Pokémon Black Version 2 and White Version 2
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 10/7/2012
I have to start off this review by stating a simple caveat. While I’m definitely “The Pokémon Guy” here at Diehard GameFAN and I spent six years working, writing and getting large paychecks from The Pokémon Company, HAL, Game Freak and the like for my work on the series, Pokémon Black and White Version 2 is the first game in the history of the series that didn’t interest me from the moment it was announced. At first I thought I was just burned out on Pokémon in general. After all it’s gone from one game a year (if that) to three or four. However, that’s not the case. I loved Pokemon Conquest and had fun with PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond. Then I thought, “Well maybe I just don’t like the idea of a sequel being released instead of a next generation.” But then if that’s the case I’d be a hypocrite because my favorite generation (Gold/Silver/Crystal) offered a sequel to Generation 1 (Red/Green/Blue/Yellow) in that the post game let you travel to Kanto to see what has happened there since the first game. Then I thought, “Well, maybe I’m just sick of video games.” Which is somewhat true. As this is my 475 review in ten years, I probably am a little burned out. But then, this is my favorite franchise of all time (save for possibly Sakura Taisen), so why the complete apathy to Pokémon Black and White Version 2?
Well in a nutshell, I was afraid that this would basically the point where Pokémon becomes “Poke-Madden.” A series where you get a yearly update but little to no real changes but people keep purchasing it based on the name value alone. At least Pokémon Conquest and PokéPark 2 were wildly different games actually adding something new to the Pokémon franchise and giving people who don’t like turn based RPGS a way to still love Pokémon. Black and White Version 2, seemed like it was going to be just another turn based RPG but released just a year after Pokemon Black & White with very little innovation or originality. Again, “Poke-Madden.” Look at the huge leap in innovation between Generation I and II. Then the sheer amount of extra content and additions between Generation III and IV (Generation III is pretty much universally considered a backslide from Generation II). Even Generation V brought some new stuff to the table. But Black and White Version 2? It just seemed to be more of the same. There weren’t even any new Pokémon (Which honestly is probably a good thing, but that’s a whole other affair). It also didn’t help that reviews and opinion back in Japan were that Black 2 and White 2 were the weakest game in the series so far
Of course, initial impressions aren’t always right. After all, I thought Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was going to be awesome…but then I played it. I never thought I would like a game that had the words “Tom Clancy” in the title, but man was Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars one of the best 3DS launch titles. So were my initial fears grounded in reality? Has there finally been a Pokémon game other than Dash and Team Turbo that I didn’t care for? Or were my extremely lowered expectations able to give me a big surprise? Let’s find out.
This review is really going to focus on what’s new here. After all, the core game is exactly the same as it always is. Little kid allowed to wander the world by himself engaging in cock fighting? Check. Eight Gym Leaders? Check. The Elite Four? Check. Turn based battles? Check. Pokémon can still only know four moves? Check. If you’ve ever played one of the core Pokémon RPGs before then you know everything I would say about the rock-paper-scissors aspect of the game, or how the engine works. Hell, if you’ve ever played an RPG before, you know the gist of game flow, random battles, and leveling up. You’re not here for that. You want substance rather than a rehash right? So let’s just leave at the fact that Pokémon has the best engine in turn based gaming today and let’s look at what’s new and shiny here.
Story-wise, there’s not much here. You have two new playable characters. The game takes place two years after the events of the original Pokémon Black & White, but with three new Gym Leaders, a new Champion, and remixed Elite Four teams to deal with. There are some new areas you can visit, while some old areas from the previous game are closed off. No, you can’t visit any other regions besides Unova, which is a pity. Basically, it’s the same story that every Pokémon core game has. Much like the engine, Game Freak is sticking to the tried and true formula. This means you pretty much know what you are in for and with Black and White Version 2 having the same engine and storyline as all the other Pokémon games, you already know if you are going to like this or not.
