Pokemon Black And White 2: The Kotaku Review

It's four o'clock in the morning and I'm sitting outside my apartment chain-smoking cigarettes, mildly buzzed on cough syrup and decidedly not getting the rest I was supposed to be getting in order to alleviate the need for prescription medication in the first place. Instead I am grinding levels on my water and fighting-type Pokémon so I can get past the rock gym leader in Pokémon Black 2.

Dammit, Game Freak, I'm nearly 40 years old. Knock it off.

I've been here before, and I don't just mean the Unova region, the setting for the first numbered sequels in the history of the Pokémon series proper. I mean sitting in the dark, ignoring my desperate need for a good night's rest in order to fill a Pokedex with imaginary creatures. It was back in 2000 with Pokémon Yellow, my first foray into catching them all.

I've played each iteration of Pokémon since and enjoyed them, but I've never felt the level of obsession I did that first time. Pokémon Black and White 2 comes pretty damn close.

Pokémon Black and White 2

Because you have to catch all the things, and revisiting old friends and exploring the aftermath of events two years prior is an entertaining way to do it.

Developer: Game Freak Platforms: 3DS / DSi (played on 3DS XL) Released: October 7

Type of game: Turn-Based RPG

What I played: Played Black for 20 hours. Collected 7 of 8 gym badges. Seen 161 Pokémon, collected 51. Defeated my Pokémon White-playing wife in several rounds of local multiplayer. Utilized Pokémon Dream Radar app on the 3DS to capture items and Pokémon. Grinded like hell at every given opportunity.

My Two Favourite Things

  • Between filling out the 300 creature Pokedex to grabbing each of the game's 200 medals there's a tremendous amount of content for the collection-minded gamer.
  • Discovering how the past two years have treated familiar faces and places.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • It's been 14 years, surely we can make these battles more dynamic.
  • I lost my Black and White save and couldn't access the nifty flashback feature.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "Just when I thought I was done with all the catching." -- Squirtle Fahey, Kotaku
  • "Where the hell is Squirtle, anyway?" -- Muk Fahey, Kotaku

Picking up two years after the events in Pokémon Black and White, Version 2 sees the player stepping into the shoes of the latest in a long line girls and boys setting off on the path to becoming a Pokémon master. Recruited by a professor, introduced to a rival (though more a companion this time out, probably shouldn't have given him such a horrible name) and thrust out into a wild world where horrific creatures easily capable of slaughtering a lone teenager have somehow conditioned themselves to only attack other horrific creatures. A world where a criminal organisation called Team Plasma -- an organisation with seemingly unlimited resources at its disposal and an evil plan to take over the world -- can be brought down by a kid with a bandoleer of monster balls.

It's a silly place, but a familiar one, filled with characters and locations from the previous pair of titles. One of the rival characters is now a gym leader; the other a research assistant for Professor Juniper. Towns visited two years ago receive cosmetic changes to reflect the passage of time. The Pokémon gyms (except the first one) have all received visits from the unnecessary gimmick fairy.

By tweaking the existing setting rather than design an entirely new one, Game Freak has crafted an intriguing journey for those who played the original Black and White. The plot might be nothing more than a flimsy attempt to distract us from our extended game of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock-Zoroark, but hey, did you see what they did to Nimbasa City?

Various diversions threaten to veer the player off the path to being crowned king of the pocket monster people. There's a movie studio where battles are morphed into cheesy action movies, though there doesn't seem to be much substance there. Pokémon can once again be decked out in silly costumes, collecting bits and bobs from about the region to create the ultimate ensemble for the game's version of musical theatre. The player character, quite out of the blue, is given an entire shopping mall to populate and manage, one of the game's more interesting side activities. And for those that would rather compete than collect there is no shortage of tournaments to participate in, with downloadable content aplenty on the way.

I, however, am a connoisseur of the core Pokémon experience -- the hunting and trapping of beasts, cultivating the perfect party and then wandering back and forth through the tall grass, harvesting experience points until my Pokémon are powerful enough to move on to the next area. It's like a Japanese role-playing game, only instead of five or six characters you have several hundred and not one of them has amnesia (not technically true).

