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Pokémon Black & White

"I'd be sorely mistaken, however, if I judged Pokémon on its mindless, unimaginative single-player venture alone."

With other series, such as Shin Megami Tensei or even Final Fantasy, consumers don't always know what they're going to get. Sure, these series have distinct flavors, but their furnishings usually vary enough to warrant intrigue. With Pokémon, this isn't necessarily the case; typically, everyone knows what they're getting. What makes each purchase worthwhile is its improvements or additions upon the previous version. Pokémon Black certainly brags grand additions, but errs in the way of improvements, nesting in tried-and-true formulas. Should you catch them all this time around? Again?

PETA's the enemy. Motivated, yet?

As one might expect, our young protagonist is on his way to collect all eight gym badges so he can beat the champion and become the best trainer ever. Instead of intermittently battling a rival throughout the game, however, players occasionally trade blows with childhood friends Cheren and Bianca, both with their own quests that aren't as two-dimensional as one would initially guess. Some inner conflict shakes the story up a bit, but just a bit. Other contenders for power show up, one of which is this game's iteration of Team Rocket called Team Plasma. They want nothing more than to free all the Pokémon in the world, assuming that that's what Pokémon want – to be released.

That's as deep and intriguing as the story gets. The path remains clogged with idle trainers waiting to zing you with their plucky one-liners and easy Pokémon battles, and gym leaders try to be archetypical – and succeed. Gamers hungering for deep dialogue and novel interaction will likely spam their A button after about the second gym. Though, really – this is Pokémon. What're you expecting?

I choose you, forgettable steel Pokémon!

The battle system is about as old school as a game gets. Each type of Pokémon has a few weaknesses and strengths, and it's up to you to make the best team. Most battles remain in one-on-one format, despite the advertised tri-battles everyone noticed in trailers. Players choose their Pokémon's ability, and a speed stat decides if they get one-hit KO'd or if they one-hit KO the opponent. Though, realistically, the high random encounter rate is going to deform your soft and cute Pokémon into creatine-chugging monstrosities that will effortlessly brain NPC Pokémon – with their vines.

I'd be sorely mistaken, however, if I judged Pokémon on its mindless, unimaginative single-player venture alone. The best part of Pokémon Black rests in its multiplayer experience and extra content. Here, players can enjoy complex six vs six battles, replete with items, equipment, and layered abilities that only the best trainer has access to (read: the one most willing to grind or read a FAQ). A train station mid-way through the game offers single player challenge modes under unique conditions that are lengthy in duration, but short on fun factor. Regardless, the initial intrigue can't help but entice even the most hate-fueled Pokémon cynic.

One must wonder why some of Pokémon's most tiresome traits remain in each installment. For instance, although TM abilities are reusable, HM abilities still can't be removed unless players speak to the right person in some town. Why? Random encounter rates seem to increase in the second half of the game, while dungeons grow longer for no apparent reason. Players can stock as many healing items as they like, so dungeons are hardly a trial of endurance or attrition. Why make us fight the same three Pokémon every three steps through layered mazes with few landmarks, so that we can get lost and accidentally retrace the same steps? Yeah, repels are available for purchase, but should we even have to bother with them? A tolerable, if not fun, first half of the game quickly turns into tedious and hackneyed design.

But it's pretty! You know, for a DS game...

Nintendo didn't really put their best foot forward when they created the opening scene. No, that's not an albino Porygon making a funny noise, that's a legendary dragon Pokémon. I guess. Although this doesn't set a positive tone for the rest of the game's visuals, one would unjustifiably judge the game's spectacular graphics if one stopped here. Occasional blemishes peak above the surface of an otherwise polished game, but these are forgivable. The Pokémon series has enjoyed numerous facelifts throughout its history, and Black is no exception. However, it doesn't forget its roots, either. Black is strikingly familiar while enjoying 3D bridge sequences and flight animations. In fact, one has to wonder why Nintendo didn't wait a little bit longer to put this title on the 3DS. Oh well, I suppose we can always look forward to remakes.

...

Ohhhhhhh...

The Pokédex can reproduce Pokémon calls. You know, in case you ever want to listen again.

The obligatory grrrfff and anggghhh sound effects return, as pleasant and charming as ever (note: sarcasm). Laden in nostalgia, these greetings will either grate on your nerves or produce a smile – for a little while. Musically, Pokémon Black is forgettable aside from a few numbers, namely the Team Plasma grunt theme. Signature tunes appear from time to time, but these, too, could easily be discarded for more engaging pieces.

Expect to spend 5 gameplay hours loading screens.

For whatever reason, menu loading takes longer than it should. The actual length of time isn't that long, but when sifting through menus constantly just to get the item tracking device working or to hop on a bicycle, the time adds up. Quickly, impatience seeps in and strangles any remaining tolerance someone might have within an endless cave of the same beige walls. Aside from these gripes, however, Pokémon Black's buttons and menus function intuitively.

Multiple additions, but not where it counts.

At the end of the day, this is my review against sales statistics and other reviews that lavish with praise the same game we've reviewed for over a decade now. Despite this, I'm going to step up and say: enough. The Pokémon series wore out its welcome long ago, and continues to make the same game design mistakes. These pratfalls bog down a potentially engrossing game, if only substantive additions were made to the old formula. Even Square-Enix moved away from the ATB system eventually. All things considered, Pokémon is oftentimes said to be a children's game, and maybe that's where I've made my mistake with this review.


© 2011 Nintendo, Game Freak. All rights reserved.




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