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Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2 improve over the predecessor in seemingly every way, creating a good that looks - at first glance - like a retread of the same ground, but instead provides a far more compulsive journey.
Down to our last two Pokemon, I had my sturdy Bastiodon while my opponent faced me with Accelgor. My bulky, extinct Pokemon, regenerated from fossil remains versus an exceptionally fast Pokemon with a biting ranged attack. The trainer in front of me smiled with glee as he took in my seemingly hopeless situation, but thankfully I remembered my strategy. Accelgor fired off a Focus Blast, which has low accuracy and (luckily for me!) went wide. Bastiodon fired a glob of Toxic at Accelgor. Accelgor succumbed to the deadly poison, which worsened with every round. I put up Bastiodon's Protect. It would shield him from any attack as long as it held. If it did, all I had to do was stand and watch as my opponent's Pokemon gradually fell to the floor.
The recent and exciting news of the impending Pokemon X and Pokemon Y (3DS) has taken the wind out of the sails of my Pokemon Black/White 2 critique a little. I was planning to explore all the features of this latest Pokemon title which demonstrate why the series needs to move to the 3DS instead of languishing on the Old Faithful DS.
Still, with Pokemon X and Pokemon Y's announcement, my feeling is turned around a little. With the new game due for such imminent release (Oct 2013), I realise that there is a chance that many will choose to overlook Pokemon Black/White 2 in favour of waiting for the new 3DS game. This would be a shame, because I believe that Pokemon Black/White 2 is almost the finest Pokemon game ever made; a vast improvement over the first Black and White and a great starting point for those who have never played the "proper" Pokemon games.
A great starting point for those who have never played the "proper" Pokemon games.
I've come across a number of people that have never played a real Pokemon game, by which I mean: the RPG series with catching Pokemon to train/breed and battle. So, for those who still don't know how the main Pokemon game works, it's essentially a Zelda-style RPG with old-style Final Fantasy battles. The battles are turn-based and rely on your collection of Pokemon, rather than a group of characters. Pokemon level up and learn attacks in the same way as RPG heroes. The clever balancing act comes from the limitation that each Pokemon may only know four moves at a time and you may only carry six Pokemon with you. This leads to a huge amount of strategising and development to put together the strongest, most effective and balanced team.
I think a lot of people are put off by the endless marketing and spin-offs, which is a shame because but Pokemon is, at heart, a truly engrossing RPG with a staggering amount of depth and longevity which rivals even Skyrim. I think that Pokemon Black and White 2 is the best game for newcomers, simply because most of the quirks and irritations from previous games have been worked out and this version is streamlined and joyful. On top of that, the complete Pokemon catalogue is potentially accessible. That's 649, folks, although a number of these will require trading online or with a friend.
With this new entry I'll admit that I was a little put off, at first. The majority of the game map is a carbon-copy of the previous games' world, with cosmetic differences down to plot events. There are even a few places where the dialogue of certain bystanders appears unchanged and doesn't seem to fit the direction your character now travels. If I were to cast a criticism, it would be that Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2 is a retread of the previous game's content, perhaps released as a companion game in the same way that Pokemon Red and Blue spawned Pokemon Yellow and Pokemon Diamond and Pearl spawned Pokemon Platinum.
What it feels like, more than anything, is that this is really Pokemon Black and White 1.5, learning lessons from the mistakes of the previous games and producing a new edited form which finely tunes the brilliance of the game. I say this, because what makes things doubly difficult is that it's hard to pin down exactly why Pokemon Black and White 2 is better than Pokemon Black and White.
Maybe it's that, this time, Pokemon from previous versions of the game appear from the beginning, rather than at the end when the complete index of creatures is opened up. Maybe it's something else. I love the appearance of Pokestar studios, an engaging side-quest in which your Pokemon commands are performed in front of a green-screen, to be turned into a movie epic which you can watch after filming. As a writer and teller of stories, I love this opportunity to create my own entries in a little spin-off world of the Pokemon story.
A staggering amount of depth and longevity which rivals even Skyrim.
In this game I prefer the stories I implicitly create myself, through my own journey: the multiple efforts of cross-breeding I undertook to create an Omastar with the Muddy Water move; my team reselections after being beaten in a boss battle, only to win through by the skin of my teeth; my attempts to find a surprisingly elusive Emolga, because my four-year-old niece likes the cartoon and wanted to see one. I find it odd that I should prefer less plot, being a storyteller myself, but perhaps it is because the connection that grows with your Pokemon is so strong and the journey itself feels so personal that any outside plot feels like an intrusion; like it's somebody else's story.
Where it does fall down (and where a 3DS version will surely improve matters) is in the wireless connectivity features. I was recently lucky enough to take a trip to Japan and I thought this would be a great chance to get some game data shared. I took both my DS and 3DS, because the Pokemon DS game blocks the 3DS' Streetpass function and I wanted to compare both. In Tokyo and Kyoto I would usually get about 20-30 Streetpass hits a day and even in the smaller area of Nara I got about 10 hits, daily. With Pokemon White 2 I only connected with other gamers 11 times in the entire two-week trip.
I had thought that the reason I don't receive Pokemon data passes at home is a British phenomenon, down to less gamers or because I live in a quiet area. But, I think that this shows that, even in Japan, trying to data share in this way in a DS title is impractical. I didn't even get any hits from other users in the Tokyo Pokemon Center. I think this shows it really is time for Pokemon to embrace the 3DS' improved connection options.
I know I said at the beginning that it was "almost" the best Pokemon game. It only misses out on the top spot for me because I still love HeartGold and SoulSilver, with the innovative Pokewalker accessory and the Pokeathlon side games. Putting those distractions aside, Pokemon White 2 and Pokemon Black 2 are the slickest, most finely-tuned and enjoyable entries the series has ever produced and it will be many hours over many months yet before I see an end to it.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: