I've always felt, however, that the Pokemon games were declining with each installment. Red, Blue & Yellow were classics, and Gold, Silver & Crystal were great sequels to them. But then Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald came out which I felt was a tad weak, followed by another weak generation in Diamond, Pearl & Platinum. It almost appeared to me that with each installment came tons of new features, but the charm that was had in the early generations had all but faded. The games were just not quite as fun to play anymore. And this does not mention the Pokemon getting uglier and stupider on average with every generation after the 1st. While Gen 3 and 4 were saved somewhat by remakes of the first two Generations and Wi-Fi compatibility (allowing a rich online metagame to develop), it still could not match the "fun-factor" of the older games.
On March 6, 2011, Pokemon Black & White were released in North America. Once again, it screamed new features, Pokemon, and other additions. But the question is, will Black and White continue the trend of declining gameplay? Or, will it be the start of a Pokemon revival and return to the classic, charming gameplay we all remember as kids? This review will break down the newest Pokemon games, and attempt to find the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
As an RPG, I will rate the game based on four categories: Gameplay (40 points), Environment (30 points), Story (20 points), and Graphics (10 points). I will use this rating scale for a final grade of the games:
21-40: Bad0-20: Awful
Much like other Pokemon games, the Gameplay of Pokemon Black & White follows a similar mold. You are a child Pokemon trainer given a Level 5 Pokemon, and pushed into a world in which you can explore, gain new Pokemon, battle other trainers, and meet people with the ultimate goal of becoming a Pokemon Master by beating the Pokemon League & capturing all of the Pokemon species. This has not changed in any of the installments, and in fact this is a good thing. Instead of focusing on the exact gameplay as I would for a normal RPG, I will only focus on the changes in Gameplay from Gen IV to Gen V.
|B/W 3 on 3 battle system screenshot|
As promised, I will take note now of some minor changes to the Battle System, which in my opinion aren't that great. From a competitive perspective, Black & White introduced a ton of changes that severely screwed up a lot of game mechanics we were used to in Gen IV. The first and likely most important is the changes to Sleep mechanics. Before Gen V, a Pokemon was asleep for somewhere from 1-5 turns, which is remembered if a Pokemon switches out. While Gen V keeps the turn count 1-5, the counter now resets when switching out. This makes Sleep, a mechanic that was already considered Broken in Gen IV (so much in fact that Competitive Rules contains a Sleep Clause, allowing you to only put to sleep one enemy Pokemon at a time), even better. In Gen V competitive, Sleep can be a virtual death sentence, with sleeping Pokemon knocked out for the entire battle more often than not. Another unfortunate change was that Self-KO moves (like Explosion and Self Destruct) were severely nerfed. Before, not only did these moves have massive Base Power, but they also halved the Defense of the defender for the attack, making them virtually double their listed Base Power (the way the math works out, halving Defense does the same thing as doubling Base Power). This makes Explosion, for example, which had a 500 effective Base Power in Gen IV, get reduced to 250, a massive nerf. This change almost makes these moves not worth the sacrifice. While powerhouses like Metagross will likely still run Explosion, special attackers who relied on this movie will likely no longer. Another change that I consider neither positive or negative but is relevant for competitive Battlers is that teams are now displayed at the beginning of the battle, which may reduce the prediction required to predict the opponent's team, but adds less luck to the game too in that regard.
|Dream World is an interesting new feature in B/W.|
Aside from competitive, I felt that the one-player mode was fairly challenging. It is a Pokemon game, and therefore made to be completed by children, but there was enough challenge that I scratched my head for a few minutes at times, or had trouble with a particular battle. While part of Pokemon is a relatively easy campaign, Pokemon Black & White offers a relatively long Pokemon campaign (probably the longest to date) with plenty of challenge that will require you to spend plenty of hours before you play the game to completion. And even then, there is many things to do after you complete the main campaign.
Bottom line: While there were some unfortunate additions to the competitive game with various mechanics changes, it is made up by a fairly strong and long single player campaign and new refreshing battle styles in 3v3 and Rotation. 32/40
|Unova is a large & intriguing Pokemon region.|
|B/W's starters. From left to right: Snivvy, Tepig, Oshawott|
EDIT: I ran a two-week poll after this review about people's favorite starter in this Gen. The final results were: Snivvy (64%), Oshawott (28%), then Tepig (7%). As I expected, Snivvy was overwhelming popular. Although how anyone can prefer Oshawott over Tepig is beyond me, oh well. I suppose if you have good taste, you pick Snivvy anyway. Therefore, the remaining are those with poor taste, who are more likely to pick a loser-Pokemon like Oshawott over Tepig. Sounds a lot like politics - oh well.
