Game: Pokémon White Version 2
Developer: Game Freak
Available on: Nintendo DS only
It’s been 13 years since Europe first got Pokémon fever, with the release of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue on the Game Boy. In those 13 years, the series has continued to go from strength to strength, with generations old and new embracing the ever-growing numbers of Pokémon and regions to explore in. However, there will always be a time when that starts to wear thin. With the first numbered, explicit sequel to a Pokémon game just around the corner with Pokémon Black and White Version 2, has the spell finally worn off?
STORY: Set 2 years after the events of Black and White, Pokémon White Version 2 once again throws you into the region of Unova, albeit with several changes to the landscape that saw the escapades of Team Plasma’s previous iteration. Whilst many places, such as Driftveil City, are still around, things have changed drastically. With redesigns of all Pokemon Gyms, several new cities and another dastardly iteration of Team Plasma to battle on your way to becoming Pokémon Champion, there’s still plenty to do and keep you occupied on your travels.
GRAPHICS: Whilst ostensibly the same game in graphical terms as the last set of games, Pokémon White Version 2 has several aesthetic changes that mean it’s not simply a cut and paste effort from Game Freak, even if it may appear so from the outside. With newer animations and unique sprites, there’s more of a living feeling to the game that still clings to the traditional isometric sprite look. Despite some areas where the camera adjusts itself to be in positions that, to a Pokémon fan who hasn’t played the previous games, can be rather alien, it’s not difficult to cope with.
With most areas being redesigned, yet still changed aesthetically by the effect of seasons on the environments in the game, the game boasts that traditional look that has been bolstered somewhat by years of new iterations and the obvious increase in power that the DS brought to the table that has been utilized fully by the past two games. However, it might soon be time for the game to make the leap to the 3DS, as the look won’t have the same charm forever.
SOUND: With a remixed soundtrack from Black and White, the sounds that greet you as you traverse the Unova region for the second time are familiar, but no less mind-bendingly catchy than in previous games. That’s all there is to say. The music creates the necessary ambience required to make the region come alive with the constraints of no voice acting and the often-poor sound quality of the DS in no way limiting its effectiveness.
GAMEPLAY: The perfect gateway RPG, the Pokémon gameplay you probably grew up with and undoubtedly love has been retained and permeates through the core of Pokémon White Version 2. With the impetus still being on “Gotta catch ‘em all”, the levelling up of Pokémon and the adventures that they both entail, it’s a familiar and enjoyable experience that proves as addictive as it has been before. However, it has been diluted somewhat by the additional features that aren’t all as good as they could, or perhaps should, be.
If you missed the last two games, then the main things that have changed are the addition of various new battle types, evolutions (if you pardon the pun) of the Double Battle formula that joined the series with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. With Triple Battles (adding a third Pokémon to the mix) and Rotation Battles (three Pokémon per side, but only one can battle at a time) adding some diversity, but appearing fairly rarely, these are the only changes from the main formula in terms of battling.
The biggest, and best, change in Black and White Version 2 is the addition of the Pokémon World Tournament. Whilst previously the Unova region was completely isolated from the previous games in terms of lore and crossovers, the World Tournament changes things. You want to battle the gym leaders of Kanto and Johto? You can now. There’s so many tournaments available to you that it adds plenty of replayability to an already enjoyable game. It’s a great little feature that will have you heading back to Driftveil City time and time again.
The same can’t be said of the almost contemptible extraneous activities that are meant to distract from the battling. From building ‘Link Avenue’ from all the players you meet via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to PokéStar Studios, where you can participate in ‘faux-battles’ that form the basis for ludicrous movies, the additional stuff is where Pokémon White Version 2 starts to lose its way. By adding in ‘filler’ content that, while trying to develop some kind of background for the world to make it so Pokémon don’t always battle, it ruins the focus. As weird as it sounds to say it, forcing you into those situations at all (even for a miniscule amount of time) dulls the effect sufficiently and makes the game feel like it’s starting to lose its way.
MULTIPLAYER: The days of the Link cable have come and gone, and that makes Pokémon a more accessible multiplayer experience. With everything from trading to battling available over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection between friends and strangers alike, there’s really no better way to experience the Pokémon multiplayer experience than in Pokémon Black and White Version 2. With the transfer of friend codes through the C-Gear, and a whole host of additional features, the online modes are extensive enough to intrigue and keep you amused, but not a necessity in order to enjoy the game by any means (apart from necessary trades to complete the Pokédex if needs be).
LONGEVITY: With the usual host of 8 gym battles, various encounters with trainers, wild Pokémon and Team Plasma, as well as the challenge of the Elite Four, there’s really quite a lot of meat on the bones of Pokémon White Version 2. If you felt the games have lacked replayability (you seriously thought that? Well, okay..), then the addition of the Unova Link feature means that any of those doubts can be cast asunder like an under-utilized Pokémon into someone’s PC box.
What the Unova Link feature entails isn’t clear until you’ve completed your first run-through the game (taking anywhere between 12 to 30 hours, depending on your method of play and what Pokémon you have). Then, depending on which version of the game you have, you get access to another difficulty mode. White Version 2 makes it slightly easier, whereas in Black Version 2 you get a challenge mode. This is the first time difficulty has factored into Pokémon and it’s a mixed bag; the Black Version 2 owners will get more mileage than the White Version 2 owners, I feel.
VERDICT: It’s Pokémon, but not quite as you remember it. Whilst the core mechanics remain the same as when the series first burst onto the stage, something’s changed. The game is still as solid as ever, with 649 Pokémon ready to be commanded by the benevolent trainer you control, but things feel different. The difficulty curve is jagged, meaning you can enjoy the game and power through the gyms fairly easily, but the extraneous stuff and the occasional random battle can be confusingly overwhelming.
If you’re looking for another outing of those lovable Pokémon, then Black and White Version 2 continue the changes brought about by their unnumbered predecessors. Whilst still undoubtedly fun and still as addictive as before, it’s a real worry that the simplistic formula that made the series such a hit in the first place has become more strained and diluted than ever before. White Version 2, the one I spent my time with, is a good instalment in a great series, and that’s its only real problem; the magic is wearing off.