Pokemon – Black Version DS Review

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You start in your room and the choice between a fire, water or grass type Pokémon is thrust upon you. After obtaining your Pokédex (from a female professor this time, mind) you venture optimistically into yonder to become ‘The World’s Greatest Pokémon Trainer’. Demanding innovation by this point is a tenuous argument. Game Freak’s formula is too arable to outright change, even if the opening hours are prey to an encroaching sense of ennui, which is definitely the case here.

Fortunately there’s a redeemably rustic allure to Unova, with every undergrowth and cityscape rife with detail. Exploration quickly became instinctive, though I suspect the lure of hundreds of new Pokémon is a notable accomplice. They’re an inconsistent bunch; a smattering of the adorable (Stoutland), the rehash (Pidove) and the ridiculous (Vanilluxe) but the hits greatly outweigh the misses. This seems to be the case with Pokémon Black all round. I could wax lyrical regarding the misses, whether it’s the superfluous new battle modes or the disingenuous practice of demanding two copies for 100% completion which still (somehow) extrapolates complacency but I can’t. The universal appeal of the series is still here and remains undiminished.

There’s an abundance of tweaks to the core mechanics, to which I’ll simply name a few: animated sprites enliven each encounter, Pokémon Centres and Marts have conveniently merged, the poison status no longer affects Pokémon outside of battles, TMs now have an infinite use to allow additional party members to quickly develop a powerful move set and doctors and nurses are scattered across the game world to heal your Pokémon on the go. These new features contrast nicely with the familiarity. Whilst Pokémon hasn’t changed at all, the game brings fresh refinements to the formula to justify the umpteenth trek into the wilderness.

The emphasis on local Wi-Fi support has intensified and boasts new features. Battling and trading is now possible outside a Pokémon Centre, four-way video chat is supported via the DSi camera whilst the Entralink has a host of co-operative mini-games. If these features fall short, it’s in the attempt to merge them seamlessly into the story and game world. It’s jarring to see characters refer to such features in game. Plus there’s always the obligatory meta-game stretching back to the Surfing Pikachu feature in Yellow. Here, it’s the Dream World – an otherworldly marriage of Ruby Sapphire’s secret rooms and DiamondPearl’s underground. It requires you synch your progress with the Pokémon Global Link website. Whether the effort is worth it is up to you.

It strives to distract you from the 25-30 hour story, which I can now happily call it such without the aid of quotation marks. Team Plasma – a hooded cult adamant that the enslavement of Pokémon for battling purposes is unethical – bring a decent moral ambiguity to proceedings. Their appearances are too sporadic and the story is too insufficient to fully commend, but the increase in emotional gravitas hints towards exciting future possibilities.

Few gaming series can steal as many hours from me, no questions asked, quite like Pokémon. I’m currently clocked at 28:37, which was enough to beat the Elite Four but not enough to lose interest. Is this the strongest entry to date? Probably not, nor is it the innovative leap that some gamers expected but you can cogitate all you like; there’s a consistently enjoyable adventure to be found here, and that’s all that matters.

8/10

by

Version tested: Nintendo DS

Developer: Game Freak

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Adventure/RPG