Bottom line: Unova is beautiful and a lot of fun to explore completely. While the designs of Gen V Pokemon are better than the previous two generations, being better than crap isn't really saying that much. I'd still describe them as mostly "meh". 25/30
Now, usually in a Pokemon game I would never consider rating the "Story", since games before Black & White did not have much of one... In previous Pokemon games, you're just some kid who kicks the crap out of Pokemon gangsters for items & experience and eventually becomes champion. That's it. And honestly, one can call me "old-school" or "nostalgic", that's Pokemon at its best for me. Pokemon has always been a light-hearted campaign of exploration and adventure, and nothing more. Moral dilemmas and complex stories found in other games of the RPG genre really have no place, since it would not evoke the emotional attachment as Pokemon IS so light-hearted. Its a game you play when you just want to kill things.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, Black & White breaks this mold and actually tries to tell a somewhat-complex story with "moral questions" being asked to the Player.
|N looks upon Zekrom, his legendary dragon or something.|
Honestly, I couldn't help feeling the entire playthrough that the story was forced & dull. Fact of the matter is, Pokemon does not evoke an emotional response to me. To me, its a lighthearted exploration game. And if you feel the same way, like myself, you can't help but bursting out laughing whenever the game tries to get serious because of how forced it actually sounds. I'm not saying that a serious story in a Pokemon game is impossible, but in fact the story is SO ridiculous in Black & White that it becomes more of a comedy rather than something memorable. Pokemon Peta & N are just one large joke. Sorry, but I just don't care about whether or not Pokemon like being used by people or not. I want a Pokemon story where I simply kick the crap out of Pokemon gangsters for experience & items, then become Champion. Everything else is rediculous and silly.
Bottom line: Black & White's "story" is more ridiculous, annoying, and stupid than it is intriguing or memorable, and seems extremely forced by the game creators. For a usual human being, you will end up laughing or trying to spam the A button more than you will be trying to pay attention to its ridiculous story. I'll give it a 1 for effort. 1/20
|B/W uses 3d graphics beautifully out-of-battle.|
The game's GUI (graphical user interface) is also improved and more intuitive for the most part. The Start (Well, now Y) menu is classic, but they have many key additions to help the player access things quickly (such as the ability to mark more than one item shortcut). My one grip GUI-wise is the rehashed PC, which I find to be more clunky then its Gen IV version. It uses the click and drag method that Gen IV does, but for whatever reason, its harder to access your Party Pokemon in Gen V. While this may seem like a minor nitpick, for a competitive battler like myself who is constantly accessing the PC to change my party, it becomes a creeping annoyance. The Gen IV PC wasn't broken, why did they have to change it?
In-battle graphics is also somewhat of a mixed bag. The Pokemon battle scene is now also more 3d, but it is my opinion it was not pulled off nearly as well as the out-of-battle graphics. For some reason, Pokemon sprites seem somewhat more pixelated, a major disappointment. Gen IV battle graphics did not seem very pixelated at all. Also, the Pokemon seem to be scaled to be smaller in Gen V then they were in Gen IV, probably to distinguish between sizes of Pokemon easier. Still, this makes already pixelated graphics even harder to make out. Further, the battle camera seems to like to spaz all over the place when idle, as well as your Pokemon who spaz around the screen during a fight as well. This makes it distracting and almost painful to watch when you're waiting for your opponent to take his turn. It's safe to say I dislike the in-battle GUI in general, and would actually prefer the "less advanced" Gen IV in-battle graphics to that of Gen V.
Bottom line: In and out of battle, GUI improvements are a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, the out of battle graphics and GUIs are great while the in-battle graphics are annoying and probably worse than Gen IV. 6/10
Overall, Black & White is worth getting, whether you are a hardcore fan of the series or not. Perhaps the game would actually be more enjoyable to newer players, who may not be as nostalgic or "old-school" as myself. While Black & White does not return to the style of gameplay I remember and enjoy from earlier games, I do consider it an improvement over the last couple generations and was ultimately worth buying. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes adventures or RPGs, and of course to those who are fans of the Pokemon franchise.
Final Score: 64/100, Good Rating