It was back in March last year that I rather enthusiastically reviewed Pokémon Black/White. Here we are just over a year and a half later with Black/White 2. ‘Expanded sequels’ are not new to the Pokémon series – after all we’ve had Yellow, Crystal, Emerald etc. and when Black/White 2 was announced, it sort of felt like they had run out of colours and had just decided to stick a 2 on for the sake of it. The follow-on games were never really anything except minor changes/expansions of their predecessors. Was it just that they had decided that calling something Grey was a bit too boring?
The thing is that Black/White 2 doesn’t quite work like this. It breaks the pattern a little by giving what feels more like a whole new game, although the aesthetic is basically the same as Black/White. The ’2′ feels a little more justified in this sense. Only a little more, mind you. If they were going to do a whole new Pokémon game, which they kind of have since Unova has changed since you were last there and the available Pokémon are different, but the 3DS has been out for a while now, then why am I still playing Pokémon on the DS? This is a question probably hovering in a lot of minds, although we’ve been told that this is a swansong of sorts before Pokémon is taken in a new direction. This swansong and goodbye element is tangible throughout the game, and it probably colours my experience of it a little. I feel like I’m saying goodbye to a little part of my childhood when playing this game, because it feels like they’ve taken all the best parts of Pokémon over the years for the benefit of loyal fans. It feels like a celebration, but it also feels strongly like a farewell.
Everything is beautifully familiar, but there are touches of difference. Your hometown is huge, there are still those masses of Patrats/Pidoves at the beginning of the game in the grass and the tutorial, although brief, is still as annoying as ever. Yes, I know how to catch Pokémon, you don’t need to show– Oh for Snivy’s sake. Cue sitting through a three-minute demonstration and follow-up dialogue and I know that this is supposed to be for the benefit of new players but at this point at least make it optional. The little differences are scattered around, not only from the obvious changes that ‘two years after the previous game’ brings – gym leaders and town/map layouts being an obvious one – but also a general feeling of more visual polish, impressive since Black/White was already a beautiful game. Simple things like sunlight glinting in the corner when you step out of a building and the viewing platform in your hometown which changes perspective to give you a view across all of Unova are genuinely lovely, as are some impressive animation sequences.
There are also nods to the seasoned player: in the first hour of the game, you have Magnemite, Psyduck, Mareep and Magby in the wild – very very solid party choices that traditionally have not been available until a few hours into the game. This does make it a little easy to begin with, especially with tall grass in most areas meaning that stronger Pokémon offer good experience (and the occasional wild double-battle). However, there is salvation in a new game + mode, which offers a higher difficulty once you’ve completed the game. I look forward to trying this out for myself because as a long-time fan, the prospect of a more difficult game is really exciting. At the time of writing this review I’m taking it slow and the Elite Four are a long way off yet.
There are also other additions that make it feel like a director’s cut of sorts. The Pokéstar studios are a silly little way of making ‘movies’ with your Pokémon, mostly pointless but strangely one of the game’s most fun sidequests and way better than the ‘musicals’. C-Gear is back with the heavy emphasis on connecting to your friends, not only to trade and battle, but to actually complete missions together like in the last game. The story also shows you what happened to Team Plasma after you defeated them the first time around, a nice touch although the ‘story’ is always a sideline to the gym/Elite Four quest. Pokémon World Tournament also brings back some well-loved leaders from gyms past for you to battle against, for example Brock. Remember him?
The game in general enhances the Black/White experience while not retreading it completely – players who skipped version 1 won’t be at a loss, and those who did play version 1 will find excitement in this game. It’s a wonderful game and as enjoyable as all the Pokémon games have been. It doesn’t quite topple Heart Gold/Soul Silver for me, but it does comes a close second. Where the series goes next is up for guessing, but at least they’ve ended with a solid game that combines old and new in the best kind of way. It feels like coming home, but at the same time I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the franchise.