A new generation of Pocket Monsters has arrived on the Nintendo DS.
It has been four years since the release of Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, and during the interim, Pokémon fans have longed for the introduction of the fifth generation of Pocket Monsters. Numerous remakes have been released in the span of those four years to tide over die-hard fans, but the desire for a new set of games has always been present. Fortunately Game Freak understood the benefits of beginning the fifth generation of Pokémon on the Nintendo DS as opposed to waiting until Nintendo’s next handheld. The result of their efforts is one of the finest-playing Pokémon titles to date.
Pokémon Black and Pokémon White are the first set of games to take place in the Unova region, an area situated far beyond the land of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnoh. Unlike previous regions, which were all based on locations in Japan, this new territory is modeled after the United States, specifically New York City. This change of inspiration is very apparent in the game’s world map, which differs dramatically from previous titles.
As well as new locations, Pokémon Black and Pokémon White introduce a whopping 156 new Pokémon. The new Pokémon pack a lot more style than previous generations. Not only do the monsters have more personality, but also more evolution chains. Most of the Pokémon this time around evolve at some point or another, and as they evolve into stronger and fiercer creatures, their move pools expand.
With the Unova region being so far away from previous regions, Game Freak thought it would be fitting to only include new Pokémon in the journey, meaning that the cherished Pikachu has been been removed from the journey. It is not until after you complete the game and gain access to a new area that Pokémon from previous generations can be imported.
While the Pokémon may be new, the core principles remain the same. You play as a young hero who sets off from a small town in hopes of making it big. By traveling around the Unova region, your goal is to collect eight gym badges and face the champion. Along the way you will battle many trainers, and capture many Pokémon, which can be trained in order to increase their stats.
This time around, the main quest is more linear than ever before. The game essentially has your path plotted, and very seldom will you ever have to backtrack. This makes Pokémon Black and Pokémon White more accessible to younger gamers, though it almost makes the game too simple. It almost feels as though the exploration component of the game has been compressed in order to make the game more accessible.
The same can be said about the battle mechanics. While the game is challenging at the beginning, about fifteen hours in it all goes downhill. Trainers, including gym leaders, seem more like a walk in the park rather than a real fight. Even the last few battles of the game will rarely have players facing a real challenge.
The Pokémon series has always had some notable flaws, but thankfully Game Freak has taken measures to correct some of the larger ones. For example, on most long routes and caves, a nurse or doctor has been strategically placed to heal your Pokémon. In this way, you no longer have to rush all the way back to the nearest city to heal your Pokémon.
Perhaps the biggest change that Pokémon veterans and lucky to see is that the series dependency on Hidden Machines (HMs) has been greatly reduced. While moves such as surf are still required to reach certain areas, the moves are not mandatory to complete the game. In fact, players can now go from start to finish without even having to use an HM once. In order to see all of what the game has to offer though, you will, however, still need to teach HMs to some Pokémon in your party.
Pokémon Black and Pokémon White retain all the core elements from past games while implementing some new ones. For example, in addition to the standard single and double battles, Game Freak has included triple battles and rotation battles. In triple battles, both teams send out three Pokémon each, and each Pokémon can only target certain opponents, resulting in a higher level of strategy. Rotation battles play very similarly, but instead of allowing all three of your Pokémon to attack each turn, only the center one can make a move. It is also worth mentioning that you can rotate your middle Pokémon with another at any point. Both of these new types of battles work great, though their impact on the game is minimal.
Pokémon Black and Pokémon White put a lot more emphasis on story than previous iterations. Gone is the cliché tale of an evil organization trying to conquer the region, and in its place is the story of an organization called Team Plasma that is trying to liberate Pokémon from trainers. The organization is led by N and Ghetsis, a duo of characters that become pivotal parts of the story near its climax. There is no question that this is the most story-driven Pokémon game to date, though even at its peak it almost feels as though the potential of the story is never reached. There are plenty of moments when you have no idea as to what will happen next, but at the same time the conclusion to it all feels rather slapped together.
With Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl having already appeared on the Nintendo DS, as well as Pokémon Platinum, Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver, it is surprising to see that Game Freak could make such a leap forward in the visual department. The game features more cutscenes than previous titles, and Pokémon sprites have been animated for battles. The desire for the Pokémon series to truly make the leap forward and scrap the sprites and head into the third-dimension is still present, though considering how modern the games feel now due to the increased speed of the battles as well as the new battle animations, the game does not feel quite as archaic as its predecessors.
Pokémon Black and Pokémon White are a great way to kickstart a new generation of Pocket Monsters. The game introduces numerous new features, such as the inclusion of seasons, as well as tuning some notable faults in past games. The duo of games are well worth the asking price, and considering how fresh the developers have made the Pokémon formula, which has been around now for over a decade, Pokémon Black and Pokémon White are truly the best set of Pokémon games since Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue.