It has been a year since I made my way through Pokémon Heart Gold, a year since I fell prey to the Pokéfever during that long trip through America’s south. I had since forgotten exactly what this type of game could do to me. I think that, before I had played Heart Gold, I had made my mind up entirely about the series. Child’s frivolity, I had thought, while drinking adult beverages on an old-timey river schooner. Not for me. Then, Professor Elm offered me a Totodile and I didn’t goddamn care. I was gone.
So, I bought Pokémon White on the day it came out. I actually pre-ordered it from Gamestop. This is about as stupid of an act as a man can make, let me tell you. My SO, the same one in the aforementioned review, picked up Pokémon Black, and in the last week, all we’ve been doing is just stumbling around trying to complete tasks with a DS in hand. The latest generation of Pokémon game is a bizarre thing, and I have a feeling that anyone familiar with the series is already quite familiar with Nintendo’s strange idea of brand evolution.
Simply put, Pokémon Black and White is just the same damn game as the others. This is great! This is terrible! There are changes, but the same completely boneheaded decisions are made as was found in previous iterations in the series. All I’ve been doing is trying to find more time to play it, so don’t take what I am saying as a slam against the game. The little things are just so frustrating sometimes, though! God dammit, did someone at Nintendo play the game before they released it? Do they just happen to love unnecessary button presses? Let me back up.
The game does not seem to stray too far from the familiar Pokémon storyline. You are a child with a couple of good friends (one of whom is a ditzy girl, the other is just an annoying dick). You live next to a (lady!) Professor who gives you a new Pokémon. Armed with this new creature, you decide to just take off into the world to fight and collect other Pokémon, and, eventually, ascend to become the Pokémon master. The story line has a little more to it than there was in Heart Gold, with questions about the morality of capturing and battling tiny creatures, but I am pretty sure that it’ll all eventually come down to Love Being The Answer or something. The new world, Unova, is essentially modeled after New York City, and is populated by an entirely new set of Pokémon. I had thought that this would mean a great deal of awkward knock-offs, but actually, the new set is refreshingly different from the pre-existing Pokémon that have been the staple of the series. Many reviews I have read about the game slam the new Pokémon, but I don’t agree. I’ve really been interested in each new Route I’ve traveled on and I’ve actually been catching a version of each new Pokémon I encounter, which is different than how I played Heart Gold.
The new Pokémon come wrapped in a new game engine, and Pokémon sprites wiggle and move as they battle. The sprites are blown up and pixelated, but I’ve always been a fan of good sprite art, so I don’t mind at all. The game takes more advantage of the 3D rendering capabilities of the DS, with extended sequences in large cities. One highlight in the early game is a particularly pretty walk across a huge bridge as you enter Castelia City. One fight takes place after you ride a large Pokémon-themed ferris wheel. It’s a very colorful game. Cities will be shrouded in rain, and paths will feature softly falling leaves. I have a feeling that stalwart fans of the series from the early Game Boy iterations are probably much more impressed by all of the bells and whistles.
The game hasn’t been too difficult thus far, but I suppose I am over-leveling my Pokémon. In Heart Gold, I think that each new gym featured Pokémon which sat almost at the level cap that you were able to attain before your little assholes stopped paying attention. This game, I haven’t had to worry about that particularly annoying aspect of the game. You’re also given a lot of very important items, like the Experience Share, quite early. On top of this, there are people on each long Route who will heal your Pokémon, so that you don’t have to trek back to the nearest city. This is a great idea, don’t get me wrong, but it just makes the game slightly more simple.
The game has done a lot of things like this to make things slightly better. TMs, which are Pokémon moves that used to be only able to be used once on a Pokémon, can be used multiple times on different Pokémon, which is absolutely fantastic, since it means I’m more willing to give these moves a try, and they don’t just sit in my bag. HMs, which are the important moves that are required to pass certain areas in the game (if you’ve played Zelda, an HM would be “hookshot,” which would allow you to cross chasms), seem to be of less importance here, and I was just able to catch a water-flying type Pokémon that can use both Surf (to cross water) and Fly (to go from town to town instantly, think Magic Duck in Link to the Past). This is quite a boon, since HMs tend to be thrown on lower-level Pokémon who do not fight, but rather are used for their HMs like pack mules. I wish that this game mechanic would have been done with entirely, but I suppose that’s one of the important aspects of the series. You can now trade with your friends over infrared at any point in the game using a little device that sits on the bottom screen. This is a much more streamlined, fantastic process. Finally, the Pokémon Center and the Pokémon Shop are the same building, which is the way it always should have been.
There are many game decisions that are puzzling and still frustrating. Since the C-Gear sits on your bottom DS screen, you have to press a button to get to the main menu for the game, which allows you to see items, swap Pokémon, and save. These options are much, much more important than the C-Gear’s uses, and it’s completely insane that you can’t just have this be on the bottom screen, with a button that starts up the C-Gear when needed. Moving Pokémon into and out of your party is one of the most annoying tasks I’ve ever had to do in a game, with all kinds of tedious menu fumbling. Even though the game has an IR port, it doesn’t connect to the neat-o Pokéwalker, which was a very sad realization. The game only allows Pokémon from previous games to be brought into Unova (at the end of the game), and not the other way-around. This all makes sense, since both the Pokéwalker and the previous Pokémon games do not know about the new Pokémon. It was just something I did not know when I first purchased the game, and it’s important to know.
So, here are my recommendations about buying the game. If you love Pokémon, you already have it (and can you trade me an Oshawott?). If you played one of the many Pokémon games in the past and hated everything about it, this game is not the sea change you were hoping for. If you played an early Pokémon game, but didn’t hate it, only maybe you grew bored with it, this might actually be a great time to revisit the series. If you’ve never played Pokémon, and have always wanted to find out what’s up with the series, buy this version. Even better, recruit a friend to play it, and trade early and often. Traded Pokémon get boosted XP, which is the best reason I can currently think of to Have Friends.
All right, the damn blinking light on my DS is drawing me back to Unova. I’ve got a gym to conquer.