Now, it’s the sub-plots and optional quests that will make or break this for you. One includes gathering together a collection of four dual type Pokémon that all are part Fighting. It’s a tribute to The Three Musketeers and it’s the only way for your special Keldeo (that you can download at any EB Games/Gamestop until 10/6) to learn a super secret move. Zekrom and Reshiram now have the ability to fuse with Kyurem Dragon Ball Z style to make the versions of Kyurem displayed on the cover of the game. That’s an interesting plot point that people will either like or hate. There’s a new Team Plasma, but like the Team Rocket appearances outside of GI, it’s a shadow of its former self. You have the Pokémon World Tournament which kind of replaces the Battle Tower here. PWT lets you face all the previous Gym Leaders from the other five core games. The format is very similar to games like Pokémon Coliseum and Pokémon Stadium. While it’s good to see the Kanto and Johto Gym leaders again, this has been done so many times before I’m surprised Game Freak, Nintendo, or anyone is trying to pass this off as new or innovative. The only thing different is that you can fight all of one region’s Gym Leaders in a single game. There’s also Pokestar Studios, but this is pretty much the same as Pokémon Contests or Musicals as your current “alternative to battling.” I will say though, I really like the format of making “films” with your Pokémon and I found it to be the best alternative to battling yet. Contests were dull and Musicals were cute, but easily forgettable. I also liked that if you got a special ending, your Pokémon receives a new animation for when it enters battle. VERY COOL.
The graphics is where the franchise has really gotten an overhaul. Many of these changes are subtle and won’t be noticed unless you really, REALLY, like Pokémon. The bar for your life, experience points and level is no longer black. The gyms all look different. There are some new animations for old attacks and everything has more frames, meaning things are better animated and look more fluid. Even every single generic Trainer is fully animated now (at least their entrances). The Pokedex is bigger and better looking, menus have been redesigned from the ground up and things just look cleaner. It’s a very nice job. The previous set of Black and White games looked nice to begin with, but there is an instant noticeable improvement on the visuals here. Black and White 2 is definitely one of the best looking games out there for the DS.
Soundwise, you have the usual. Tracks have been remixed, some for the sixth or so time. Some old classic tracks have been added from previous games (albeit remixed) and you still have the MIDI noises that are supposed to pass for Pokémon noises even though it’s 2012. Even people within The Pokémon Company continually push to have the voice acting from the cartoon enter the core RPGs for when a Pokémon enters and/or is knocked out. It’s easily doable, it’s not expensive as they already have the rights and both fans and people within all branches of the Pokémon franchise clamor for it. Why it still hasn’t happened is something I honestly can’t explain. So the MIDI noises may be somewhat classic, but it’s also disappointing to see Game Freak stuck using sound effects from the black and white battery guzzling 4-Bit Game Boy era.
So what else is new here? Not much really. Well, some move sets have been changed, but that happens with each game. Five Pokémon have new forms, three of which (Tornadus, Thundurus, and Landorus) need a new item called the Reveal Glass. We’ve already spoken briefly about how Kyruem and Keldeo transform, so let’s move on. There are all of N’s Pokémon to collect, which is a neat sub-quest similar to the roaming Legends. There are Hidden Grottos to discover and…that’s about it. Everything else is pretty much the same as Black and White. Entralink missions, Abyssal Ruins, the Battle Subway, Pass Powers, Black City/White Forest, the Royal Unova ship. There really isn’t a lot here that’s new. It’s mostly Game Freak resting on its laurels and making a very good but also very similar game to the previous release. In some ways this is more a .5 game like Yellow was to Red, Blue, and Green, or Crystal was to Gold and Silver, and so it’s important to view the game in that light; as if it were Pokémon Gray if you will. Still, it didn’t FEEL like there was much done here aside from a visual overhaul; certainly not compared to Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, or Platinum.
My biggest problem with Black and White Version 2 isn’t the fact it feels like a shameless cash grab at times. Rather it’s the sheer amount of things that can only be accessed online. Things like Join Avenue, The Dream Tower, Funfest Missions, and more can only be used properly with an online connection. Now some day, those servers will be dead or offline and thus huge chunks of this game will no longer be accessible. Compared that to previous Pokémon generations where the games were just as large but self contained in a cartridge and thus all you would ever need is to replace the battery every decade or so. What can I say? I’ve seen this happen with games as far back as the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast and I’ve very opposed to huge chunks of any game that are online accessible only – if only because it means you’re merely renting that part of the game instead of actually owning it. Honestly, every time I encountered something that required an online connection, it annoyed me. Not because these portions weren’t well done; they were. It’s because I knew my time with them would be fleeting.
