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Pokémon Black


You will collect them all! At least until the 3DS comes out...

The Pokémon franchise have been a lucrative one for Nintendo over the last 15 years.  The games did much to bolster Nintendo's grasp on the handheld market and I'm sure you are aware of the countless cartoons that have been created for fans of the characters.  It's not surprising that Nintendo wants to cash in with a final set of Pokémon games before the 3DS hits the street this month.  Pokémon White and Pokémon Black are the games in question and are poised to launch Pokémon fanatics back into the RPG that they know and love. 

pokemon black battleWhat's the difference between Pokemon Black and Pokemon White?  The two main differences are the types of Pokémon / items that can be collected and specific regions specific to each version.  Both Black and White have 20 exclusive Pokémons to collect, but White also have 30+ more exclusive creatures to find in the White Forest.  In regards to regions, the aforementioned White Forest (in Pokémon White) is a rustic forest landscape and Pokémon Black has a more metopolitan Black City to explore and a much larger amount of items to collect than White Forest. 

The story doesn't bring anything new to the table and will be immediately recognizable to fans of the series.  The player takes control of a teenager within a city called Unova, likely modeled after NYC.  After the teenager receives a Pokémon as a gift from Professor Juniper, he's launched into a story arc about battling Team Plasma; a group looking to free Pokémons from captivity.  While the cause sounds noble, there's something more sinister afoot and the narrative explores that.  It's nearly identical to Pokémon stories of the past and really quite unimaginative.  

pokemon black house In regards to gameplay, this is probably the most accessible Pokémon game to date for new players or even those new to RPG games.  The less powerful Pokémon receive a more appropriate distribution of battle experience, thus avoiding allowing the player to avoid distastful grinding for the most part.  There are also helpful hints offered up by friends along the way, extremely useful for the Pokémon novice.  Battling is pretty similar to previous entries, but the flow of battle feels quicker to me.  Boss battles are more challenging though and rotational battles force the player into building up several Pokémon to rely on during battle rather than just a single badass. 

Beyond the single player tweaks, there are multiplayer additions to feed the "Collect Them All" mentality.  C-Gear allows you to pop into multiplayer anytime via IR to battle or trade with another player without the need for friend codes.  If you want to play with friends over Wi-fi, you will need friend codes.  But you can jump into random battles without punching in that basted code.  There's also a co-op mode called Friend Check that's designed to help you earn items in the main campaign by completing rhythm based mini-games.  It's certainly no Elite Beat Agents, but the single player game boosts are a nice reward. 

Graphics:

There haven't been enough visual upgrades to Pokémon Black, period.  I truly believe that the developers got lazy on this one.  Perhaps it's the upcoming launch of the 3DS that made them focus on other games.  The new character models for the Pokémon are pretty hideous at times.  The push into 3D environments looks poor, especially at this stage of the life cycle of the DS.  There's an extreme amount of pixelation and blocky textures throughout the 3D world.  Compared to other Pokémon games, it looks great.  Compared to Phantom Hourglass or a Professor Layton game, it's sub par.  The 3D portion also makes the game feel somewhat disjointed from the rest of the series, but my guess is that's the direction for the next Pokémon title on the 3DS.  

pokemon black cityAudio:

There's been a bit of expansion with the musical score as well as the sound effects around the battles.  However, you will also hear some familiar tunes in the mix as well.  All in all, the effects and music are faithful to the Pokémon universe and work well within Pokemon Black. 

Conclusion:

The biggest problem with Pokémon Black is that it's follows the same, exact narrative formula for a Pokémon game and doesn't bring anything tremendously new to the table in regards to story.  However, the slight modifications to the gameplay (getting rid of level grinding for instance) and expanded online modes do make this the best Pokémon game currently available.  If you are brand new to the Pokémon series, you are going to find Pokémon Black to be an incredibly involving RPG and darn entertaining if you enjoy the genre.  It's definitely worth checking out and will probably keep you entertained up until the launch of the 3DS later this month.