To many of you, waking up this morning was no big deal – just another lazy October Sunday; another perfect excuse to kick back, enjoy some football and drain a few beers. Congrats; you’re the “normal” people, at least on this particular Sunday.
For die-hard Pokemon fans such as myself, this Sunday – October 7 – has been marked on the calendar for months. It’s “Pokemon Sunday” – the only Sunday I ever look forward to, regardless of the occasion, and possibly the most anticipated day of 2012 for countless Pokemaniacs. The reason, of course, is the North American launch of the latest installment(s) – Pokemon Black 2 & Pokemon White 2.
Personally, I already had my copy of White 2 paid off at the local GameStop; I even had a copy of Black 2 on pre-order for my girlfriend, Deanna. On any other normal “Pokemon Sunday”, I would have made the trip to the mall – which opens later than usual – at noon, picked up my game, and spent the rest of the afternoon in nirvana. Unfortunately, due to some other obligations on this very afternoon, picking up my pre-ordered versions was impossible. Therefore, I made a mad dash to the local Walmart at midnight last night just to make sure I got my hands on the games at the first possible chance.
(After all, there was no way in hell I was riding in a car for 2 hours without the brand-new Pokemon game to entertain me.)
So, aside from splitting my attention to the necessary obligations throughout the day, I spent this entire Sunday morning, afternoon & evening exploring the all-new areas, checking out the new game mechanics, and diving into the massively expanded “regional Pokedex” featured in the brand-new Pokemon sequels.
I’ll make my general comments quick, with bullet points and a quick comment about each topic:
- The Unova Region, RediscoveredOne of the most exciting parts of the original Black & White versions was exploring the all-new Unova region for the first time, catching the regional monsters that you’d never encountered before, learning new battle strategies, and forming new teams of Pokemon that both forced you to take a newer approach and also build Pokemon with more depth than in previous installments.This time around, you start the adventure in Aspertia City – a new location based in western Unova, in an area that was inaccessible in the original Black & White versions. The new hero & rival characters fill their roles well, but I was surprisingly intrigued by the references to the plotline in the original games – Black 2 & White 2 are definitely sequels, and play the part very well.
In particular, Aspertia City is easily the largest “hometown” in any Pokemon title to date. The lookout scene (pictured above) is simply stunning, speaking in relation to Pokemon series standards. The Virbank City Gym (based on the Poison-Type) is one of the coolest I’ve seen so far; it’s based around a grungy rock/metal music venue, with the Gym’s trailers & leader making up the band playing on-stage. They even sing out “P-O-K-E-M-O-N” as they play. Nice touch! Finally, I’m not too far through the plot – I just found HM01 (Cut) and am approaching my third badge – but already I can see how the series’ exploration factor is fully intact. I have only discovered a handful of areas, but I have spotted secret paths or inaccesible spots to revisit once I’ve found the proper HM/TM abilities.
- The Expanded PokedexIf Black 2 & White 2’s sole enhancements were the expanded regional Pokedex, I would still be impressed enough as a dedicated fan of the series – the idea of having more of the unique critters to collect, train & battle is certainly exciting, but with all the new moves and abilities that have been introduced over the last few generations, you’d be surprised how fresh and interesting the classic Pokemon start to feel.In addition to all 150 of the “fifth-gen” Pokemon that were found in the original Black & White versions, the sequels have doubled the number to 300, and boast species from all five generations right from the start of the game. There are some old favorites – Riolu/Lucario, Growlithe/Arcanine, the Magmar & Electabuzz families and even powerful beasts like Tyranitar, Metagross & Slaking.Basically, the result is that each area of the game seems to feature more variety and more unique creatures to capture, leading to a greater sense of reward for…well, “catching ’em all”. There may be more to worry about from the get-go, but I legitimately feel motivated to complete the entire Pokedex, just as I did with my original Pokemon White version just a few months ago.
- The Current TeamAs a seasoned Pokemon player, it’s pretty boring to stick to the same team of Pokemon throughout each “New Game”, particularly in a brand-new installment of the franchise. Since I picked up Platinum several years ago, I have held myself to a pretty strict personal requirement: think outside of the box, and try new things at every opportunity. This has ultimately given me a whole new enjoyment of the games and exploring the entire Pokedex, from #000 – #649.
