Sorry, we gotta catch 'em all again.
Pokémon Black and White 2 Got Right
- + Addictive gameplay
- + First direct sequel
- + Feels somewhat refreshing, for a rehash
- + We still love Pokémon
Pokémon Black and White 2 Got Wrong
- - It's a DS game
- - Opportunity to innovate missed
- - Too easy early on
The Pokémon series is a mysterious being. Not only does it scarcely change between instalments, Nintendo has gotten away with releasing the same game twice and then tweaking it a third time for well over a decade. That all changes today. Black and White “Version 2” is the first direct sequel in the Pokémon RPG series.
If you played Pokémon Red, Blue or Yellow in 1997 -- perhaps you were a rich 7-year-old who owned all three and deserved to be punched in the buck-toothed face -- or any game since, you know exactly how the 2012 DS game plays. Yes, this is a DS game, not a 3DS game, but I’d wager my house on it being the best-selling handheld game of the year.
Unlike the Yellow, Crystal, Emerald and Platinum emulations, Black and White 2 is a direct sequel. It focuses on the same Generation 5 Pokémon, with the addition of some old favourites, and you’ll be selecting from the same three starters, but it’s an entirely new adventure. Let’s face it: you either really loved Pokémon or were a fool to have bought both Diamond/Pearl and Platinum. It’s all the same game. Black and White 2 is actually a new adventure and therefore a vast improvement on Pokémon Grey -- Nintendo’s other option to make bucketloads of money in the lead-up to Christmas.
Black and White 2 opens up a whole new world of things to do and see that feel just as importing as obtaining those prestigious gym badges.
It’s surprising how much the Unova Region has changed, with the inclusion of new areas and some alterations to recognisable routes and towns. It’s noticeably the same world, but you never feel as if you’re rehashing old territory in terms of the landscape. Meanwhile, anyone who beat Black and White can link their save file to bridge the continuity.
Pokémon’s improvements have always been incremental at best. In terms of core gameplay, I have little to add on my Black and White review from early last year; except in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have labelled it a ”great swansong for the DS”. It still boasts the same great gameplay that makes rehashing the same old formula horrifyingly addictive.
Expect to run around the world completing your Pokedex, training your Pokémon, swindling money from incompetent trainers and collecting the eight Gym badges -- of which there are now a total of 48, if you’ve played every game.
After 18 months of the 3DS, the 3D environments have aged, but remain the best of any Pokémon game (although it’s best played on a DS, not the 3DS XL I used for a bulk of my adventure). However, poor 2D Pokémon and character visuals are a real eyesore on the beautiful landscapes. Pokémon models in the fight animations remain reminiscent of something from the GameBoy Advance.
Once again we’re inundated with ridiculous Pokémon, such as the Ice-Cream-Cone(émon) and the Electric Sheep. This has happened before, and won’t come as a surprise, but some of them are horrendous. I hate to think what the next generation is going to be like, but hey, I’m a biased fan from the days when 151 was a respected number.
All of that is old news. What’s new?
The gym leaders are more impressive -- but puzzles play a lesser role -- and remain unique. For a stubborn series that refuses to change, the one aspect that has never been rehashed is the diversity of the gym leaders.
The all new Pokémon World Tournament is the biggest addition outside of the Hollywood-esque formula, which pits you against most of the gym leaders and champions from the first four generations. Pokémon games have always pushed you to keep playing after obtaining the eight badges -- which is your initial goal -- but none have ever been this compelling. Black and White 2 opens up a whole new world of things to do and see that feel just as importing as obtaining those prestigious gym badges.
Unfortunately, the difficulty curve is out of sync for the first time in the series. You won’t come across any Pokémon worth training for a few hours and will easily blast through to the second gym without so much as looking at a second Pokémon to retain in your team. Even Red and Blue didn’t allow that; in the past, we always had to begin training other Pokémon almost immediately. It soon levels out and plays like any other Pokémon game, but during the opening few hours, it just doesn’t feel right.
Outside of the battling everyone in sight formula, Nintendo has looked to expand the side activities. PokéStar Studio sees you making mini-movies with your favourite Pokémon and have them evaluated by the audience, which is surprisingly entertaining.
Likewise, the new medals rewards system will hook dedicated players. It’s a compelling substitution for Achievements or Trophies, which Nintendo famously hasn’t conformed to. There are over 200 medals to collect by competing in tournaments, trading with friends, catching Pokémon and buying new items.
Whilst most of its improvements are positive, I can’t help but feel that Game Freak has squandered a massive opportunity to revitalise the series. Black and White 2 introduces a new adventure with additional areas to explore and some new side attractions, but the core gameplay hasn’t evolved since its inception in the mid-90s. If Nintendo was intent on releasing the first direct sequel, it would have been nice to see some variation. Something different, even if fans adore the tried and tested gameplay after all these years; perhaps they would appreciate a unique experience even more.
The Final Verdict
I like what Game Freak has done with Pokémon Black and White 2, and it’s unequivocally a new adventure that improves on its predecessor. However, it’s not that much of a stretch from the “enhanced” version of each of the previous instalments and arguably missed an opportunity to revitalise the series. Nevertheless, fans know what they’re signing up for with a new Pokémon game and Black and White 2 will not disappointment. Catch ‘Em All for a second time.
By Ben Salter