Developer: Game Freak
When does a Pokémon game end? Is it after getting all eight badges and becoming champion? Perhaps not, you might be the sort to stick around for a few hours more to nab those elusive ‘Legendaries’. It could possibly ‘end’ after you catch them all, though that task is becoming more of a mountain with each iteration… Heck, there are those that turn 60 hours into 600 in their pursuit of training the ultimate freaky fighting force.
The original Pokémon Black and White games did something that drastically changed any player’s perspective on this point. They had a story. Pokémon Black and White’s tale of Team Plasma, Pokémon cruelty and a misguided youth was something genuinely intriguing, and not just by Pokémon standards. But in creating a ‘proper’ narrative arc developers Game Freak gave Pokémon Black and White a ‘proper’ ending. They installed a suitable ‘and that’s that’ point that many gamers were more than happy to hop off at.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 are the sequels to these powerhouses of Poké narrative – the first direct sequels in the mainline series in fact – but they are perhaps most intriguing due to their drastic re-evaluation of the series’ core tenants when compared to the plot heavy approach of their direct predecessors.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 are certainly a narrative follow-up – they are still set in Unova, many characters return, and Team Plasma are still being naughty boys – however the focus has been zeroed in on badge collecting, champion smushing, and creature catching. This means it’s a far more classic Pokémon design that may irk those that enjoyed Pokémon Black and White’s more plotted focus, but it’s a design that’s arguably far more fitting for what Pokémon actually is.
With story violently pushed back to the sidelines Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 present one of the series’ most socially and competitively minded entries to date. Entries determined to sell players on the full Pokémon buffet. Entries that take active steps to stop players calling it a day the moment they overcome the Elite Four.
Basically, Game Freak want more attendees for their worldwide tournaments…
But it works. And regardless of the deja vu that Black and White alumni will feel Black 2 and White 2 are by far the superior Poké experiences.
For starters it’s much quicker. Most of the early game chatter and lessons can be swiftly zipped through and you’ll have a varied team ready to push through the gyms in record time. This is a Pokémon game that will let its practised audience get to the meat with alarming speed. A smattering of older ‘mon from games prior to Black and White will also help older players slip back into the games as well.
Then there’s the wider selection of challenges. The Poké Studios game is particularly entertaining. This film studio re-conditions battles as green screen movie shoots, asking you to fight against something and choose a few bits of dialogue in order to make a movie that you can watch. These are amusingly written and in forcing you to use specific Pokémon to fulfill certain criteria the mode organically teaches battle skills that players may otherwise overlook.
The Pokémon World Tournament is another new addition, a palace of battle that lets you try your skills in a flashy tournament scenario packed to the rafters with nostalgia and smart challenge. White Forest and Black City also receive a battle focused addition to further elongate the endgame scrapping, while the Battle Subway and musical mini game also return to ensure you’re never short of things to do.
The other large gameplay ‘addition’ is that of medals. Essentially an achievement system there are over 250 of the sparkly things, and none of them are related to collecting badges. Some players may see medals as a needless collectathon but what the system achieves is effortless communication of the larger Pokémon experience. Where once there may have been confusion as to what one could do there is now a list of friendly nudges and suggestions. Medals simply encourage player’s to experiment and tinker and to have a tiny taste of everything. Beat the Elite Four with just Bug Pokémon you say? Fetch the net…
These sorts of smart challenges and game extending features are what will lead to players evolving from a mere elite four beater to a regional championship attendee.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2′s other key improvements come in the form of its expanded local multiplayer. They might not re-introduce the wonderful hidden bases from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire but the new ‘Join Avenue’ and ‘Fun Fest’ missions offer the most meaningful local interactions since those GBA days.
Join Avenue is a strip of shops that you populate and grow through interaction with others, while Fun Fest missions are simple challenges that open up a list of ‘perks’ – such as boosted experience or more chances of finding rare Pokémon – that you can share with local players. Enjoying Pokémon in the company of others has never been such a constantly connected experience.
Pokémon Black and White’s heavy plot focus was interesting, but in slipping towards a more traditional JRPG setup it started to lose some of Pokémon’s unique identity. In comparison Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 are narratively anaemic, instead they are frighteningly focused in their desire to satisfy the trainers who will play for 600 hours, while simultaneously encouraging everyone else into taking that big massive bite out of the game and discovering just how deep the Poké hole goes. After all, under all the jazz and new modes and strange faces this is still that wonderfully compelling JRPG that’s all about setting out into a strange world where you’ll find and train a personal, unique squad of six monsters just so you can overcome all that stand in your way. And that is still as brilliant as ever.
With Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 Game Freak have asked themselves the very question we asked you at the beginning of this review; when should a Pokémon game end? Many felt they were ‘finished’ with Pokémon Black and White after beating its main story, yet Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 have no such clear conclusion, remaining packed with secrets and challenges tens of hours after you’ve claimed the champion’s crown they are games designed to end only when the player decides. Pokémon Black and White toyed with what a Pokémon game could be, but Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 feel like a re-discovery of what a Pokémon game should be.