POKEMON BLACK 2 & WHITE 2 (2012) – GAME FREAK
I wasn’t the only one who felt surprised when it was announced that Pokemon Black & White (which I reviewed at the end of last year) were to be given direct sequels. The franchise has never really bought into the idea of ‘continuing storylines’, preferring instead to release and enhanced editions of games (Yellow, Crystal, Emerald and Platinum) before moving onto the next generation, so fans began to question whether it was a wise move. Black & White 2 (hereafter called BW2) adds a hefty amount of new content to the mix, but does it do enough to warrant earning your cash, especially if you already own Black or White?
The sequels are set two years after the events of the original, with the player assuming control of a new aspiring male/female trainer. Starting out in Aspertia City (one of four new settlements built in Unova in the intervening period), the trainer picks their starter Pokemon and sets out on the tried and tested quest to become Pokemon League Champion, beating eight gyms along the way. Several plot points from the originals are developed in the sequels as one might expect; your former rivals Cheren and Bianca have become a gym leader and assistant respectively, and the nefarious Team Plasma have reformed with a new agenda following their prior defeat. In addition, you have a new hometown rival who has his own score to settle with Team Plasma.
By and large, the story is much stronger than it was in the originals – Team Plasma offer a greater sense of threat to the player, and are much more involved in the narrative. The timeskip has also benefited the character of the Unova region, which I for one found to be quite stale in the originals – gym layouts have changed (in particular, Elesa’s new gym in Nimbasa City is up there with my favourite gym designs full stop), and the new cities, which include a Pokemon Ranch, offer something a bit different – I find it no coincidence that Game Freak make you go through the new areas at the start of the game before getting back to mainland Unova. There is also a nice touch for anyone who has completed the originals; if you have a second DS to hand you can transfer information from the old game to the new via a process called ‘Memory Link’, which unlocks special cut-scenes referring to the events surrounding your old character at various points on your new journey. It’s filler at best, but kudo’s to Game Freak for implementing the system. Overall if you can put up with the constant whingeing of your rival, then you’ll enjoy the story more than in Black & White.
Significantly, what does BW2 offer that’s new gameplay wise? Well, if you are looking for a revolution, prepare for disappointment – 80% of BW2, including the all important battling mechanics, plays exactly like its predecessor. However, the stuff that has been added is very much worthwhile. Immediately noticeable is the fact that you are no longer initially restricted to the 150 Pokemon of the fifth generation, as older Pokemon including Mareep, Growlithe and Eevee now pop up in the grass to be captured; it helps to strike a balance between the old and new that was much more abrupt in Black & White. Chief among the other improvements is the addition of Join Avenue, a building which will fill up on shops and customers depending on how many people you connect your DS with. Connect with more people, and you will have the opportunity to level up shops in your avenue which brings some incredibly useful items, including automatic leveling up and a device that will let eggs hatch almost immediately. So basically, being a social gamer gives you prizes!
Another cool addition is the Pokemon World Tournament, which brings back gym leaders and champions from the previous five games (yes, that does include Red, Blue, Lance and all the others) for a series of knockout tournaments and provides a ample challenge once you’ve beaten the League. A new battle tower appears in Black City/White Forest which is great for money and experience. For the keen eyed players, dotted around the world are Hidden Grottoes, special areas which contain Pokemon with their Dream World abilities (such as a Ditto that will auto transform at the start of a battle). Legendaries that were previously not native to Unova make an appearance for subsequent capture. Move Tutors make a welcome return to offer up TM’s that were previously unobtainable. There’s also a few oh-so subtle tweaks that make this game that little bit better; for example when using repels, rather than telling you that the effect has worn off, the game will prompt you if you want to use another. The breeding system has also been given an overhaul to make things a tad easier. All in all, there’s enough new stuff to keep you interested, but if you are one of the people who sunk hundreds of hours into Black & White perfecting a team, then the novelties will probably run short very quickly
On the presentation front, a few new sparkly dual screen cut-scenes aside, there really hasn’t been any change at all from Black & White which is a disappointment considering those games were already showing the strain of the aged capabilities of the DS – one has to consider that if there is to be a 6th generation of Pokemon, it will be exclusively on the 3DS. Much of the soundtrack is a carbon copy job as well, although a few new tunes and remixes have been added to compensate for new areas and the gym leaders at the World Tournament. Prime pick amongst the music is the theme for your new rival, which makes up for his awful addiction to small purple cats. Kind of.
All this discussion inevitably leads us back to the opening debate – are Black 2 & White 2 worth the expenditure? The impression that I have got from my own time playing the game is that the first 25 hours or so are really quite enjoyable, even if you have played through Black & White prior. However, after beating the League it settles down into the relatively uninspiring post completion phase, which if you have already put the time into the originals offers practically nothing new. If you haven’t experienced this generation of Pokemon yet, skip the original and buy the sequel straight away, because on balance it is the superior game. If you have though, you might feel short-changed once the credits roll.