I’ll admit it: Pokémon was, and remains, one of the essential parts of my childhood. The idea of starting a journey, catching and raising your own Pokémon and proving you were the best Pokémon trainer in the world (or at least, better than Gary Oak ) was more than enough to have me hooked. Despite the television series, merchandise and trading cards all being incredibly popular, it was the GameBoy games Pokémon Red & Blue that had us all in love with franchise. Game Freak, the guys behind the games, have just released Pokémon Black & White 2. But is the formula still as good as ever or has the franchise reached the end of the road?
Having played through Pokémon White 2 (pretty extensively I might add), it’s pretty clear the games are still as strong and addictive as ever, whilst offering one of the best handheld gaming experiences available.
The games are somewhat of a first for the Pokémon franchise, in the sense that they are direct sequels to the previous Nintendo DS games Pokémon Black & White. This is somewhat different to what Game Freak has normally offered with the so called ‘Third Versions’ of games, including Pokémon Yellow, Crystal and Platinum, which were all similar to the original games but with slight story variations. Pokémon Black & White 2 however feature a world which is now much larger in scale and thoroughly more developed than the original Black & White games, whilst offering a mixture of the newer Pokémon and those from the original 150, something which the original Black and White lacked.
The formula is the same as it’s always been and is a great example of the old phrase, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. At the beginning of the game you choose which one of three Pokémon you want to raise and train, before embarking on a journey to become the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer. Along the way you’ll find yourself collecting 8 gym badges by defeating some of the world’s strongest trainers, defeating an evil organisation called Team Plasma and eventually ‘Catch Em All’.
Whilst the story might not be the strongest or the most original ever, it doesn’t have to be; the core gameplay is the real strength when it comes to the Pokémon games and the fact that the battle system is as familiar as always shows how great it always has been. Whereas most modern RPG’s have deviated away from turn based battles and random encounters, Pokémon Black & White 2 remain familiar enough for older fans of the franchise to jump in, whilst remaining easy to get into and play for newcomers. This is particularly evident from the get go, as Game Freak has slimmed down some of those cumbersome introductory elements and let players get stuck in straight away, whilst only holding the players hands at the necessary times.
It’s important to recognise that even though the core mechanics are similar to the way they were a decade or more ago, Game Freak has added a whole host of extra features into these games which make this one of the most complete RPGs available on the Nintendo DS. Those who have played the original Black and White games can access the special memory link feature to have the two gap between those games and these filled in for you (depending on how far you progressed in those versions), whilst Game Freak have given a large nod to franchises history by creating an area in-game called the ‘Pokemon World Tournament’, a place where you can battle every previous Gym leader from the series history. Game Freak has also added a medal system in the game, similar to the achievement system on every Xbox 360 title. Again, it sounds small but it really does add to the experience and is a welcome addition to the franchise.
Online multiplayer plays a massive part too, allowing players from all over the world to trade and battle each other to see who can come out on top. The community aspect of Pokémon has always been incredibly important for those who wanted to ‘Catch Em All’ and it’s great to see Game Freak still pushing the importance of community trading to get the exclusive Pokémon that each version contains.
Overall, Black and White 2 provides enough new features to warrant picking up a copy. The game does occasionally have a ‘been there, done that’ feel if you happen to be a veteran of the franchise but it certainly feels much fresher than most of the ‘variation sequels’ we’ve become accustomed to. Those who are fans of the series will undoubtedly be on board with the games regardless of what the reviews would say, but if this happens to be the last 2D Pokémon game, what a way to end.
Game Freak has taken a near-perfect formula and spent the last two years merely tweaking and adjusting it to make the game as perfect as can be; the result is one of most complete games in the Nintendo DS library and one that will please old fans and new games alike.