How many game franchises can you name that are recognizable from the youngest child to adults graduating out of college today? I can guarantee that Pokémon would be at the top of that list. Pokémon itself is so widely recognize today that whenever a new game to the series is announced fans everywhere clamor to see what has been added or changed.
With the latest installment being the Pokémon White & Black games we see perhaps one of the most upgraded pair of Pokémon games to hit the market since the series’ creation. Have all these improvements changed the formula or only improved upon what we know and love. Let’s find out.
As with every Pokémon game you begin your journey in a small town that would be better named as a village due to having only a few residents living within its borders, the town itself is called Nuvema and will be the home to the Unova region’s next Pokémon master. This is where some changes are immediately noticeable however considering the fact that rather than have just one friend, you start with two.
Cheren and Bianca are the characters that fill up the role as best friends/rival trainers this time around and play a much more active role as the game’s story progresses further than what fans of the series may have experienced in previous games where they’re rivals only showed up to fight here and there.
In your house there sits a gift box and inside are three starter Pokémon that have been given to you by Professor Juniper. They allow you to have first pick between your standard fire (Tepig), water (Oshawott), and grass (Snivy) Pokémon and then begins your journey (after numerous tutorials) into a world full of new Pokémon you have never seen before and log them into your Pokédex.
But all is not peaceful in the Unova region. A large organization named Team Plasma has sprung up in the Unova region and with them comes their legion of grunts wearing medieval soldiers’ uniforms. They preach about the way that Pokémon have been treated unfairly and that the best thing for Pokémon is to be free. To do this they will stop at nothing even if it means stealing Pokémon away from any trainer that they come across.
Team Plasma is perhaps one of the biggest delights about the story in Pokémon White because of the way they so closely mirror PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in the real world. Though PETA can claim that they are helping animals occasionally their methods can be seen as extreme if not damaging to the animals they are trying to save, and that is exactly what Team Plasma is doing as is demonstrated by immediate the abuse of a Munna Pokémon that they are trying to “save.” Now what exactly Team Plasma’s motivation is for their freeing of Pokémon everywhere is a mystery to even the sharpest minds of the Unova region.
If anything has seen a huge revamp from previous Pokémon games in Pokémon White is the presentation of everything. The whole world has seen an entire revamp from standard 2D environments to a 3D world unlike anything we have seen before in a hand held Pokémon game. The camera itself is the best part of this advancement into the realm of 3D environments due to the fact that the angles isn’t content to simply stay at the same angle it used to in previous games.
For the majority of the game you will find yourself with the standard camera angle that the game has featured since its creation. This all changes in certain areas as the camera angle changes to depending on where you are and how your character is moving through the environment. The camera isn’t even content to stay in one position when you enter buildings, instead zooming in as you enter to provide a sense of entering the building. This change to the camera angle really brings out the 3D environments and highlights the advancements the series has made graphically.
This translates extremely well into the battles. Gone are the days of static Pokémon with only slight movements depending on their attack. Now you will find yourself entering battle with an entirely animated Pokémon. Every single Pokémon has specific actions that they do while on the screen for a battle and though some may simply be wagging a tail, others are full body actions. This breaks up what would otherwise be the standard monotony of turn based battling into a visual delight. Oh and that active camera that I mentioned earlier returns and slides around the screen during a lull in battle, but when your moves strike home it provides a closer look at your enemy.
If only they were able to make your own Pokémon look great from behind. While your opponents’ Pokémon may be a sight to behold the view from your side of the screen is not a flattering one. The Pokémon on your side of the field often look pixelated and are a far cry from the level of quality seen everywhere else in the game.
This quality can especially be seen during the Xtransciever calls you receive occasionally during gameplay from other characters in the game. During these calls you are treated to a hand drawn looking portrait of each characters’ face (reminiscent of a Visual Novel) involved in the communication. These character portraits are impressive to look at and almost seem out of place after you leave the call and return to the standard exploration mode.
There have been a few changes done to the audio presentation as well. Sure there is no actual voicework being done (besides the signature noises of each new Pokémon) and everything is still text based but the background music has seen an upgrade. This is significantly noticeable during battles as the music changes tone and becomes more dire as your own Pokémon are about to faint. Then immediately changes back when you heal/switch your active Pokémon. The world music itself has seen an upgrade in quality and is actually worth listening to instead of turning down your volume to avoid it.
Pokémon White continues the tried and true structure of all previous Pokémon games. Pokémon appear whenever you are venturing into tall grass and when one appears in front of you, you must do battle with it. Using your own Pokémon you can either choose to capture the Pokémon or make it faint. Any Pokémon you do capture using your Pokéballs will either stay with you, or if you have more than six they will be transported into the box system.
The battles themselves, while they look great, have undergone practically zero change. They are turn based affairs and even against other Pokémon trainers you will find yourself undergoing the same exact process that you have gone through thousands of times before. Ironically the best thing that the developers could have done was do nothing to the battle structure and that is exactly what they did.
One thing that has changed in Pokémon White is the fact that there are 156 new Pokémon between the two versions of the game. This has been done before of course but there is another change that makes these new Pokémon quite interesting. Every old Pokémon that you would normally come across has been removed from the game and will not appear at all during the story of the game itself. Instead the Unova region is full of fresh faces and new opportunities to pick which Pokémon is your favorite.
Earlier I mentioned that battles had stayed the same at heart and that is true. But there has been a new form of battling introduced which adds a bit more spice to the equation. I am talking of course about the triple battle feature which, as it sounds, places three of your Pokémon against three enemy Pokémon. The structure of the battle is roughly the same but instead of being able to target whichever Pokémon on the other team you want to, it varies depending on the position of the current Pokémon. Meaning if you are selecting an attack for your middle Pokémon it will be able to attack any of the enemies and the ones on the outside can only attack the far left two or the far right two respectively.
This is a nice addition and the restriction of targeting your enemy’s Pokémon creates an interesting barrier for those who do not think ahead. Also added is the Rotation Battle which places three Pokémon on each side of the field but instead of an all-out brawl you will only be able to fight with the Pokémon on the front ranks while the other two sit in the back and wait until you decide to rotate the battleground and bring a fresh Pokémon to the front.
These additions to the battle are a nice touch but another nice change is the fact that TMs have received a change in formula. Rather than vanishing the instant you use them on your Pokémon they now are re-usable and can be taught to as many Pokémon as you wish which removes the worry of wasting a TM on a Pokémon you may find a replacement for hours later.
Pokémon also features a new C-Gear which functions as a focus for the WiFi and Wireless abilities within Pokémon White. This provides a more streamlined way to access a number of Pokémon’s online features but a number of them, including trading and battling other players, comes from within the various Pokémon Centers spread across the Unova region. There is a small problem attached to using the C-Gear however as it provides a heavy strain on the Nintendo DS’ battery and can shorten battery life significantly.
Pokémon White has seen a number of upgrades to the standard Pokémon formula with little change to the basic structure and this has worked extremely well for the game’s fanbase. The inclusion of the triple battle system adds some spice to the already upgraded visual style of the battle system while the fact that new Pokémon faces are everywhere to be had equals a large step forward for the series while only stumbling over pixelated back sprites.
I give Pokémon White