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Pokémon Black & White

"If you have not played Pokémon since the original Game Boy and are thinking of getting back into the world of "catching them all," give Pokémon White a try. You will not be disappointed by the plethora of new features the developers have added to the classic game structure."

As it was for many gamers of my generation, playing the original Pokémon for the Game Boy was somewhat of a defining moment in my gaming career. Not only was it one of the first games whose world captivated me as a child; it was one of my first forays into the role-playing genre. Its simple yet addictive gameplay was simple enough to understand quickly, yet in-depth enough to keep one playing far beyond the main storyline. I am happy to report that with Pokémon White (and Black), this tradition of great role-playing titles has persisted. In fact, its innovation on the classic formula takes the series to new heights.

Anyone who has played a previous Pokémon game knows the story: players take the role of a boy or girl setting off from his or her hometown to go on an adventure to catch Pokémon, collect eight gym badges, and hopefully become champion. Along the way, that character and his/her friends, as well as the people of Unova as a region, are plagued by the constant plots of Team Plasma, the new villainous "team" for the 5th generation of Pokémon games. Team Plasma's leaders claim their overall objective is to free Pokémon from the oppression they face at the hands of trainers, but more details on their methods and true purpose are revealed as the game progresses. In fact, if anything has changed from the previous generation of Pokémon games in terms of story, it is that Team Plasma plays a more active role in this game than other teams did in the past. Not only does it seem like the player must combat them in almost every city, but there are some more epic battles towards the end of the game that break the mold from the traditional Pokémon endgame of simply challenging the champion and winning. The story is also more robust in the sense that some of the gym leaders and side characters, such as your two childhood friends/rivals, are developed more over the course of the game than was previously the norm. Cameo appearances by characters from older Pokémon games only help to enrich the experience and reward longtime fans of the series. Of course, after completing the main story of the game, many new areas of the world open for the player to explore. In addition, players can overcome new battle challenges such as the Battle Subway, which asks the player to complete a marathon of battles under various conditions.

The gameplay of Pokémon White, like the story, innovates on the classic formula while maintaining a fun, simple, and addictive experience. The game revolves primarily around catching and training Pokémon and subsequently bringing them into battle against various trainers, gym leaders, and eventually the powerful Elite Four. The strategy lies in constructing a team of Pokémon whose types (such as Grass, Fire, Dark, Electric, etc.) counter the opponent's types, and whose movesets provide the necessary amount of utility and damage. Catching Pokémon also remains largely the same: players reduce a wild Pokémon's life to near nothing before throwing Pokéballs to attempt to catch the Pokémon and make it their own. On the surface, the training of Pokémon is simple and remains similar to previous titles. Players fight wild Pokémon and trainers to earn experience for their Pokémon in a classic RPG leveling system. For more hardcore players, Pokémon breeding is present in the 5th generation as well, allowing for the tailoring of Pokémon with specific stats, moves, and other properties for those who hope to compete with other players over the internet or challenge the Battle Subway.

The battle system of Pokémon White will also be very familiar to those who have played previous Pokémon games. Players send out one Pokémon at a time, and on each turn, they have the option to use one of 4 moves in the Pokémon's moveset, use items to restore health or cure status problems, or switch the Pokémon with another from their party should the one originally sent out be unsuitable for the situation. The opponent, of course, has the same options, and the heart of battle lies in using moves which are "super effective" against the opponent's Pokémon, such as using Water moves against Fire type Pokémon. This means that knowledge of Pokémon and their types and possible moves is perhaps the first step towards conquering the battles presented during the journey. As always, the battle system remains simple and easy to learn, while still presenting the player with plenty of unique challenges throughout the game. If that is not enough, there are also Double battles, where players use two Pokémon at a time, and the new Triple battles where players fight with 3 Pokémon at a time. The controls are more or less the same as they were in previous DS Pokémon titles, with the touch screen as an option to choose moves and perform a few other tasks, but the classic control scheme without use of the touch screen still being fairly prevalent.

