Pokemon Black and White Impressions
Well, I guess I called it, months ago. Welcome to the world of Pokemon, indeed.
I’ve not beaten Black and White; that would be ridiculous. Rather, I’ve sunk a good half dozen hours into the title, and this has given me time to form impressions of the game. Read on, to find out!
-The world is the star, here. Black and White have, easily, the most impressive graphics of any Pokemon game, and they use these graphics to pretty spectacular effect. In the second town, there’s a hill you can climb, and from there you can see out over the entire next route. It’s incredible. It makes you feel like you’re in a world that is more alive and vibrant than previous games. Cities are occupied, too! Castelia City, the “New York” of the world, is extremely populous, and features not only impressed visuals but more people than have been in any previous Pokemon game. It makes you feel like you’re actually in a city, instead of in rural Japan.
-Team Plasma are, by far, the best antagonists who’ve been in the series. Yeah, there’s an increased emphasis on plot (the opening features zero Pokemon, and a lot of really generic looking NPCs), but Team Plasma are absolutely hilarious. Previous Teams have had weird, take over or destroy the world plans. Plasma, I just envision going out into the woods, getting high around a bonfire, and saying, “You know what? Let’s…let’s free some fuckin’ Pokemon. Yeah. That’ll show those fuckers! HAH!”
-The balance and pacing are a little off, unfortunately. Basically, the Pokemon are all new, so Game Freak decided to absolutely drip feed them to you. In the span of the first two gyms, expect to fight more trainers with just a single Patrat than anything else. It’s awkward, because there are so many cool new Pokemon that you figure they could throw some of them at you a little faster.
-It’s especially bothersome from a team building aspect. Basically, it opens up even slower than in previous titles, in terms of getting Pokemon who aren’t awful. Route 3, for instance, has the same balance as Platinum’s route 3, except the routes are longer here, so you’ll have played a good couple hours by the time you get to Route 3 to get a Pidgey (it’s a Pidgey. I don’t care what its name really is, it’s a fucking Pidgey) and a kinda neat electric unicorn. If you don’t wait around the geodude-zubat cave that followed that route to find the rare ground type…you probably will be wondering where all the novelty is. Fortunately, it opens up after that a fair bit, though…
-There’s a ton of hand holding here. It’s understandable: Pokemon is a game for children, after all. But the handholding is obnoxious and transparent. Basically, the first gym’s gimmick is that it is typed opposite to you, depending on your starter Pokemon. As I chose Smugleaf (of course), the game matched me up with a bastard with a horrible fire monkey. The only other Pokemon you can acquire before then are a dark type cat and a couple Rattatas. Additionally, the leveling system (which could get its own pip) really, really hates grinding: if you try to fight Pokemon five levels below you, you’ll gain very little experience. The highest levels you can fight before the gym are level 6: the gym itself has level 12-14 Pokemon.
Basically, you’re completely fucked…unless you talk to a girl who gives you an instant win button: the monkey that’s weak to your starter. This monkey will utterly demolish the first gym. It is the only way to beat it, and that is depressing. Add in the fact that the second gym (normal type) is adjacent to the game’s depository of fighting Pokemon and the guy in front tells you where to go to find fighting types makes this feel very…toothless.
-And it has another related problem. That problem is, if you start with Smugleaf, the forest area right after gym 2 is absolute hell. I got there with a very normal team of Timburr (fighting type), Drilbur (ground type), Tympole (water type) and good old Smuggie (grass type) and my god if those little bug/grass monsters didn’t completely wreck my entire party for hours. Yes, I could have caught a Pidgey, but…that is the only Pokemon who provides any solution to grass types before the forest if you pick Smugleaf.
-This is getting negative; these are mostly small concerns. Once the game begins to open up, about five hours in, the game is fantastic. There’s a moment where the game sells you on the world, and on the graphics, and then you go to an area with a lot of exciting, different types, and the whole world opens up before you.
In whole, I’d compare Black and White to Red and Blue in a substantial sense. Ruby and Sapphire were attempts to copy Red and Blue’s glories, but failed to truly reach those same heights, due primarily to it being a comparatively small game that was exactly the same. While I cannot catalog innovations (which is what is docking B&W in review scores), it feels like a different game from Red and Blue. There’s a newness here, and a sense that this isn’t just an adventure you’ve undertaken before but something that has a great sense of freshness to it.
Nothing’s different, but everything is different.