Pokemon Black & White Review

Ah, Pokemon. Thrust me right back into my childhood and the life-long decision I would never regret: Pokemon Blue or Pokemon Red? I always loved having that Blue cartridge, Blastoise emblazoned on the tiny square-inch label. The sheer volume of Pokemon in that game was amazing. I knew them all: their types, the locations where you could find them, their evolutions, and special items that made them better. And of course, the MissingNo. cheat that you’d get by swimming the coast of Cinnabar Island. That beauty multiplied whatever you had in the sixth spot of your inventory. Tons of rare candy levels up even your weakest Pokemon to be incredibly powerful. You know, so you could actually beat the gym leader, Blaine.

Well, all that has changed. It is no longer a game with just 151 Pokemon. No longer can you rely on your knowledge of the Kanto region, where gyms are located, which grassy areas have the best Pokemon, and how to exploit Team Rocket’s hideout. No, sadly, all of that has been replaced by two new versions in the Pokemon franchise: Black and White.

Now, it could be said that Gold and Silver changed it up when they entered the Johto region and added another hundred Pokemon, but this is just getting ridiculous. I mean, sure, the graphics have been improved, and this is the way games look nowadays, but is it really necessary to add another mass of Pokemon to the list that already spans nearly 700?

I’m not going to get into much of the gameplay. You know how the game works. Catch and train Pokemon, battle gym leaders, work your way through the town against your rivals (yep, you have two in this game, no more Gary to be found), upgrade your creatures with rare stones and elixirs, and fill your Pokedex. Fine. The game is good because the mechanics are the same. But here are my problems with it:

Seriously, do you really need 700 Pokemon? Yeah, I know, I said it already, but seriously. SEVEN HUNDRED! Dude, 250 was enough when Gold & Silver came out! Okay, fine, I’ll let it go.

The graphics, for being updated from what they once were, are a welcome improvement. But there are issues. One, they don’t look nearly as good as they should. I can’t even imagine what they look like on a DSi XL. They’re already pretty stretched and pixelated. But the issue lies more in how difficult it can be to actually find out where you’re standing in the world. It’s difficult to tell if you’re actually right beside a door or two steps away.

The music has been improved, but it remains in the typical Nintendo-only-ever-does-midi-audio style. This is 2011! Bring out some audio that actually sounds like it was made for a movie, would you? Pokemon has a beautiful orchestral theme that would sound fantastic with some violins, trumpets, and trombones. But we’re instead stuck with this synthesized and synthetic over-tooled rendition of the same song we’ve been hearing since the Blue and Red days.

Overall, Pokemon Black and White don’t stray too far from what you might expect from the series. They don’t let you trade Pokemon into the game until you’ve beaten it once, so you can’t just throw in all your Level-65 beats from the last game and walk through the game by pressing the A button. That makes sense. But all the other changes they’ve made, albeit external to the formula that makes Pokemon what it really is, end up taking away from the experience overall. They change the dynamic to be just plain difficult to play and more work than it really should be. I can memorize a 150-character Pokedex. Heck, I can even memorize a 250-character Pokedex. But 646 Pokemon at last count is a bit ridiculous.

It’s too much. For me, anyways. I hear they’ve already sold more than 3 million copies.

This review was based on a retail copy of Pokemon Black Version provided by Nintendo.