In White 2, I decided to choose Oshawott as my starter Pokemon. Basically, I chose Snivy in the original White version, and found that I had never been so disappointed with a starter Pokemon before. Tepig seemed like an interesting choice, but Black 2 & White 2 actually feature more of the best Fire-type Pokemon from the entire franchise…thus negating the need to choose a Fire-type starter. Anyway, I nicknamed the little guy (or, in this case, little girl) “Wotter”, a popular choice for the creature’s original name before Black & White were released.
I quickly picked up every single Pokemon I encountered along the way, just for the sake of filling out that damn Pokedex. As always, the Normal-types barrage you at the beginning of the game (Patrat, Lillipup), but it doesn’t take long for the sequels to mix things up. With the expanded Pokedex, each area is brimming with various types of monsters, so it doesn’t take long to encounter a full team of monsters that cover a wide range of the different elemental types.
Anyway, my second Pokemon was technically Genesect – I received the “Mystery Gift” voucher for free in my copy of White 2 – but I quickly stored it in the PC, and caught myself a Mareep. I enjoy Electric-types, and Ampharos is a personal favorite from the second generation. It wasn’t long before I found a few more creatures (Sunkern, Sewaddle, Pidove), but the third Pokemon on my “team” was Riolu – who turned out to be quite an elusive bastard, at least in my experience.
You see, one of the very early areas in Black 2 & White 2 features wild Riolu, which evolves into the very powerful and very badass Lucario. Unfortunately, I spent hours trying to find a Riolu before realizing that it really only appears during the daytime. After grinding experience for what seemed like a big waste of time, I finally caught a Riolu and trained it to the highest level of any current team member. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t evolved into Lucario – I’m waiting to continue training it until the morning, as it only evolves during the day (and only if its “Friendship” rating is full…shenanigans).
I also plan to train a Growlithe and use a Fire Stone to unleash the Fire-type monster that is Arcanine. Finally, I’ve got an Elekid – I’ll be damned if I don’t end the game with a pretty badass Electivire.
The ‘Lame Little Let-Downs’
First of all, the Pokemon Movie Studio distraction/side-quest is something I was more or less dreading before Black 2 & White 2 came out – and the expectations weren’t far from the results. Out of all the stupid distractions in Pokemon history, making movies isn’t as bad of a concept as the freaking beauty contests from generations past; on the other hand, the introduction to this entire part of the game overstays its welcome and feels like a really big chore, just as you’re moving on from earning your second badge. I don’t totally hate the movie idea – it’s not difficult to figure out, but it doesn’t really make sense. If Castelia City is based on New York City, why not put an emphasis on Broadway-style plays rather than Hollywood-style film productions? Just a thought.
Moving on, this is where my little Pokemon blog might sound dreary…fear not, the sequels are no less entertaining due to their release on the original DS format, but there were more than a dozen instances in my first five or six hours of play that I suddenly wished Black 2 & White 2 were designed for the 3DS. The graphics? The music? Definitely a step up; the tunes are catchy as always, but sound better and seem to be more intricate & complex than the tracks from past games. Additionally, the animations are smoother and feature more frames in general, not to mention the battle scenes have a bit more detail and the environment effects really dazzle compared to past games.
On the other hand, how much better could this entire experience have looked if it were designed for the 3DS? The “what if’s” are merely for speculation, not criticism – I love these games, but even with the passion for Pokemon, I can honestly admit that I would have been at least ten times as impressed with the production values if the sequels were just not featured on the old hardware.
It is likely that these criticisms could be copied and pasted into my final review of Pokemon Black 2 & White 2; whatever the case, these are some of the biggest problems I’ve encountered in almost a dozen hours of gameplay. To be completely honest, I’ve been having nothing but a blast playing the game – my girlfriend feels the same about Black 2, and has even invested herself into the Pokemon Dream Radar app on the Nintendo eShop. In fact, just this evening she captured the “Therian Form” of Tornadus, the legendary Flying-type “genie” Pokemon. I haven’t checked it out yet myself, but I look forward to seeing how it works, and I definitely want to get some of those sweet-looking “Therian” versions of the legendary genie Pokemon.