Review: Black & White represent Pokemon at its best

You’ve crossed the desert to find the Vegas-like city of Nimbasa in turmoil as the Pokemon-rights thugs wreak havoc. They’re hiding in the amusement park. You really should take action right now, but…You have a chance to feature your Pokemon in that stage musical across the street, and you want to see how your Krokorok looks in a top hat. Saving the world can wait.

Welcome to the weird, chaotic, wonderful world of Pokemon Black and White, the best entry to date in Nintendo’s record-shattering RPG franchise.

Pokemon RPGs are videogame comfort food: familiar, reliable and satisfying. If you’ve ever played one, you know what to expect here, from the tiny opening village to the eight Gym Leaders to the Day Care folks and the Nickname-Changing Guy.

So, what makes Black and White such a great entry? The words “more” and “improved” come to mind. You’ll find a slicker presentation, more animation, great cut scenes, better sound and quicker pacing. An avalanche of tweaks and improvements join with tons of extra content, optional quests and online modes to create Nintendo’s best-looking, best-sounding, best-playing Pokemon RPG in the series’ history.

The simple landscapes feel more “alive” this time around, due to great details, from the sound of a plane passing overhead to enormous trucks rumbling by in a sandstorm. The traditional journey from small village to big city has never had more impact; your approach to the central metropolis of Castelia City is an awesome sequence. Try playing a bit with stereo earphones to get the full effect of the game’s excellent sound mix.

Best of all, the story is truly compelling this time around. B&W’s tale involves Team Plasma, a mysterious group who make threats and bully folks around in the name of Pokemon Rights….as if there’s something wrong with capturing animals in tiny spheres and forcing them to fight one another. It’s refreshing and fun to see the franchise examine and criticize itself in this light, as the motivations and philosophies of all the game’s characters are given a bit of depth that this series has rarely enjoyed before.

Add in the adventure’s sharp, clever writing and you end up with a game that’s funnier, sadder, crazier and more involving than previous installments.

It’s also unusual in that there are no classic Pokemon involved in the main quest. Don’t let that deter you: Within an hour of play, the parade of completely new faces turns out to be a welcome change of pace. It only took me a few hours to find six creatures I liked enough to keep as my “go-to” crew. Sure, you’ll find a bunch of clunkers in the new line, but no Pokemon cast has ever been free of a few less-than-thrilling designs (Metapod, anyone?)

After all this praise, however, let me make this very clear: If you’ve already tried a Pokemon RPG and didn’t care for the core experience, nothing in this game is going to change your mind. It’s still the same random-battle, level-grinding, evolve-your-Pokemon, collect-the-badges adventure it’s always been.

If you’re a fan of Pokemon RPGs, however, I highly recommend this game. If you’re new to the series, this is the perfect time to give it a try. Pokemon Black and White joins the ranks of DS’s very best and most feature-rich adventures.

13 Responses to Review: Black & White represent Pokemon at its best

  1. Caleb says:

    It definitely sounds intriguing, and certainly an improvement over the last one I played. All new Pokemon is a plus for me–sometimes I get tired of seeing the same ones over and over again.

    Graphically, I understand that the Pokemon are all still sprites, but it looks like the overworld is entirely in 3D now–is that right?

    Thanks for the review, Richard!

  2. Richard says:

    Caleb–

    The Pokemon are still sprites–and don’t look great when the camera zooms closer to them. On the plus side, they’ve all actually got standby animation cycles this time around, so they do look more “alive.”

    The overworld is 3D, with Castelia City representing the biggest change in the game’s look. Most of the towns and countryside, however, are very similar to the previous games, but with an even more isometric view for added depth. The camera is a lot more active, too–occasionally zooming and tilting to follow your action.

  3. BlueRocks says:

    Black or White?

    What is the main difference?

  4. bananaoomarang says:

    @bluerock

    They both have different areas to unlock after beating the main game to catch old pokemon, and different main ledgendaries, and a few pokemon variations.

    I think white has a forest, where black has a city.

    Also bear in mind, white has the black ledgendary and white has the black.

  5. Richard says:

    Also, of the two new battle types introduced, Black has more rotational battles and White had more triple

  6. Josh says:

    I wish I had time to play these games! They are such time sucks.

  7. Eugene says:

    @Richard
    Great review! Looking forward to advancing further into the game, but so far so good!

  8. gamecollector44 says:

    I wanna get Pokemon White, but I gotta convince my mom to let me get it. x_x It’s almost like she harbors some sort of grudge against it…

  9. InvisibleMan says:

    How do Black/White compare to Soulsilver/Heartgold, Richard? Graphically, that is? (I suppose the gameplay didn’t change much, but is it a lot better looking than that last remake?)

  10. Richard says:

    InvisibleMan–

    It’s not so much a huge graphic overhaul as it is dozens and dozens of little added enhancements and extra polish and clever direction that add up to a fuller big picture. It still looks like a sprite-based Pokemon game…but one that’s got lots of cool tricks up its sleeve.

  11. Craig says:

    The only thing wrong is that there is no touch screen menu button and the start and select buttons are not used. that and they are reinforcing stereotypes. there is a nerdy, smart asian that knows everything? Are you kidding?

  12. Craig says:

    @bananaoomarang, you said it wrong. the white legendary is in black and the black one is in white.

  13. Sal your Pal says:

    I thought there were no more old pokemon in this one? Just all new ones?
    Ugh I’m sick of re catching the hundreds of old ones. I thought they just made an all new 150 and only had them in the game?

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