The graphics in Pokémon White are about what is to be expected for a game of this sort on the DS, with some improvements over the previous games. Most noticeably, all of the Pokémon now have animated sprites in battle, and the camera shifts during battle during certain moves to emphasize their affects on the Pokémon. In addition, the overworld has gotten a aesthetic overhaul with new 3D effects, especially in some of the cities, where changes in the camera angle give a sense of depth not present in the previous games, which used only an overhead view. While I personally found some of the new Pokémon designs somewhat lacking in appearance, the older Pokémon look great with the 5th generation graphics. There are also a few cutscenes that display the Pokémon in full 3D renders and anime-style portraits of some important characters. Overall, the graphics of Pokémon White are above average for a DS RPG title, which is to be expected from a franchise whose games are generally of good quality.

The music of Pokémon remains as good as its gameplay. Pokémon White includes both remixed tunes from previous titles that remain as catchy as ever, as well as a complement of new tracks for battle and overworld exploration. Every town has its own track that fits the environment of the town well and keeps the player interested rather than boring them with the same music over and over again. In addition, longtime fans will recognize such tunes as the classic Pokémon center theme, as well as a myriad of familiar sound effects from old Pokémon calls to the clicks of the Pokéballs.

It is clear that the developers intended to put more connectivity in Pokémon White than in any previous title, and as such there are many options for interacting with other players. As in the older games on the DS, players can trade, battle and perform other interactions with nearby players and those from around the world through the use of Wi-Fi. This, of course, expands the game far beyond its single-player boundaries, as one can battle with people from the other side of the world fairly easily and explore the strategies being used in other countries. Moreover, the player is outfitted with equipment called C-Gear. This device is primarily operated through the use of the touch screen, and allows easy access to infrared communications, as well as a new feature called the "Entralink," which allows the player to enter another player's world for a short time and grant him or her benefits such as halved shop prices or experience boosting powers. There is even a built-in "Xtransceiver," which allows for voice and, if for those playing on a DSi, even video communication with friends. Of course, as per Nintendo's standard policy, many of these interactions are limited by Friend Codes, which players must exchange with their friends beforehand.

As I have described, Pokémon White is an extremely solid game, but it is not without some minor flaws. For one, some features are fairly slow, like saving the game and battling with other players are fairly slow and can be a bit tedious even with the use of infrared communication. Not knowing anyone else who has the game could also limit some of the connectivity features, although there is always the option of connecting through Wi-Fi. The last minor issue is that, perhaps as to be expected with over 600 Pokémon in the Pokédex, some of the new Pokémon designs are fairly bland and unexciting. This is not to say that there are no interesting Pokémon, as there are many, but I found many of the wild encounters somewhat tiresome, since I rarely encountered something that I really wanted to catch. There also seemed to be a large increase in the wild Pokémon encounter rate in this game. This makes traversing some areas fairly frustrating, as players will constantly run into random battles. One other minor annoyance is that while one can transfer Pokémon from previous generations (Diamond, Pearl, HeartGold, and SoulSilver) in a one way transfer, players cannot transfer items from the previous titles, requiring players to earn them all over again.

Despite these minor flaws, Pokémon White is a great game for players of all ages and levels of experience with the Pokémon franchise. If you are a longtime veteran of the series, you will find just as much to enjoy in the newest iteration of the game as you did in previous releases. If you have not played Pokémon since the original Game Boy and are thinking of getting back into the world of "catching them all," give Pokémon White a try. You will not be disappointed by the plethora of new features the developers have added to the classic game structure. On the other hand, if you're getting into the Pokémon series for the first time, this is at least as good a game as any in the series, and if you're looking for a simple, yet complex and enjoyable experience, you're bound to enjoy it whether you're young or old.


© 2011 Nintendo, Game Freak. All rights reserved.




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