All in all, I can’t say I disliked OR enjoyed my time with Pokémon Black and White 2. Both versions of the game are well made. The engines Game Freak make are exceptionally solid and almost always bug free (save for the first generation of the game, but those WERE some pretty awesome bugs, right MissingNO?). It has some nice graphics, fun music that sticks in your head and you can spend hundreds of hours with it and still not have seen/done everything. It just feels like it’s missing the heart and soul of previous Pokémon releases. The story is weak, the game is far easier than it’s ever been (which is saying something) and at the end of the day, you not only feel like you’ve played this game SEVERAL times before, but better versions to boot. To be honest, while this is still a well made game, it’s also my least favorite generation of Pokémon yet (Johto, Sinnoh, Kanto, Unova, Hoenn, and Unova 2, are how I’d rank them from best to worst.) While I can’t say my fears about Pokémon becoming “Poke-Madden” were unfounded, I thankfully can’t say they were realized either. This game was pushed out way too soon. There’s not enough new content to justify it either as a new core entry or as one of the “.5” releases. Either way, Black and White 2 is lacking in all respects and it makes me sad. One thing that you were guaranteed is that even if you HATED Pokémon, you could admit Game Freak worked really hard on their products and constantly gave gamers tons of new content while keeping the core gameplay and plot the exact same. This is the first time I can honestly say that isn’t the case and I’m not sure who to blame. Was Game Freak getting lazy and decided not to put the same oomph into their region remix title as they have previously? Was Nintendo forcing this so that they could have some guaranteed big money coming in and to squeeze the last bit of blood left from the DS? Maybe both? Maybe neither. Maybe it just was time for Game Freak to release a less than impressive release.
Don’t get me wrong – Pokémon Black and White Version 2 is NOT a bad game. It’s a well made one in terms of programming and design. It’s just not as fun or as good as previous Pokémon releases. As I said earlier, it’s noticeably missing the heart and soul of previous games and suffers dramatically for it. The A.I. is weaker, antagonists Pokémon are much lower level and weaker than in comparable situations in previous games, and aside from cosmetic changes, it’s way too close to the previous release for comfort. Yes, even for a “.5” game. Basically, if you already have Black and White, you don’t NEED this. Wait until a price drop, which won’t happen for a long time as it’s a first party Nintendo release. When compared to the original B&W, this game is noticeably weaker in most areas and feels like way too much of a retread. Compared to the other “.5” releases (Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum), there’s far less new and/or remixed content here to the point where sometimes it’s shameful that an old Game Boy Colour or GBA title had more content and changes than what’s in this late gen DS release. I honestly wouldn’t recommend picking this up at all unless you are either a) a Pokémon enthusiast who really does have to “catch ’em all,” b) haven’t played Black and White at all so you won’t really how disappointing this “sequel” is, or C), you’re just desperate for a new DS turn based RPG. Again, the game’s not bad by any means, but it’s also nowhere as good as previous releases. We’re not at the state of “Poke-Madden,” yet, but the writing is on the wall that unless Nintendo and Game Freak take note, we’ll be there soon.
Story: Below Average
Graphics: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Pokémon Black Version 2 and White Version 2 are the latest entries in the franchise, but it’s also the weakest release of the core RPGs yet. There’s just not enough new content here to justify their existence, especially when compared to previous .5/remixed releases like Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum. All you’re really getting here are a few new forms, a graphical overhaul you will either like or hate, a terrible new storyline, and a few tiny additions here and there that don’t justify full retail price. I’m a huge Pokémon fan, but even I’m vastly disappointed by what’s here. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it pales in comparison when held up to any of the previous core turn based RPG releases. In many ways, Pokémon fans will complain about this release for the same reason sports fans complain when their title of choice is released yearly with little more than a roster update and/or a few steps backwards. Let’s hope this is a one off rather than Game Freak and Nintendo focusing on cash grabs over quality.