While the element grid has expanded and the cast of creatures doubled, Game Freak has stuck to the same simple formula for 16 years, and for good reason: it's perfect. Grinding random field fights to level up a new addition to your party; battling an unfamiliar Pokémon to sliver of health and reaching into your ball sack; to hear the lamentations of your enemies as they faint following a super-effective attack -- this is what is best in life.

What really gets me about Black and White 2 -- what keeps me up at night -- is the collecting. It's the 200 medals (achievements) attainable for completing specific tasks. It's the 300 Pokémon I must enslave to my will.

Mostly it's the damn Pokedex.

It's a silly little thing, really. As you encounter and collect Pokémon in any given habitat, they show up in that habitat's entry in the Pokedex. Once you've captured every Pokémon in a given habitat you get a completion stamp.

*twitch*

How can a man possibly sleep when he hasn't captured a Koffing in the Virbank Complex? How can I save my game without the completion stamp for Route 20? Where the hell is Dunsparce!? This game has upgraded my mild OCD to flamin' hot Cajun spice OCD.

That obsessive compulsion is what defines the Pokémon series. It's right there in the tagline: "Gotta Catch 'Em All". It kept me playing into the wee hours of the morning when I was a much younger man. It drove me to acquire each iteration of the game since, hoping to rekindle that manic motivation. I've found it again in Pokémon Black and White 2.


Comments

    I love me some pokeymans, but I'm sorry, I have to be that guy.

    "Reach into my ball sack?" Really?

      Reach into your ball sack, sorry. Comment still applies, though.

        In.. a legitimate change of points, one notable point is the music; they've really stepped up their game with each new generation. Corless's theme is pretty boss, as well as all the remixed themes from the past.

        You have an account now right? you can edit comments now.

          yeah, I do, but.. eh. I'd say lazy, but that makes no sense.

          But seriously. Each gym has their own theme now. That's crazy awesome.

    Looking very much forward to challenge mode, I hope NPCs more proactively use status moves like Confuse Ray, Hypnosis, Attract, Sleep powder, U-Turn, Substitute etc etc than only higher levels.

    Didn't understand the whole pokemon catching OCD thing I normally only train one Pokemon and have a bunch of HM Slaves.

    Last edited 02/10/12 12:04 pm

    I've played Blue, Red, Yellow, Silver, Gold, Crystal... then I took a long break, and played Emerald, then took an even longer break and played Black.

    Nothing's changed. If anything I find the amount of new Pokemon off putting. It's far too off putting. I feel in their need to create generation after generation they lost something intergral in their design. The games themselves have been rehashed time and time again since the very first game was released. It's not cool in a fun nostalgic way, it's just boring. I've recently been playing that Pokemon MMO that contains the first generation. I've noticed that while playing I've become a little bit bored with the lack of selection, which is why Crystal was always my favourite game (generation 2).

    A lot of second generation was based on the first one. That was fine, they sort of expanded the world a little bit. What was new fit. The other generations added to previous generations in a way that it was there for the sake of being there and new breeds didn't really feel like Pokemon. They became more fantastical, less based on Pokemon design, less based on real life animals, and became much more cartoony, much more monster like - a lot more like Digimon. You have a lot of these new Pokemon that look like toys, or everyday objects (seriously, a sarcophagus, icecream and chandelier Pokemon? Give me a break!)

    After playing Black and going back to FireRed (technically Red) via the MMO I don't feel anything has been lost by going back 3 or 4 or 5 generations. I think that speaks volumes about how far the series has evolved (pun not intended). To say the forumla is perfect is to be misleading, in my opinion. While the bare bones game formula may be fine, I feel the variables have not been improved (or even changed) in 10+ games. I think that says that the formula needs changing. It's old. It's tired.

    They've been making the same game for 12 years and the sad thing is that it's what people want.

      They kept the same formula because it stills works and is still crazy popular, don't fix whats not broken you know?

      If your into variety or change try out some of the spinoff games like Pokemon Rescue Squad Pokemon Rumble, Pokemon Ranger, PokePark etc you might find what your hungering for.

      As to your comment about lack of innovation with design I find that a petty reason to hate on Pokemon they ar catering to kids afterall you know and kids like icecream and sarcophagus' I guess.

