Pokémon Black and White Review!!

After playing through four generations of the same Rattata infested storyline, the lovely people over at Nintendo decided it was time to take the floundering Pokémon series and make it a game to fit a different generation.  We may have come leaps and bounds from the shoddy pixelated Pikachu that were filling the screens of our Gameboy Advances back in the franchise’s heyday, but no amount of cell shading and increasingly bizarre pint size critters was enough to derive from the single line of truth fans had come to associate with each new Pokémon release – the game had lost both its edge and it’s novelty.

With each new evolution of the game, players were more or less handed the previous generation’s instalment with a new colour branded on the box and promises of exciting new adventures.  Why then, after a decade of slumming it through forests to get to gym leaders, were we still finding Magikarp at the end of our fishing rods?  Lacking the massive fan base the show’s popularity brought in the late nineties, Nintendo was perhaps relying on returning audiences to mark the game’s success.  With re-releases of older versions of the game being marketed to fill the gaps between new releases, the axiom don’t fix it if it’s not broken may have held tight enough for Nintendo to justify serving gamers with several different versions of the exact same thing.  Although we would not suffer this from many other gaming franchises without a degree of criticism, each release or re-release managed to top the charts with seemingly relative ease.  Whether this was due to the faithful masses attempting to squeeze something new out of the game or a simple lack of competition, developers at Game Freak eventually drew the conclusion that the time had come for a major revamp if it was to entice audiences any further.

These days everyone and their granny seems to have a DS in one variation or another, with television ads having us believe great aunt Ethel sits at home playing Mortal Kombat on system link with Mavis from across the road.  With social and casual gaming now taking a predominant place in the gaming spectrum, the fifth generation of Pokémon had to be a game that appealed not only to fans but also to the Brain Training masses with a far greater disposable income to invest.  Having finally run out of precious metals to add to the tile, developers Game Freak offered up Pokémon Black and Pokémon White on March 4th 2011 to the long awaiting British masses.

Unlike the other games, this instalment proved different from the very beginning with superior graphics and the introduction of 3D landscapes instead of the usual isometric houses we had come to expect.  The producers had also upped the ages of the characters so that the adventuring ten year olds left to wonder the dark alleyways of Celedon City alone were now a thing of the past.  Disappointingly, however, the selection of only one archetypal male or female player still remained whereas a customised character option would not be out of place.  This small detail is quickly rendered obsolete however as it is straight into the action with two consecutive Pokémon battles taking place within your very own bedroom.  With the choice of three cute starter PokémonTepig, Snivvy and Oshawott – who represent the typical fire/grass/water starter cycle, players are off to an explosive start on this newest adventure.

Even if this does seem a little familiar, especially once you realise the first person you will be visiting is a Pokémon Professor who just so happens to live in your home town, then do not fret because what makes this game so special is the interaction between your surroundings and fellow characters.  The storyline is of course as linear as the other games but what makes this one stand out is the presence of plot beyond the usual ‘Team Rocket take over the world’ gimmick that had become tired in previous instalments: what’s more is the introduction of moral issues and aspects of realism that had previously been overlooked.  Team Plasma, besides having the most awesome battle music of any other villainous bunch to date, are kidnapping Pokémon because they feel it is wrong to keep them imprisoned in Pokéballs.  By the amount of Plasma battles you face in the game this may seem a little hypocritical, but no amount of preaching by gym leaders about the bonds of friendship between a Pokémon and its trainer can quite convince you that Team Plasma don’t have a fair point.

Unlike the androgynous rivals of games past, the depth of character put into your friends and enemies for once seems attentive enough to make them of actual interest.  You have two friends from the beginning – Cheren, who is just not quite as good as you but trying his best and Bianca, who learns the hard way that not everyone can make it to the top – alongside the king of Team Plasma who all feel the need to ambush you upon entering random caves or cities for Pokémon battles.

To the game’s credit there are over 150 brand new creatures to collect with not a Zubat or Metapod in sight until after the game’s completion.  Although ideas for these latest monsters may seem a little stretched – what with an ice cream cone Pokémon making it into the mix – it is both challenging and refreshing have to learn from scratch who to put on your party instead of relying on old favourites over and over again.  The introduction of a seasonal cycle also means there are different variations to be added to the Pokédex every few weeks.  The game also makes a far greater usage of the DS interactive capabilities allowing players to interact all across the country.

You would have to be a bit of a Slowpoke not to appreciate the innovations Black and White has brought to the table; hopefully it marks the beginning of a great new generation for this beloved old franchise.

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