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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Gotta catch ’em all over again with ‘Black’ and ‘White’

Published: March 18, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

On March 6, the latest wave of the Pokemon storm made its way across the Pacific as the fifth generation of games, “Pokemon Black” and “Pokemon White,” surged from store shelves and into the homes of families across the nation. The English edition had a lot to live up to, with the original already having an impressive reputation—including being only the 15th game ever given a perfect score by “Famitsu” magazine.

One of the first things to notice is, of course, the new pokemon. With the addition of “Black” and “White,” the list of pokemon expanded from an already impressive 493—which included Mew and other pokemon only available through Nintendo events—to 649. Unlike the previous release, which included way too many water pokemon and only two fire-types in the regional Pokedex, the new pokemon are very well spread-out among the different types.

Another cool element is the increase in differences between the versions. “Pokemon White” has an area known as the White Forest in the same geographic location as the other version’s Black City. Another twist is that the final dragon-type gym has two different Gym Leaders depending on which version of the game you play. While the pokemon you fight remain the same, “White” pits the protagonist against a young girl while “Black” offers an old man instead.

Additionally, the frequency of the new battle mechanics varies between the two. “Black” and “White” introduce two new battle types: triple battles and rotation battles. Rotation battles are more common in “Black,” while triple battles are much more common in “White.”

Perhaps the greatest gameplay change occurs in the steps taken to avoid bad choices in selecting a starter. For instance, back in the first generation, picking Charmander was generally a bad choice as the first two gyms were both of types which were difficult for fire to handle. In this generation, the player receives a second pokemon not long after getting a starter, and it is always of a type that trumps the starter’s weakness. For instance, if one chooses the grass starter, you will later receive a special water pokemon to counter the grass starter’s fire weakness. Additionally, the first gym has three leaders, and the player fights the leader with their own type of weakness. This again brings the value of gaining other pokemon to the forefront and discourages people from rushing through the game with only a few strong pokemon.

However, gameplay has also provided the single greatest disappointment in the game for me. The reworked experience system (exp), now based on a combination of the opponent’s level and the level of the player’s pokemon, makes it significantly more time-consuming to level “grind” at the beginning of the game. Previously, exp was distributed in a set amount based simply on the opponent’s level. This new complicated system, while more realistic, makes it more time-consuming for players aiming to play through the story quickly.

Another change in the dynamics of gameplay is the presence of two rivals/best friends. Because the rivals take the starter pokemon that the player did not choose, one rival always has the traditional type advantage, while the other is always weak in comparison to the player’s choice. This, however, has also been one of my biggest disappointments. I have always enjoyed naming my rival. I’ve made it almost a tradition to name him after my brother as a mark of respect (I’m almost certain he does the same). It’s significantly more fun as I feel as though I’m defeating my brother rather than some arbitrarily named rival.

Another strong part is the music as well as the improved graphics. While I’ve never been a big fan of playing handheld games with music, I did for a short while play with music and noticed that, in addition to some of the standard pokemon music arrangements, newer tunes had been added which gave each region a new flavor.

Additionally, while graphics for the game world have improved overall, one of the most notable changes occurs in the battles. In addition to improvements in the representation of attacks, pokemon now move around and wiggle their tails or nod their heads as they wait for commands.

A final point of interest, for American players at least, is the basis of the new region, called Unova. While the previous four generations’ regions have been based on geographic locations in Japan, “Black” and “White” feature a region that is instead loosely based on the New York City area. The center of the region is a large city, and the region also boasts a huge grassland not unlike Central Park.

I had a feeling that these games would be great even before learning that they had received a perfect rating from “Famitsu.” Having now played them, I can now definitely say that these are games not to be missed. Don’t delay: Nintendo is offering early buyers a free Wi-Fi download that includes Victini, a powerful pokemon not obtainable through regular gameplay.