Pokémon Black Version review
As Clear as Black and White


Pokemon Black, alongside Pokemon White, sees the fifth generation of main titles into fruition and into a new decade. Unlike with the fourth generation, where I scoured the dark recesses of the internet for every scrap of information I could find, I took a comparatively relaxed view on Pokemon Black and purchased it with very little knowledge of what to expect. Despite my original anticipation that it would be released on the 3DS, I eagerly plugged the cartridge in wondering not just how far they’d pushed the Nintendo DS, but also the Pokemon franchise itself.

One thing that will never change is the basic premise of Pokemon. You still get to pick your starter Pokemon, while being asked to complete a Pokedex by filling it with information about all the Pokemon you meet while on your adventure; you still travel around the world, collecting Gym badges and becoming the number one trainer; and you still have an evil organisation, who you have to prevent carrying out acts of evil. What’s different about this generation is the new sense of maturity and the quality of the content which encompass the aforementioned premise.

I dream of an early Flying type...

The plot, for example, is the most detailed and engaging to-date. Following the hard decision of your name and gender (I know, I always forget mine too), you venture out from Nuvema Town into the new region known as Unova, with your two (yes, two) childhood friends Cheren and Bianca at your side. These two, unlike previous friends and rivals, are given the royal treatment; their characters appear much more often and, as a result, are far better developed. While Cheren is the whizz kid with an unhealthy focus on becoming the strongest trainer, Bianca is a laidback and quiet girl who just wants to have fun and make friends, with the two characters seemingly representing two halves of your typically non-speaking neutral character.

In fact, character development as a whole is the best yet, really boosting the depth of the plot in a previously unseen way. Gym Leaders, for example, are constantly seen out-and-about helping their local community in a way that reflects the anime nicely. Everyone has a clearly defined set of characteristics, which gives a sense of realism to the game that previous titles have lacked. From the excited Professor Juniper to the mysterious and persuasive N, the characters have more life in them than ever before.

Though what really makes – and, indeed, drives – the plot of Pokemon Black is the newest evil organisation to try and make it big in the Pokemon world: Team Plasma. Unlike previous “teams” who, let’s face it, didn’t have much of a backbone, Team Plasma sets itself apart with a highly interesting back-story and goal. Alongside their leader, Ghetsis, Team Plasma pop up around the Unova region, spreading their message that Pokemon should not be “enslaved”, and that trainers should release their Pokemon so that they may live as nature intended. Despite being a kind notion, Team Plasma is still an inherently evil organisation, and their story comprises a rich series of events that you need to experience yourself to fully appreciate. Their driving themes of environment and love give them a purpose that is clearly defined, as well as much more interesting than previous “evil” efforts such as a want to flood/lay draught to the world.

Black boasts the most unique environments yet - electric-charged caves? Yes, please!

Going hand-in-hand with a greater plot development, the duration of your exploration of Unova is equally satisfying. After defeating the Elite Four, you’ve still got the entire east section of the region to discover, with many other options included. Unlike the quickly rushed through Kanto of the second generation remakes, or the unflattering tacked-on island of the fourth generation, the newly unlocked section is filled with exciting content, including trainers packing Pokemon with levels much higher than yours, creating a tasteful addition to the difficulty of the game, as befits the status of a post-Elite Four area. Let’s face it: it always seemed a bit naff to defeat the Elite Four and then not be given any substantial way to boast about your achievements, but the newly unlocked section of the region fits the bill nicely.

And it’s not just the last part of the region with content galore; the entirety of Unova is bursting at the seam with things to see and do. Never has it been easier to visit a location and lose yourself within it for hours on end as you enjoy everything it has to offer. Every location is packed with features to explore and provide a huge range of interesting environments whether it is a sandstorm-racked desert or a city based around an airport - not to mention the size of the region is significantly larger than anything previously experienced. As a result Pokemon Black finds itself featuring a longevity the likes of which puts previous generations to shame, with my personal experience of the storyline being 65 hours and counting.

Though let’s take a look at what makes these games what they are: the Pokemon themselves. Pokemon Black offers us another 155 new Pokemon to encounter. Although the selection on offer is a still a hit-and-miss scenario thanks to a little thing called personal preference (although, at least it’s better than the third generation spread), the selling point for the new additions - and let’s face it, when you’re rocking 650+ creatures, you need to find a new one - is the enticing selection of dual types. From the Electric/Bug to the Fire/Ghost hybrid, Pokemon Black entices you to take an interest in the new selection of Pokemon regardless of your reception of the designs, by offering a variety of new type combinations to tantalise us.

Battles have a new sense of fluidity with constantly animated sprites and changing camera angles.

