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Pokémon Black and White 2 finds refuge in nostalgia

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

October 26, 2012

Three weeks ago, Nintendo released its latest Pokémon games in the United States. Unlike any previous game in the long-running series, these latest games are a direct sequel to the previous releases: Pokémon Black and White. While in the past Nintendo has connected the stories of one set of games to another—such as using Pokémon Gold and Silver as a setting three years after Red and Blue—this is the first set of games to take place entirely in the same region and includes many of the same characters from the previous game.

Black and White 2 continues the story of the Unova region two years after the previous game, from the perspective of a new hero from the western side of the region. Even before reaching the first Pokémon Gym, the hero rescues a lost Pokémon from Team Plasma, the villains from Pokémon Black and White, who were supposedly disbanded after their defeat two years prior. This immediately affirms the connection between both sets of games and sets the stage for the plot.

Two of the biggest changes from the last game appear within the first hour of play: namely, the variety of Pokémon and the specialties of the early gyms. Unlike Black and White, which did not include Pokémon from prior generations until after completing the main story, Black and White 2 includes 300 Pokémon from earlier games. With this change, players who possibly skipped Black and White, or those who are returning to Pokémon can immediately feel familiar with the Pokémon they encounter. The overall progression of gyms is well balanced and by the time more difficult gyms are encountered, players have numerous opportunities to catch new Pokémon that can counteract the gym leaders’ arsenals. For example, while the second gym leader is strong against Grass-type, discouraging the use of the grass starter, there are many other Pokémon available by that point to offset this disadvantage.

One of the greatest flaws of the game is the continuation of the experience system introduced in Black and White. In prior generations, experience earned from battles depended on the strength of opponents, while in Black and White 2, battling the same opponents will successively result in less experience. While this encourages the player to travel through the story and not grind through battles to reach higher levels, it makes the game more challenging in a way that some players might not enjoy. For example, instead of spending a couple of hours training before challenging a gym, the game encourages players to challenge the gym and lose once or twice before becoming strong enough to win.

One of the game’s new features is the Pokéstar Studio side game. In it, the player can act out scenarios and make films with their Pokémon. It’s rather cheesy, as the facility is run by a man named “Stu Deeoh,” but the side game has a lot of potential and can also be used to earn rare and valuable items. While it’s not a part of the main game—other than the mandatory introduction to the studio game—it can be an enjoyable diversion. Another interesting side game is the Pokémon World Tournament, which offers the chance to battle the gym leaders of older games. This side-event is available after completing the main game and offers a fun opportunity to nostalgically battle opponents like Brock and Misty.

Stylistically, the new games are gorgeous. The graphics are very good considering the game is on the Nintendo DS (raising the question of why the games were not released on the Nintendo 3DS, which has been around for over 18 months). The environments are vibrant and detailed, the weather effects are fitting and the detailed sprite animations are all enjoyable. In terms of the music, for players that like music while playing handheld games, it’s similar to previous games. There are, however, new remixes and themes that set the tone for different areas.

It’s no surprise that Pokémon is still going strong. Nintendo has not needed to do much to adjust the formula of the games to keep them fresh. Even now, with a general preference toward earlier games, these latest entries are still as enjoyable and addictive as ever. Easily, the $35 investment in a copy can provide around 40 hours of fun for a casual player, and hundreds hours of fun for a completionist or competitive battler.

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