Reviews

Pokemon Black and White

As a formula, Pokémon succeeds in being many things to many people. But the series is also characterized by a deceptively deep RPG experience.


Pokémon Black and White

Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1-2
Price: $34.99
Platform: DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: 03/06/2011
URL

While the Mario cast of characters is the one most closely identified with Nintendo as a company, the Pokémon properties have arguably been more successful overall. As a formula, Pokémon succeeds in being many things to many people. The large cast of creatures, one that grows with every entry in the series, is vast and colorful. It's very easy to have favorites. This certainly helps make the games appealing to children. But the series is also characterized by a deceptively deep RPG experience, and hardcore RPG fans who are able to put aside the cutesy presentation tend to also find a lot to like about the franchise.

Further, Pokémon titles are surprisingly accessible and there's plenty of fun for those who simply find themselves interested in the franchise because of its ubiquity, even those that generally eschew traditional RPGs. In other words, Pokémon is characterized by a conceptual brilliance, the juxtaposition of the presentation and the gameplay giving it massive crossover appeal. The mechanics of Pokémon games are relentlessly addictive, and the ability to migrate your collection of characters as new generations of titles are introduced makes for a series that loses very few fans as time goes on.

As a company, Nintendo has long had a reputation for relying on their core properties, revisiting familiar material time and time again. Nowhere is that notion more apparent in the main titles in the Pokémon franchise. While entries in first party Nintendo games tend to be mechanically and thematically similar, Game Freak, the second party developer responsible for Pokémon, has made a career out of essentially releasing the same pair of games over and over again. In some sense, many of these titles are fundamentally interchangeable. Game Freak's approach seems to be repeatedly polishing the Pokémon experience to a high gloss shine with each generation.

The brilliance of this approach, on the part of Game Freak, is that every new set of Pokémon games is the perfect entry point for series newcomers, since no core Pokémon title assumes any familiarity with the series. Although there is an overarching geography to the Pokémon universe, there is essentially no penalty for not paying attention to it from generation to generation of game. What longtime series fans expect will always be there, with minor annoyances from previous games assuaged, and new little touches to marvel at.

In keeping with the notion of incrementally modifying the Pokémon experience each generation, there are subtle differences in Pokémon Black/White, mostly in favor of streamlining the experience. Pokecenters and Pokemarts have been combined, making visiting both in order to prepare for battle unnecessary. Battles themselves are noticeably faster. Further, though level grinding has never been too much of an issue in the Pokémon series, at least on the single player front, leveling up your characters seems even quicker this time around.

That's not to say that Black/White is perfect. The Pokeshifter replacement for Pal Park, the mechanism via which Pokémon captured in previous games can be transferred to the new generation, is still needlessly obtuse. First and foremost, the need for two DS machines is unfortunate at best. Perhaps more frustrating is the amount of time that needs to be sunk into transferring these characters, since you can only transfer six at a time. Slowly migrating a triple digit count of Pokémon, something that is not at all out of the ordinary, is irritatingly time consuming. It seems like the onboard memory of the DS could be used to allow a one time transfer of all selected Pokémon from a previous generation to Black/White at once, using a single machine. Hopefully this is an issue that will be addressed when the inevitable sixth generation, 3DS Pokémon games appear.

Other problems are similarly longstanding ones that seem as though they simply haven't been addressed yet. It would be nice if there were some system aside from Repel items to avoid the numerous random encounters with wild Pokémon, particularly once the lead Pokémon of your party is of a significantly high level so as to make these encounters little more than nuisances. Also, needing to hold down a button to run, an issue that was actually addressed in the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes last year, rears its head again.

If Pokémon has never held any interest for you, Black/White is not likely to change your mind. For long time fans, for better or for worse, the same great gameplay is here, but so too are some long time annoyances. The cutesy presentation of Pokémon belies a deep RPG experience that is actually a nice alternative to the traditional fantasy and futuristic designs so prevalent in the genre. While the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes are larger games that are arguably more substantial overall, there's still no better place to start with the series than the Black/White titles, as they represent the most streamlined, refined version of the Pokémon experience yet.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image