For the last two months, I have been completely and utterly obsessed with collecting Pocket Monsters.
I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t even care when the uber-hyped Black and White versions first came out in America. Or maybe, secretly, I did care but I refused to admit it.
I was done was Pokemon. As a kid, I loved the original games, and absolutely adored the second generation. After that, though, I kinda fell off the Pokemon craze. I skipped the third generation, and only picked up Pearl because of a friend gushing to me about it. I didn’t really enjoy the game, to be honest, and I picked up HeartGold simply for the nostalgia factor.
One thing led to another, and I eventually picked up Pokemon Black Version. After all I’ve read about the game, the fifth generation of the ongoing series felt like it was going to be different than the rest. The fact you can’t catch earlier Pokemon until after you beat the main game, a storyline that actually mattered, graphical upgrades, and so on… It all added up to a great re-entry point to the series. So I took the dive, bought the game, and Pokemon once again consumed my life, just like when I got Red Version as a kid.
How did Black manage to do it? What did the fifth generation do so differently from the rest of the series? Well… not much, to be honest. But it’s the things they did change, or tweaked just a little bit, that made it feel like a fresh and unique experience.
Let’s start with the most impressive change, which are the graphical upgrades. The camera doesn’t always stay in a static overhead view anymore; instead, it sometimes pans around the field, giving the game world some dimension. Granted, this only seems to happen on Unova’s many bridges, and within the towering and crowded Castelia City, but it’s a start in the right direction for a more impressive game world.
Also on the graphical front, battles got a nice upgrade. All of the Pokemon are animated throughout the battle, so the Pokemon feel more alive, and less like static sprites on a screen. Their sprites even act differently given certain scenerios. For example, when the Pokemon’s HP goes into the red, the animation slows, indicting that they are getting tired, and when they’re put to sleep, their eyes close. It really makes the battles feel more dynamic.
In fact, battles as a whole are a bit different. Health bars no longer inch down the line when you do or take damage, and animations are overall faster, making for a quicker and streamlined battle. For the more important battles, the music also tends to carry the mood: If your Pokemon’s HP goes into the red, it’ll start playing a remixed version of that annoying beeping noise, or when you’re close to beating a Gym Leader, a triumphant theme begins to sound.
Pokemon Black also introduces a new type of battle, the Rotation Battle, to the table. Basically, you send out three Pokemon at once, and you can rotate which of your Pokemon is in the front row and who is in the back, affecting who can attack (and be attacked). It’s a very tactical affair, since you have to keep track of the Pokemon you threw out, the ones your opponent threw out, and how to take advantage of their weaknesses/resistances whist rotating everyone around. It’s truly a shame that the new battle type is only used a few times throughout the game.
A lot of Black is more streamlined than earlier generations, as well. Instead of making you jump through hoops to get a Pokedex and other important items, the game gives them to you at convenient intervals. You’ll feel that you got Fly right on time, and Professor Juniper even gives you a Lucky Egg, an item that boosts experience that in the past you could only rarely get from wild Chanseys. In addition, TMs can now be used as many times as you want, so you don’t have to worry about using that rare move on a Pokemon you end up not using. It’s clear that Game Freak developed the game in mind for ease of play for Pokemon newbies and veterans alike.
Even the online aspects of the game are revamped from the fourth generation. The GTS is much easier to navigate and find reasonable trades for, and in both GTS and Wi-Fi you can trade from your boxes, insuring you can easily do mass trades and preventing you to constantly have to break up your party every time you want to trade. Unfortunately, you can still only trade one Pokemon for one Pokemon, one at a time, but it’s a great leap and bound over the clunky systems HeartGold and SoulSilver had set up, at least.
But enough about all that, let’s talk about the story! To be honest, the core of the storyline is the same: Collect the eight badges, beat up your rivals (yes, there’s more than one this time!), and take down the Elite Four. But there’s a little more flavor to the story than in the earlier games. The evil organization for this region, Team Plasma, actually is a bit more thought out than the average Team Rocket ripoff. With their goal of releasing Pokemon from the bondage of Trainers (and some of the members of the group actually believing in that ideal), can you really classify them as evil? There’s more in Black and White that add to the overall story from previous entries, but I don’t want to accidentally tread on spoiler ground.
Of course, let’s not forget about the new Pokemon. With what there only being Unova Pokemon throughout the course of the main game, Game Freak had to think of a lot of new Pokemon to fill the gaps. 156 of them, in fact. Given the team had to think up of so many unique Pokemon, without just ripping off the 494 older Pokemon, not all of the new additions are winners, but some of them are great additions to the Pokemon roster (Joltik is particularly one of my favorites).
However, when you take all these bits and pieces and look at them as a whole, it’s really just the same old Pokemon. The core mechanics are all the same, and while everything seems shiny and new, it’s not. You still go through the motions of fighting Trainers, going through the Gym challenge and Pokemon League, and the obsessive-compulsive aspect of catching them all. But, given everything, I can say that I love the new entry of the Pokemon series, maybe even as much as I did the second generation entries when I was a kid. Because, you know…
Sometimes it’s the little things that count the most.