For the first time in 16 years, a Pokémon title gets a direct sequel. Where exactly do Pokémon Black Version 2 and Pokémon White Version 2 fit amongst the hierarchy of Pokémon games and do they live up to the level of excellence that exists with each new Pokémon title?
After following a similar format of releases through the last 4 generations of Pokémon, Game Freak has finally changed things up in generation 5. Typically, we’re accustomed to seeing two sister Pokémon games released followed by a premium hybrid version released a year or so after. Though this format has gotten criticism over the years, replaying the title has always had its incentives for the hardcore crowd and the third installments of a generation were always the best possible version of the game to be played if one hadn’t yet experienced one of the three games. I must say, being a hardcore fan myself, I’ve always enjoyed playing the 3rd installment to a generation despite having already played through one of the first titles just a year or so before. Thus, I would have had no issue with a similar release occurring during generation 5 (Pokémon Gray, for instance).
However, with the news of Pokémon Black Version 2 & Pokémon White Version 2, I honestly didn’t know what to think about these direct sequels to Black & White. With no new Pokémon (aside from a few different forms of preexisting Pokémon), the games looked to be similar to these third installments we’ve seen in the past. However, acting as a direct sequel, the games seemed like they might feel more like a new installment altogether, as the storyline picks up 2 years after the events from Black & White. Unfortunately, where Black 2 & White 2 succeed in adding improvements to whet the appetites of Pokémaniacs such as myself, the story wrapped around the world of Unova feels much more like an empty shell of the previously masterful original releases.
Pokémon Black & White stand out from recent Pokémon titles because they did such a great job of recreating a sense of awe for old and new players alike. The vivid environments, scenic camera perspectives, and overall sense of adventure recreated a fresh experience that reminded me of my first time playing Pokémon. Though the story is never great in a Pokémon title, I at least felt like they succeeded in pushing Black & White into a more serious narrative that looked into the psychology of whether it’s right to control Pokémon for your own benefits.
Black 2 & White 2 pick up two years after the events of Black & White in the same region of Unova. However, rather than following the same path of towns, Black 2 & White 2 have added five new towns into the mix and your adventure begins in one of these towns. From the onset, you’ll experience 3 new towns and 2 new routes before arriving at any of the towns or routes from the previous two games (which was a nice way to keep the game fresh). However, the biggest problem with the game’s rehashing is that the intentional change of town order actually hurts the appeal of the game.
In Black & White, the order of towns felt very fitting and as you moved along the bridges or along the desert, the panning of the camera really made the game feel adventurous. However, in Black 2 & White 2, you really don’t get that same feeling of awe that you did from the first two games. Visiting Castelia for the first time via boat doesn’t feel as magical as it was in Black & White where you saw the massive skyline approaching as you travelled along the neighboring bridge. I guess if Black 2 or White 2 were the first installment of generation 5 that you experienced, you might still get a sense of awe from some of the cinematics but if you play it after experiencing Black or White, revisiting the towns doesn’t have the same magic, even if the 2 year hiatus has changed the layout of a few of them.
Another major setback in the game is its storytelling. Sure, Pokémon has never been known for great stories but some of the sequences in these two games are downright cheesy, even by Pokémon standards. Moments such as trying to invoke an emotional connection to your friend as he commits his entire quest to finding his sister’s stolen Pokémon make the games feel much more oriented towards younger audiences rather than having wide appeal. And aside from that, the general story remains almost identical to the events 2 years before (I know that all Pokémon games have similar stories but if we’re playing a direct sequel, I would at least expect some major change-ups in the story from its previous iterations).
We do see some of the characters from the previous games assuming new roles in the games and the climax battle with Team Plasma is certainly “different” but the core story is essentially the same as before. All in all, I can’t shake the feeling that I was a little underwhelmed by my play through up until the Elite 4 (though I’m sure I’ll enjoy all of the game’s end-game material and Pokémon training in the end).
Must-Haves for the Hardcore
As with any new Pokémon title, you can expect that there are additions that make the game impossible to pass up for the hardcore trainers. The good news is that where Black 2 & White 2 don’t seem to live up to the billing of quality sequel material (in terms of story), these games probably have the most gameplay additions of any game that doesn’t introduce a new generation of Pokémon. Thus, though the main game may feel more like a grind for hardcores, the endgame material is much more robust and the training tools are further improved for competitive battlers.
