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Welcome to the blog of The Killer Nacho, known to most mortals as Timothy J. Sharpe, a Computer Science graduate of Messiah College and currently a Systems Analyst for Sunoco Logistics. Within this tome of pages, one will find my innermost thoughts about various things concerning things that I enjoy. These subjects include, but are not limited to, roleplaying, gaming, American Football (the NFL), things to do with computers, philosophy, movies that are awesome, TV shows that are awesome, my own writings and creative works, and dangerous Mexican snacks.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pokemon Black / White: A Complete Review

Ever since it first came to the States in 1998 in the form of Pokemon Red & Blue, I have been a fan of the Pokemon series of video games. Being part of the "Pokemon Generation" myself, like all young children of that day, I was completely obsessed with it. I watched the show, collected the cards, and of course, played the video games. While the show & card obsession quickly faded, my love for the video games remained to this day. Even now I find myself digging out my old Pokemon carts and playing through them one more time, because they really were that good. I even have a Youtube channel devoted to competitive Pokemon battling & playthroughs, found here.

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:

81-100: Excellent
61-80: Good
41-60: Average
21-40: Bad
0-20: 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
First, let's look at perhaps the most important part of the gameplay: the Battle system. In respect to Gen IV, which made quite a few significant changes to the battle system, Gen V left it relatively alone. Instead of changing anything significant (although I'll get into less significant changes later), Black & White introduced two new types of battles, 3v3 Battles and Rotation battles. Now, originally, one might think "Wow, they are obviously running out of ideas. Isn't 3v3 battles just an added twist to 2v2 battles?" Originally, that's what I thought, too, but I was sadly mistaken. 3v3 battles was actually surprisingly refreshing. Unlike in 2v2, where either Pokemon could attack any other Pokemon, 3v3 is limited by making Pokemon only able to target adjacent Pokemon (both allies & enemies). This adds a different element to the game, one of skillful placing of Pokemon. This is espessially important when you consider your Center Pokemon, who can be attacked by all three opponent Pokemon! Rotation Battles are a type of 3v3 where a Pokemon can choose to switch places with an allied adjacent Pokemon instead of using a Move or Item. This adds to the strategy even more. Of course, like all other installments, there are many new species to collect, trade, and battle with, each with their own unique combinations of moves, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

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.
Of course, there are other changes and features to note aside from the battle system. First and foremost, I feel like it is worth mentioning that TMs are now infinite use (balanced by the fact that they are much rarer or more expensive). Personally I love this change since it was a major pain back in the day to have to restart your game every time you want another Earthquake TM. Day & Night and Weather returns as well as Seasons (don't worry, they change every 1 month instead of 4) which change pretty much all the maps in the game as well as change in some cases Pokemon available on each Route. There are also several new multi-player and Wi-fi features including the Dream World, which is a Wi-Fi feature that allows you to obtain Pokemon with alternate "Dream World" abilities. Most of these are quite good and competitively relevant. One major example is the addition of Drizzle & Drought, previously Uber-only abilities now given to non-Uber Pokemon (Politoed and Ninetales respectively). Blaziken gets Speed Boost, Gyarados gets a new ability called Moxie which increases Attack when it KOs a Pokemon... Like I said, a lot of these abilities will shake up competitive play significantly.

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.
This is a strong area for Black & White, in my opinion. First of all, let me start by saying that Unova, the region in which Black & White takes place is a HUGE world (by far the largest in the series) and extremely fun to explore. Unova is the first region to be based off a region not located in Japan, and is in fact based upon New York City in America. I was glad to see it was done very well. Each city is unique and interesting and almost every area in the game is a blast to explore and discover its secrets, items, and Pokemon. It's also a very unique region, being based off of New York City instead of pre-industrial Japan. Many cities contain huge skyscrapers, buildings, and much more tech than in previous installments. While some may find this "not Pokemon", I found it quite refreshing.

B/W's starters. From left to right: Snivvy, Tepig, Oshawott
The Pokemon designs, however, are a mixed bag. While most of the designs actually grew on me with time, some of them are just so ridiculous that I cannot possibly fathom how someone could come up with it, stoned or not (Seriously, a TRASH BAG Pokemon... c'mon). I will say one thing... Usually, when I play through a Pokemon game, I use Pokemon that I like. When I see a wild Pokemon I like the design of, I'll catch it. Pokemon is so easy of a campaign that you don't really need "the best" team to clear it. Heck, you could probably sweep the game with a team of Magikarps. In Black & White, I went through the entire game with a team of 5, because I couldn't find a 6th Pokemon I really liked. This isn't to say they don't exist, just that I couldn't really find many. Most of them are "decent" certainly better than Gen III and IV, however. Although much like everyone else, I was extremely disappointed with the Starter Pokemon. I mean, the only one even remotely tolerable was the Grass Snake, Snivvy. Although I actually do like the final form of Tepig, Emboar. Meh, oh well.

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.
Black & White's story involves the Player's struggles with Team Plasma (hereafter refered to as Pokemon Peta). Basically, their leader, N, has always felt that Pokemon are being abused by Pokemon Trainers by stuffing the poor critters into Pokeballs & forcing them to work and do battle. Throughout the campaign, the Player battles Pokemon Peta quite a lot, as well as N, who views your Player as almost the "Exception to his rule", in that your Pokemon actually seem to like being with you. N eventually catches the legendary you do not (in Black, he catches Reshiram, in White he catches Zekrom) and goes off to defeat the Elite 4 and Champion (right before you do). Once you beat the Elite 4 and witness the defeat of the Champion, N summons his giant Peta Castle he somehow was able to build under the Elite 4 without anyone noticing (WTF?) and declares he will use his new influence as Champion & "friend" of the Legendary dragon to convince everyone that enslaving Pokemon is wrong, and to release their Pokemon. Eventually the player confronts N. But before that, the other legendary dragon comes down randomly and allows you to catch it. Then you do battle with N. Of course, N being the naive fool that he is doesn't realize his top Peta Executive was just using him to become all powerful and once everyone released their Pokemon, he wanted to rule the world or something cliche like that. So after defeating N, you must wipe out that doushebag and the game is over, and Pokemon Peta has lost.


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.
I'm not one to give too much importance to graphics, but its something some people do care about. For the most part, Black and White was an absolutely beautiful game, making great strides in this area from the previous DS titles. The world map uses the DS's 3d capabilities much more than Gen IV, and while I was skeptical at first, it was actually pulled off really well. While it may get some getting used to with 3d Pokemon maps, it really does add to the visual experience of the game. Crossing long bridges, climbing huge buildings, and exploring haunted dungeons are now much more pleasing to the eye, and I believe it is a great positive change.

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

1 comment:

  1. Although I think you could have rated it a LITTLE better, you gave good reasons not to. Kudos to Nacho for making a good Black/White review!