Pokemon Black Version Review

Last year, I caught 'em all. After hundreds of hours, I finally reached my goal of collecting one each of all 493 Pokemon. Actually, you can read about it here. My celebration was short lived, however, as it wasn't even a week after attaining my long sought after goal that Nintendo announced two new Pokemon titles, Black and White. The trickle of info on these new games quickly turned into a deluge, and my wife and I (yup, she's just as obsessed as I am) were counting the seconds until we'd have a chance to jump back in and collect the 150+ brand new Pokemon found in these titles. The wait is finally over and Pokemon Black and White have hit our shores, with all the improvements and additions we've been waiting for. And even though my quest to capture all the new species is far from over, I can say that it was worth the wait: Pokemon Black and White have taken the crown for the best yet in the series, and are possibly the best DS games ever released.

If you don't know about Pokemon, I guess you stumbled on this review by accident as pretty much everyone in the universe has some kind of knowledge of the brand. But as a recap, here's your explanation: the Pokemon video games are RPGs in which you capture, train and fight Pokemon, which are basically strange and fantastic animals. There is a loose story connecting things together, and "finishing" the game happens after a number of gym leaders are defeated. The real meat of the game, though, comes from the drive to "catch 'em all," a process that can take literally hundreds of hours. It's a formula that has worked and remained mostly unchanged since the first games were released almost fifteen years ago, and it's as engaging here as it has been with every other previous Pokemon release.

When you consider that Nintendo has released just shy of 20 different Pokemon games over the years (the core ones when you consider the spin-offs, the number gets much, much larger), the sameness of the formula might come off to some as repeated far too often. Pokemon Black and White may be, at their cores, the same games as Pokemon Red and Blue (the first in the series), but Nintendo has managed to up the ante with each release by adding more Pokemon, different items, side quests, mini games and more gimmicks than can be counted (2-on-2 and 3-on-3 battles, the Pokewalker, online functionality, swarms, time and day, the world's changing seasons, etc.). In Black and White, players will find the most fully-featured Pokemon game ever, but if you're expecting any radical changes you'll be disappointed.

Pokemon fans: Can you recall the plot of any main Pokemon RPG in detail? Yeah, me neither. They are all pretty much the same, but Black and White make an attempt at a little depth. Just like every other game, you start your journey in a single-parent household. You get your first Pokemon as a gift from your town's Pokemon professor (this time it's a woman, Professor Juniper), and you and some friends leave home on your quest. The antagonists this time are Team Plasma, a PETA-like group that asks some though provoking questions: Are Pokemon made to be slaves to humans? Are they really happy being cooped up in Pokeballs? It's a nice addition to see a villain, known as N, and a group who are more interesting than the same old "I'm gonna steal your Pokemon, despite the fact that it would probably be easier to just catch my own" business, but I was very disappointed when Team Plasma failed to delve any deeper into these matters. The final moments of the main quest further damage the once interesting story, as it turns out Team Plasma's motivations are not so noble or altruistic. But let's be honest; the stories in Pokemon games matter very little, and are often an annoyance to hardcore, "gotta catch 'em all" players like myself. I've got a 150+ new Pokemon to capture and train in this game, and reading through text conversations is something I don't have the time or patience to enjoy. During an early battle, antagonist N says, and I quote, "Let me hear the voice of your Pokemon." If he were really listening, he'd hear my Oshawott say, "Wrap it up, jerk. There are more Pokemon to catch!"

Much has been made of the graphical update introduced in Black and White, and though the games still lack in the visual department, the new stuff is quite good. The world of Unova has a much more 3D feel to it, thanks to dynamic camera shifts a more angled view of the surroundings. Past Pokemon games have been top-down affairs, and it's a welcome shock when the camera pans out behind your character to reveal a long bridge or picturesque city skyline. Castelia, a monstrous metropolis, shows off the new 3D graphics at their best. It is a circular town, and you have four or five streets to explore. When on the main thoroughfare, the camera pans to a side view. When in the city square, it goes top down. When on the street, it swings to a three-quarter view. When jumping between these areas, the camera serves no specific gameplay purpose, but it does make things feel a little more "real." The game saves some of its more clever 3D tricks for a bit later in the adventure, such as people-launchers, drawbridges and monorails, but the change will be noticeable from the second you begin.