why the games sell in the millions, on day one no less.

These game kicks off 2 years after the first two versions, and judging by user feedback, you start at a completely new town with a new rival, and receive your starter from the previous installment’s female rival, Bianca. After that it’s no mystery what happens next: you receive Pokeballs, you catch Pokemon, you fight Gym Leaders, and stop an evil team along the way. Story-wise, that might make sense of the ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ approach that the Pokemon games strictly follow, but after you gain incite from what happened two years ago in Black/White you can plainly see the story took a much more interesting approach story telling with it’s evil PETA-esk team of crusaders. Some turned over a new leaf, and we’re left with a few members here and there that seem like they were just tacked on to the game because it needed an evil team. Don’t get me wrong, your rival’s quest for finding his sister’s kidnapped Purrlion is somewhat interesting, but it’s hard to take the guy seriously with his pronounced spike-y Saiyan hair (I literally named him ‘Goku’).

But it’s not the story I play Pokemon for, it’s the Pokemon themselves, and man do these versions deliver on that factor alone. The Unova Pokedex has a boosted 300 Pokemon prior to the credits only. The expansion isn’t new Pokemon, but a assorted variety from previous Gens. Don’t go thinking they’re just common seen-them-a-million-times-before series troopers like Geodude and Machop though; rare Pokemon like Eevee, Riolu, Drifloon, and many more Pokemon can be found in more numbers than ever before. A new Habitat feature on your Pokedex will make the catching process even more convenient. It always tells you if there’s more Pokemon in the area, when you could find them, and presents you a sticker when you complete each area. With such a robust amount of features, weather and season changes to find different colored Pokemon each month, and hidden grottos to discover, B2/W2 will give any trainer a boost in their collecting without having to migrate/trade all those Pokemon from previous installments. Never has “catch em’ all” been so re-enforced on this scale.

Pokemon battling is just as fun as it ever was, but I’m still surprised how well the turn-based gameplay has actually improved despite being such a caveman style RPG tradition. Granted, it’s still the same battle system, but I loved how they finally reduced the length and breadth of battles and don’t force us to wait in anticipation every time we attack a Snorlax and have to wait for his HP to wittle down. B2/W2 introduced two new battle styles: Triple and Rotational Battles to break up the monotony of normal battles and to encourage more creative and strategic placement of your Pokemon. They’re a blast to play, and are the best new forms of gameplay the Pokemon games seen since double battles were introduced in Ruby/Sapphire. New battle styles aren’t the only new improvement; new attack and defensive moves are very welcome, and will definitely change competitive battles once again. Limitless reusable TM’s (Technical Machines for teaching new battle moves) are such a major improvement that I couldn’t help myself teaching a move to all my Pokemon whenever I find one, without worrying about wasting a perfectly good TM on a weak Pokemon I decide to ditch later on or constantly wasting my Pokedollars on a good TM over and over again (right, Ice Beam?). 

B2/W2 has a well rounded set of C Gear features, both single and multiplayer, to make sure you can raise those Pokemon to their peak perfection and helping other fellow trainers in the process. One of those features is the Entralink, which can accessed almost anywhere in the game, and any player can join in on the other‘s game card and help them complete the mission(s) at any time. Players will then perform certain tasks in the over world, like beating 10 martial artists or finding set berries scattered though out the world. Players are then rewarded with Orbs which can be used as a form of power currency to activate temporary abilities like finding more rare Pokemon in grass, Exp. Boosts, and repellents. Sometimes you’re even rewarded Heart Scales and other rare items just for participating. This is not only great news for new players that haven’t collected all the good items in the past Pokemon games, but it’s also a big break for vets of the series since they won’t have to transfer all those items to the new versions. In an example of how generous these games are; they literally hand you a Lucky Egg, an item that greatly boosts Exp. Points after battle, long before you step foot in the Pokemon League. 

But don’t think these games being generous will make them too easy. In fact, they’re probably the most balanced Pokemon games yet in terms of difficulty. Strong trainers are not an uncommon site, and the Gym leaders don’t go down easy. Breeder trainers are almost on every route, and they will battle you whenever you cross a different route and back then get into their sights, whether you’re ready or not (this can also be annoying sometimes). The Wild Pokemon are no pushovers either. It’s a series first to find a lot of these Pokemon at such high levels. The delicate catching process of trying to weaken a Pokemon without fainting it, is as evident here as it always is, but once their levels start climbing and you start to encounter Legendaries you’ll have to mix up your strategy by trying to keep your team healthy while trying not to faint the wild Pokemon. Players that want a harder or easier challenge are in luck (well, that is if you know another with a different version of the game) because it’s version offers a unique special “key” item after completing certain tasks. While the White 2 key unlocks Easy Mode, the Black 2 key unlocks Challenge Mode, and both keys can unlock new routes with Pokemon to catch, and change the versions’ Black City to White Forest or vice versa. Unfortunately for those hoping to play the entire storyline in Challenge or Easy Mode will have to wait until they can find another person with the respective version that already beat the Pokemon League, which almost defeats it’s own purpose. My wish for Gen 6 would definitely be an option to change the difficulty setting at will, but at least Gen 5 provides a harder/easier challenge post-game.

And you can’t mention Pokemon without multiplayer, and B2/W2 provide the best options I’ve seen yet. No more must we run to a Pokemon Centers whenever we want to battle/trade locally: you can battle/trade with anyone anywhere in the game, even when you turn on your game and realize you’re halfway through a cave. This is such a far cry from last generation’s connection features, it almost feels alien (the cute fuzzy kind that gives you cookies). Another C Gear feature is the Xtransceiver, where you can compete in goofy mini-games with your face pasted on balloons (considering you’re using a DSi or 3DS). The Pokemon Global Trading System also makes an appearance, but if anything it’s probably the biggest disappointment in both versions. It’s not the developers fault however, but the absolute ridiculous requests people are now putting up in exchange for just common Pokemon no less. I honestly could not find one fair trade that wasn’t taken in a matter of minutes. You’re better off trading with sane people you know, which the GTS proves most useful, though when trading with random people I did find it annoying how you still can’t specify alternate forms, nor can you offer more than one Pokemon at a time.

In conclusion, if anything else B2/W2 versions offer a consistent 200 plus hours of gameplay if you decide to search every nook and cranny of the Unova region and catch every Pokemon, and that’s not even counting the NationalDex, Pokemon World Tournament, Entralink missions, and a beef of Achievements to unlock. As a fan of Pokemon from the beginning, and playing almost every game in the series, I can honestly say Pokemon B2/W2 is a step in the right direction. 
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