Game Review: Pokémon White Version 2

It’s hard to believe the Pokémon series is still going strong when all logic suggests it should have completely saturated its own market position. The series began when I was 14, and has now been running long enough that I could have gotten married, had kids, and bought them their own brand-new Pokémon games by now.

Pokémon Black and White marked the fifth generation of Pokémon games, and as was the case with every previous generation, the games make up a duo. Released together, they are essentially the same game with some minor changes in the Pokémon type availability or frequencies, and a single in-game area unique to each version.

Unlike previous games, Black and White provided a sense of “back to basics”, perhaps in a bid to introduce a whole new generation that had grown up since the start of the franchise. Like the very first games in the series, the available Pokémon have not appeared previously. Now, with the release of Black Version 2 and White Version 2, this generation has offered another first for the series: a direct sequel to a previous game.

While previous series have always seen an enhanced follow-up or deluxe edition a year or two later on the same handheld (from the original Game Boy all the way to the current DS/3DS titles), not to mention a flurry of spin-offs and tie-ins on other systems, both iterations of Version 2 provide a whole new story set in the same Unova region as the first Black and White, but with new characters and towns, a brand new main character (which, as a stand in for the player, has no defining characteristics whatsoever; not even a default name), and some new mini-games.

The basic gameplay is unchanged and includes the same features introduced with this generation of the series. However, the availability of Pokémon is different. While 151 new species were introduced with Black and White at the expense of seeing any old favourites (series mascot Pikachu, for example), Version 2 includes a selection of previous Pokémon mainstays along with the new set introduced for this generation.

The basic story is two-fold. As always, the player character (who could be either eighteen or eight) is sent out by his mother to travel the world and become a Pokémon master. To do this he has to capture and train up Pokémon (through the usual RPG expedient of battling, levelling-up, and learning special moves in multiple ways), defeat eight different gym leaders for their badges, and then enter a major tournament in order to battle and best the greatest Pokémon trainers around.

As a parallel and interweaving plot, the player, through no fault of his own, will find himself constantly battling against an organization of supervillains, the remnants of Team Plasma from the previous games, ultimately stopping their nefarious world-dominating plots while en route to Pokémon mastery.

The player eventually has the opportunity of encountering one of the two legendary Pokémon of the Black and White games. In Pokémon White Version 2, it’s the Vast White Pokémon, Reshiram. His anti-thesis, Zekrom, the Deep Black Pokémon, was capturable in Pokémon White, where Reshiram appeared as a boss battle, but was not obtainable by the player. So players of both the original and this sequel can get the matching set of legendaries. The same end may be achieved by trading, or by playing Black Version 2 along with this game.

I find the battle strategy in Pokémon is not as deep as other RPGs. Though the sheer numbers of Pokémon available, not to mention the potential for move customization in each one, mean there are many, many ways to skin a Meowth, it’s also true that, by simple weight of variables, the results of a given match-up can be a bit of a crap-shoot.

Not all Pokémon are created equal, and while it would be nice to pull out one’s fire-type Pokémon to wipe the floor with an opponent’s grass-type choice, the player is probably better served pumping up the all-around fighters with few weaknesses. I have a Genesect who never loses to anybody, and a little Sunkern who can’t win against opponents 15 levels lower than him. Que sera sera.

Of course the theme song of the uber-popular anime series is “gotta catch ’em all”, and indeed, the collection of pocket monsters and completion of the Pokédex is what plays on the obsessive-compulsive personalities old-school gamers are known for. The battles aren’t particularly interesting because most any match-up is one-sided, and the story is pretty bland. The world-building has reached a point after so many games where credulity is nearing the breaking point.

(Is every non-human living thing a Pokémon? What do people eat? How does an economy function where anything and everything has something to do with Pokémon? What about basic things like farming and manufacturing? And if every ten-year-old goes out to capture weird monsters for glorified cock-fighting instead of attending school, where do nurses, engineers, and other professionals come from?)

The battle animations, though revamped already for the first Black and White, are still basically NES-era Dragon Warrior. The sprites move slightly, an effect happens. I know Nintendo’s handhelds have always striven for gameplay over power, but this pseudo-animation is a bit weak for a 2012 RPG on any system.

But with the main game finished, will I still pick up my DSi for a few more rare Pokémon hunts, some online trading, and a more complete Pokédex? You better believe it. Despite my nitpicks, this series is still quicksand for completionists. Stay far away if you don’t have forty-plus hours to spare in the near future.

Article first published as Nintendo DS Review: Pokémon White Version 2 on Blogcritics.

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