Developer: Game Freak
Confession time. I’m way too old for Pokémon. When the craze started I was too old for Pokémon. Hell, the first time I came across Pokémon it was a friend’s son that tried to explain it to me. I was more baffled by the time he’d finished. It wasn’t because he’d done a bad job. It wasn’t because I couldn’t begin to see the appeal of the game (“that’s not fun, it’s admin”) It wasn’t just because it felt like the sort of pocket money sucking evil created by cynical toy manufacturers in Japan. It was probably a combination of all of the above coupled with one other major point: I didn’t understand it in the slightest.
Still, given the “job” – my friends’ ironic quotation marks, not mine – my path crossed with Pokémon time and time again so I had to persevere. I still don’t really understand the game. I still don’t understand the appeal of all the admin and training and repetitive stuff. And yet, once again, I find myself many, many hours into it and trying to complete the damn thing. They’re dead clever, these Japanese toy companies...
After the brief – and clever, in my humble opinion – diversion of the HeartGold game (not that it did much for childhood obesity around these parts), Black is a return to forward-moving Poke-gaming (assuming that’s even a verb).
At the start of the game, you’re given the choice of three Pokémon: Snivy, (a snakelike beastie); Oshawatt (sort of GM otter); and Tepig (a fiery porker who must have the legal team at Tea Pigs hitting their books). As a lover of all things bacon-related, there was only one choice: if I lost, I figured my young avatar would at least get a tasty sandwich out of the deal.
With two friends – who you’ll split up from and cross paths with during the game – you’re sent away from your small village by Professor Juniper, the local Pokémon expert (naturally), given a Pokedex (so you can collect more Pokémon and monitor their progress) and have to go and make a name for yourself as a Pokémon trainer par excellence.
Yeah, so, that does make a change, right? But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – even if you don’t really understand it. What has changed though is the “bad guy”, a group called Team Plasma who are on a animal rights mission to stop Pokémon collectors from collecting Pokémon. It’s unethical they argue – probably quite correctly, as it happens – to keep Pokémon (some of whom seem pretty big) in tiny little balls in your backpack. Seriously, it’s like the game has been invaded by PETA...
It’s an interesting twist to a game that was always quite clearly drawn along moral lines. The head of Team Plasma, King N, is your nemesis in this instance and while his mission is possibly pure – the abolition of Pokémon slavery – the methods employed are not. He walks a similar but different path to you which leads to all the usual Pokémon philosophy about destiny and truth and such like.
The biggest change to the game, however, is graphically with a greater sense of 3D this time out. The imminent arrival of the 3DS is, of course, entirely coincidental. Ahem. But you’ll also find that each individual Pokémon – and there 150+ new ones here in addition to the previous 500 or so – have slightly better little animations (tail wagging, wing flapping, etc) than before?
It’s the bulk of the game though where the makeover is very clear. The map is vast, the buildings huge, the scenery vivid and the camera gives a real sense of scale.
Within that improved framework, it’s pretty much business as usual as you roam the land, collecting and battling Pokémon, working your way to the ultimate showdown.
What’s particularly pleasing about this game is the ironing out of some previously irritating quirks. All that wandering around villages trying to remember where the Pokemart was and where the Pokémon Centre was? (Or is it just me that gets hopelessly lost in these bloody games?) Thing of the past – now the Centre and Mart are combined, so you can get all of that admin stuff like healing and shopping in one stop.
You’ll also find assorted Pokémon healers dotted around the environment so if you have forgotten to restore one to full strength, it’s not the annoyingly fatal blow it has been in the past or mean you’ve got to go back to the last village and start huge sections all over again. For someone clearly not as enamoured as, say, a 14 year old resident of Tokyo, that’s a very good thing.
One bad thing, however, is that the save game doesn’t appear to be the default position, which is annoying if, say, you were on a long train journey, started playing it for the purposes of this review and then switched it off and then found out you had to repeat the first four bloody hours. Or maybe that’s just me.
Ultimately, though, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is instantly recognisable as a Pokémon game with a real sense of heritage. It's still the Pokémon that we know and love...only there's even more of them. The changes are well thought out, the tweaks fix minor grumbles of the past, but it won't win any converts. If you love Pokémon, though...well, you know what to do...
Second Opinion (Matt): I love Pokémon. I used to have the cards, til my school (like every school at the time) banned them because of underground cabals and racketeering. But over the years (read: after Gold/Silver) I've found that Game Freak have taken to throwing so many features and gimmicks at the series that it's become enormously bloated. Black/White reskins proceedings and throws another 150 fresh pocket monsters into the mix, tidying up a few little gripes in the process, and making the whole experience that little bit more user-friendly. It's a cracking game, it really is, and if you buy one DS game this'll last for whole weeks and months. But it's hard to shake the feeling that the Pokémon production line is literally going round in circles. - 8
- Tweaks – are sensible, well thought out, and certainly improves more casual gameplay
- Improved graphics are a pleasure to watch
- So. Much. CONTENT!
- Not exactly bursting with originality
- It’s hard to see a new player getting into Pokemon from this one.
- Grrr save games.
The Short Version: This is about as pure as the series gets. That will have some people salivating – or doing whatever emotional response a favourite game gives them – and that’s really enough to be getting on with. There’s hours and hours of (new!) gameplay here , the polishing is nicely handled, and the connectivity / wi-fi stuff is all very smart indeed, but it fails to answer the question posed by HeartGold/SoulSilver which was 'where now?'...