      Yo. I'm not a rabid fan, but I gotta take up the issue about design.

      Didn't really feel like pokemon? Admittingly, if you were to compare generation 1 and the newest one, there are very different changes. But I still fail to see your version of what pokemon are. If it's a lack of real-life animals, I notice a tarantula, a flounder, a praying mantis, and a electric eel. If it's the addition of everyday objects being tuned into pokemon, well, keep in mind we've had a magnet for a pokemon, the blob that was muk, a windchime, and... whatever castform is. So having a chandelier and a sarcophagus are fine (considering their designs are quite well made.) the ice cream pokemon is just horrible, so you win with that.

      The designs have changed, but they're still within the confines of pokemon. Perhaps it's not the designs that have undergone a radical change, but you. There's just a large gap between the earlier generations and the current ones.

    If innovation wasn't a factor then why does Call of Duty get so much crap? I have an issue with "petty" things like innovation because I've been playing the same game for 10 years. Almost literally the same game. But it's been the same game called different things, on different platforms. As I've grown I've come to expect new experiences. Kids might not care about that, but I'm not a child. I don't want to fork over $xx for a game I already own. It also sucks to see a series which I thought could go to amazing heights stagnate like this. Pokemon has always been a fun entry-level RPG/turn based strategy game with nostalgia attached to that, but I expect a lot more from it these days and it doesn't deliver. It doesn't bother me THAT much. I also see Pokemon has a prime example of Nintendo's issues. They don't know how to do "new and exciting and fresh". Whether it's the Wii's behind-the-times hardware, or their "re-iteration of a series we've done 50 times before". Havng familiarty is fine, don't get me wrong, but if I play two games and they feel the same in a very obvious way then something is wrong.

      Oh, cmon, man. So you can say that the second generation and the newest generation are EXACTLY the same? Sprites and all?

      Pokemon, admittingly, has a very slow climb between significant changes in generations, but they're definitely not the same thing again and again. This generation compared to the others has way better music than the last and an actual plot, both of which are kind of shocking when it comes to the apparently-long stagnated series.

      Also, I think people just hate on CoD because of it's "generic bro shooter" image that it's garnered. I'd love to see a comparison of what changed in CoD's iterations compared to Pokemon, but eh.

      And I'm not touching on the nintendo thing.

    i hope the game is alot longer that B/W1, because that was just stupidly quick
    knowing me, i will still buy it, but just rage like a baws if its crap.

    I just wish i had the time and dedication to finish this one. But i'm doubting it.

    All I can say is I'm so jelly you're playing this and I'm not :c

    I am excited to get my hands on it!

    Best thing is, it is on a portable, so that mean on the go gaming returns!

      i think i might start catching the train again so i have something to play... doubt playing my gameboy while driving is advised...

    Still loving pokemon after all this time. I'm just in it for the competitive battling, its better than ever with each new generation.

    I haven't touched a Pokemon game since Ruby and Sapphire, and it never dawned on me to try out the new games, not because of the "151-only" elitism, but rather its myself and the fact that my tastes in gaming has matured in a way and i didn't feel the need to play the new games. Pokemon isn't the only series that has kept things the same, but its probably the only series that can keep the same formula, where it be the games or the anime, and still be successful because of its ever expanding fans, and it has plenty of fans, once upon a time it wasn't cool to be a pokemon fan. Its different now and then when i tell people how i've attended the Pokemon 2000 convention in Sydney.

    Anyways, I feel like this series (the main one bar the spinoffs) will never change unless they decide to do a MMORPG or something. Maybe i do want to play the new pokemon games now that i've read this review, if only to see for myself and decide if it's worth playing the new games.

    I agree with the article. Pokemon can still go on a long way but it all ddepnes on Nintendo. I live in South Africa and by the time the SABC stopped airing Pokemon Advance Generations I thought Pokemon was dead for sure. Gameboy systems disappeared, Pokemon Cards and Tazos disappeared. People threw away their collections until recently, Core Gaming Systems got hold of distribution rights for Pokemon Black & White in South Africa. Suddenly this dead empire rose out of the ashes when ETV started airing Diamond & Pearl. I was so happy.

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