One of the first additions to the game is the Pokémon World Tournament which allows you to battle gym leaders and characters from previous games. Similar to the battle subway or battle frontier from previous games, these battles award you with Battle Points (BP) which can be used to purchase a number of TMs and items to enhance your party’s battle skills. And, to make training even more accessible to trainers, many of the team-building services such as the move deleter, move tutors, move reminder, and even the hidden power determiner are gathered into this same area for convenience.
Another addition is the Join Avenue, which seems fairly gimmicky but serves as another strong tool for Pokémon training. By inviting people to your avenue, you can improve its size and open up shops with new items that aren’t available elsewhere. And to add to new items, Black 2 & White 2 are the first games in the series to reward gamers with special rewards for filling up their Pokédexes (such as the shiny charm, rewarded to you for filling up the entire National Dex, which make shiny Pokémon show up more often).
The other mini-game that’s new in Black 2 & White 2 is Pokéstar Studios, where you have all of the resources in front of you to create your own mini Pokémon movie. If you’re familiar with previous Pokémon titles, this is similar to the beauty contests from Ruby & Sapphire but on a much more involved level. First of all, you’ll pick your Pokémon, dress it up, and pick a script from a few preset ones. Then, once the movie begins, you take turns similar to a Pokémon battle but you have to fulfill different achievements (such as using a move that is super effective against ice, etc.). According to the moves you pick and the dress, you can keep more people satisfied and improve the success of your movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of these side games but it should be an enjoyable addition for younger fans.
Another great addition that may not seem as advertised is the improvements to the breeding system. Though it seems unusual to me that they don’t allow you to breed Pokémon until after you’ve beaten the elite four, breeding is much better in Black 2 & White 2 than in previous games (which should cut down on a lot of time for those training competitive teams). Natures are now passed down at a 100% rate when the parent is holding an everstone and ability inheritance chance has also been improved. Also, there are 5 different items you can attain from Join Avenue which decrease the amount of steps needed to hatch an egg. Finally, if you fill up your Unova Pokédex, you can receive and item that decreases the amount of time that two Pokémon take to create an egg. Though newcomers may not understand or fully appreciate all of these changes, hardcore gamers should be delighted by all of these improvements to the breeding system.
Other intuitive changes to the game’s design are also welcome additions to the formula. Just like how the introduction of infinite TM usage in Black & White was a huge improvement to the game’s mechanics, a more subtle change has been added into this game in regards to repels; after a repel runs out, the game asks you if you want to use another, thus saving you the unnecessary action of opening your menu and selecting another one! Changes such as this one are clever improvements to minor annoyances that really make the games more enjoyable throughout your adventure.
To go along with these additions, Black 2 & White 2 will also be compatible with the upcoming Pokémon Dream Radar and Pokédex 3D Pro games launching for the Nintendo 3DS. With Dream Radar, you can attain Pokémon and items that you can send over to Black 2 & White 2, whereas Pokédex 3D Pro is a standalone Pokédex with features that seem to be a little bit more sophisticated than the current app (though I still doubt most competitive players will use it as the internet is a free source of information and much more appealing than the outrageous $14.99 price tag).
Another endgame feature added into these games is the Key System. By finishing the game, you can obtain keys to unlock new settings and these can be traded with friends to unlock new features. Settings include changing the difficulty (easy, normal, or challenge mode), changing between Black City and White Forest (so you can get the benefits of both games even if you only have one of them), and Mystery Door which changes the chamber you can go to from the Underground Ruins in the game.
Finally, as with any 3rd installment to a generation, Black 2 & White 2 contain many more Pokémon to be caught throughout the world of Unova. Along with a new Unova Pokédex with Pokémon from previous generations, you’ll notice that encountering and catching Pokémon has become even more accessible this game. First of all, the Pokédex can now be sorted by habitat to see which Pokémon exist in a certain location that you’ve encountered. This makes catching all of the Pokémon in an area much easier to complete and saves time for the avid trainer.