Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pokemon Black/White - Video Game Review

I said I would do this and I figure I might as well do game reviews alongside show and movie reviews. For those not in the know (somehow), Black and White are the 5th Generation Pokemon games on the Nintendo DS. After coming off a stellar duo of HeartGold and SoulSilver, how does the new generation stack up? I won't be going over the fundamentals of Pokemon besides the changes because I assume anyone who reads this is someone already familiar with Pokemon. That said, let's get started.
Sue me, I'm lazy.

Overworld Graphics
This game is pretty. Game Freak basically took it upon themselves to show how much power the DS can handle in one cartridge, and it really shows. The 3D models of the 4th Generation are fully realized in full 3D landscaping and it works really well. There are a lot of wide angle shots and moving camera shots too, and those really work well. The sprites aren't much different than previous games, but every single one is new in accordance with the new generation and they all look great. Every city is unique and each brings something different to the game which really helps it all come together. You no longer have to go through a city and just gloss over buildings because there's so many and they're all eye-catching, the Gyms in particular.
Speaking of, the Gyms are all unique-looking in this generation and all have some sort of gimmick you need to use to advance to the Gym Leader. These are all even more impressive than many of the other areas in the game and are a wonder to look at. Pokemon sprites aren't that improved but they get the job done.

Battle Graphics
Since the game uses so many wide shots, it only follows that they flow through to battles as well. Whenever you start a battle, the camera zooms out from whatever opposition you have and shows the trainer throwing the Poke Ball instead of it just coming out of the side of the screen. It didn't really need to be there, but is there anyway and doesn't feel intrusive or unnatural for a Pokemon game. You'll have the chance to look at basically every new Unova Pokemon sprite in the entire game, and they look good with a few exceptions. Post-game, you'll run into Pokemon from older generations and it's really cool to see how they look with the new animation. Sadly, they're not too much different from their 4th Gen sprites aside from that but they still work well. There are a lot of little touches like status making your Pokemon have a tint and stat changes being represented by bubble things instead of a coat over your Pokemon. In particular, Pokemon close their eyes when asleep, a nice addition. Every old attack is updated with new animation and all the new attacks are welcome and distinct. Backgrounds are pretty weak, and not really improved over the 4th gen, but you'll be too busy looking at everything else to worry about those.

After HGSS and their remixes of the 2nd Gen music, it's a tall order to have some cool original music and sound effects that help the game along. Thankfully, the 5th Gen suceeds. The music is much more varied and strong throughout the game, and with the addition of the story, it really helps in crucial moments. Battle music is plentiful and nearly every distinct trainer has the own music. There's one for your rivals, one for N, one for regular trainers, and the list goes on. They feel and sound like Pokemon themes, and for a new generation they work perfectly. Not much else to say here, but this is definitely not a weak point.

And so we come to the big deciding factor of any Pokemon game, the gameplay. It's Pokemon, so you know what to expect. But what about what you don't expect? There are no longer the weather text boxes you have to scroll through, just a little window on the bottom screen that tells you what the weather is like. There are a plethora of Pokemon with new type combinations, and since you can't use your old Pokemon knowledge to beat the game for you, you have to experiment with new things. There are also many, many new attacks, some which change the way you're going to play overall. Nearly every new attack has some secondary effect you can make use of, while lots of old attacks have been improved and buffed so they can keep up with the changes. Battles have become much improved in both speed and smoothness which is very noticeable when playing alongside a 4th Gen game. There's a new experience system which isn't too hard to figure out - the higher the level of the opposing Pokemon than yours, the more experience you can get. This balances out power-leveling and ups the difficulty of battles. Each new area is also very appropriate for whatever level you happen to be at at that time, and doesn't feel like just another route to barge through. There are a few cons with the largely increased encounter rate, but given the difficulty of the trainers in this generation, you're going to need it. Pokemon also don't follow you around any more and there's much less touch screen interaction. This is to make room for the new item, the C-Gear, which allows the game to be in wireless search mode the entire time and adds lots of improvements on the interaction side of the game, so it's definitely not a bad thing.
In the end, this is still Pokemon, and still feels like Pokemon, so the changes all work to the game's advantage rather than towards its flaws.

Pokemon hasn't really changed all that much from the first generation, but it doesn't really have to. There are enough changes to make these new games while still the same feel, and that's been a successful formula for many other franchises. However, Game Freak has shown with these that you can overhaul many things that make the formula great and improve them without stagnating and staying in the past. Who knows what's in store on the 3DS? As far as HGSS goes, this gen won't replace them, but rather stand next to them as some of the best games in the series. Alone, however, these are definitely the definitive and strongest Pokemon games and well worth the time for anyone. For anything you're curious about...well, you'll just have to play the entirety of the game for yourself.

Score: 9.5/10


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