Seemingly in a match made in heaven, the new additions to the battle side of things compliment the makeup of the new selection of Pokemon. Of course, the battle system featured is still deep and follows the typical conventions: you can carry a team of six Pokemon with you at any one time; the battle sequence is turn based; each Pokemon can know up to four moves to use in battle; and you can use a large variety of items to swing the outcome of battles in your favour. It features the physical/special/other split introduced in the fourth generation, as well as a much needed upgrade to the experience system, which sees a reduction in grinding on wild Pokemon (there’s a sentence for you) due to the abysmal experience gain from battling lower-levelled Pokemon, and a greater focus on building a larger team and giving them equal battle time against the plethora of trainers spread throughout the region. It also introduces two new battle types into the mix: triple and rotation battles.

The triple battle is exactly what it sounds like: following on from the double battle system introduced in the third generation, a triple battle gives trainers the opportunity to have up to three Pokemon out on the battlefield, where each Pokemon can only attack opponents in front of or adjacent to them. Although it may sound hectic, it makes you think a bit more and is a genuinely fun experience and, fortunately, is not overused. In similar fashion, another rare treat is the rotation battle. Like the triple battle, it features three Pokemon on the field, but only one can attack per turn. The unique quality in rotation battles is, as the name suggests, the ability to rotate your team of three left or right, including the opportunity for them to attack afterward, adding an element of unpredictability to the proceedings, and consequentially the random effects of such a battle makes for a fun, new take on the style of Pokemon battles.

The beginning of the... well, not the end actually.

Though Pokemon is also a social experience, and Pokemon Black offers up the usual spread of options on the multiplayer side of things. From trading and battling with friends, to random trades and battles with people around the globe, the Pokemon franchise continues to make connectivity with other players an important part of the games. The GTS makes a welcome, if unnecessarily more complicated return, and the new implementation called the C-Gear provides a convenient and comprehensive library of several multiplayer functions.

And these aren’t the only features taking advantage of online capabilities. One of the biggest new features of the fifth generation is what’s known as the Dream World. Syncing your game up to the Global Link Pokemon website, it allows you to “tuck in” one Pokemon a day, who can then visit the Dream World. Using the Global Link, you can play a variety of mini-games with the tucked in Pokemon. The most interesting of these is the ability to befriend Pokemon you meet, which can then be sent back to your game cartridge. Although this may sound like just a simpler version of capturing them, what makes this process desirable is that the Pokemon can have Natures that are not normally obtainable within the game. This opens up a plethora of options in terms of battles, and is a clever move by Game Freak that will have you coming back for weeks to come. The Dream World also features a change of pace graphically, utilising an artistic style to match the Sugimori art we’ve come to enjoy.

Black boasts beautiful cut scenes.

So is Pokemon Black a visual step up from the fourth generation? Although first glance will keep you wondering, the magnitude in difference concerning the 3D nature of the graphics hits you like a tonne of bricks once you visit such places as Skyarrow Bridge and Castelia City. Playing around with camera angles and shots, the game instils a sense of 3D previously unseen, and answers the question that it didn’t need the graphical power and wonder of the 3DS to achieve a noticeable improvement from the previous generation. The upgrades are also evident in the battles, where sprites are now always animated and the camera unfixed, and some cut scenes where certain characters talk, which have a very “anime” feel to them. Even little things like walking into buildings uses a transition rather than static movement from one spot to the next, giving the game a natural flow the series has previously lacked.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is what you’ve come to expect from the Pokemon franchise: a combination of remixes – some of which are rather good – as well as a large addition of new ones. Whether it’s the thematically appropriate tracks you’ll hear from place-to-place, or something simpler like the energetic music that will play during battles, all the tracks are rightfully placed to serve a purpose. Comprising no less than 173 tunes, it’s practically impossible to not find at least a few favourites amongst the crowd. And although there’s no voice acting, you still have the Pokemon cries, which are as consistent as they ever were.

How does the fifth generation place in the Pokemon series? Rather well, actually. With a story boasting a new sense of depth and maturity, the gameplay experiencing the usual slight improvements, a bucket load of content round every corner, and gorgeous environments supported by an impressive graphics update providing a whole new perception of what constitutes 3D gaming, Pokemon Black has managed to impress. Despite slight niggles, such as when Pokemon become available (no Flying type at the beginning?), it’s a solid title which will provide you with hours of fun, including a high replayability factor and enough post-storyline content to keep you playing it for days to come.

was this review helpful to you?
9 members like this


No comments posted yet. Please log in to post a comment.
In order to comment on this user review you must login
About the author
Based on 4 reviews
Write a review