Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: 3/6/2011
Available Exclusively On
The Good: Updated graphics, strong story, fun gameplay, good characterization
The Bad: Bad dialogue, absent features, post-game is lacking, new features are underwhelming
I was obsessed with Pokémon as a kid. I bought a Game Boy just so I could play Pokémon Blue. I had Blue, Yellow, Snap, Pinball, Silver, Stadium 2 and Hey You, Pikachu!. I stopped when Ruby/Sapphire came out, though. I didn’t like how they looked and I was annoyed that they were releasing more when I hadn’t caught them all yet (I was 12). I got out of Pokémon and didn’t look back.
Pokémon Black and White were on the horizon and all of my college friends were talking about it and counting down the days until it’s release. It piqued my interest and I ended up buying White and getting re-obsessed with the franchise. I even got SoulSilver, which in my opinion is the best Pokémon game.
The first big positive of these games is the graphics bump. The world looks more realistic with highly detailed buildings, Pokémon move constantly during battle, and everything moves much smoother and quicker due to having more frames per animation. There’s even a few points in the game where the environment becomes more 3D and the camera more fluid, allowing you to go around curves and let the camera move down for more dramatic angles. This only happens a few times though and is pretty underwhelming. This concept may be new to the Pokémon franchise, but it isn’t unusual to games in general, so the player doesn’t feel like it’s anything new and it ends up being a poor exchange for not being able to have your lead Pokémon follow you, which was one of the best features of HeartGold/SoulSilver.
The story was better than any other game in this franchise, although to be fair I didn’t play the main generation 3 or 4 games so I can’t compare those stories. The main antagonists in White are Team Plasma, who want to free Pokémon from humans who they believe force Pokémon to fight for their own amusement, resulting in real-world comparisons to PETA. This is a team with goals that the player can sympathize, if not agree, with. This was also the first game to make the Gym Leaders seem important beyond being unique opponents. They have important day jobs in their respective cities and frequently step in to help the player in their fight with Team Plasma. Your rivals are also given their own story and character arcs. Fleshing out these characters really helped the player connect to the world around them and to the importance of the story.
There are, however, some major flaws with this game that I felt, could have been avoided with a little more thought and effort put in. After completing the main plot, there’s still about a fourth of the world to explore. These remaining cities only have some old Pokémon from previous games, new trainers to fight, a few minigames, and a couple of easter eggs in the form of Mythology Gags. These can be fun but pale in comparison to the previous cities. There’s a sense that you’re just exploring for explorings-sake and that there’s no real purpose to it.
Another failed innovation of the game was the C-gear, which allows one to interact with other players’ games in mini-quests that get boring after the third time and surveys which no one I know took the time to develop and then send to people. Most of this can be done as if the DS is closed so long as the C-gear function is on, but that drains the batteries and you’re very unlikely to pass anyone on the street who also has the game on unless you live in a very population-dense area. This is probably why this feature was better received in Japan.
The thing that annoyed me the most, however, was the dialogue. It’s as simplistic as you can get. I realize it’s a kids game, but that’s no excuse. I kept wondering if all the hospitals were giving out free lobotomies and that my character was the only one who had the sense to turn them down. It would also explain the reverse-kleptomania pandemic. In one of the early towns, a man just gives you an evolutionary stone. One of the most valuable in-game objects and he just gives it to you. In fact, most people on the street have a potion, berry, status-remover, TM, fossil, or other rare item that they can’t wait to thrust into the pocket of the first guy to talk to them.
My last nitpick is that while this game introduces Triple Battles and Rotation Battles, the game almost seems ashamed of them. They don’t appear very often in the game at all and are easily skipped.
In short, I would definitely recommend this game for anyone who likes the Pokémon franchise and might even suggest it as a good starting point for any newcomers. The story is solid, the characters likeable, and it still retains that unbeatable Pokémon formula. Any faults I can find are either indicative of the series (dialogue, etc.), or easily ignorable. I just kept the C-gear off most of the time and it never negatively impacted the game. There was also some disappointment over some missing features like the VS seeker or the auto-run. Overall though, the Pokémon series is as strong as ever and shows no sign of slowing down.