Fifteen years on from when the original games were first released in Japan, the global success of the Pokémon franchise is unquestionable. Enhanced by a long-running anime series, films, manga, and an equally popular Trading Card Game, each have continued to maintain the attention of millions. Yet, it is the core games that have served to build the reputation of one of the videogame industry’s largest successes. Pokémon Black, in short, succeeds in continuing to strengthen this.
Your Pokéadventure once again starts in a similar fashion to that seen throughout the history of the series. Sat in your bedroom, Cheren and Bianca, your two best friends, rush in to discuss that Professor Juniper, who works at a Pokémon Research Lab in the same town, has provided all three of you with your first Pokémon to choose from.
In a Gift Box on a nearby table are three Pokéball’s, each containing one of the starter Pokémon to be found in both Black and White versions of the game: Snivy, a Grass-type, Tepig, a Fire-type, and Oshawott, a Water-type. You will, of course, get first choice as to who you choose, with Cheren and Bianca choosing between the two that remain.
As your journey begins as a Pokémon Trainer you’ll now find your primary goal is to venture across the Unova region, battling other Trainers and seeking to acquire each of the eight Gym badges so that you can storm down Victory Road in an effort to defeat the Elite Four and become the Pokémon League Champion. Alongside this, Professor Juniper will also task you with utilising the Pokédex to log alll of the Pokémon that you encounter or capture.
At this point there’ll be an overriding sense of familiarity for those that have played previous installments within the series. Whilst such a fundamental premise remains unchanged throughout the series’ history, no one can argue that the core formula to this day remains just as popular. The reward here, of course, is the opportunity to discover over 150+ new Pokémon, yet it is the further minor alterations that have been made to enhance the overall gameplay experience that vastly elevate Pokémon Black above its predecessors.
First up, the narrative. Allowing the game to feel a little more streamlined, the story will always ensure that you are pointed in the right direction and you’ll continually find yourself bumping into both Cheren, Bianca and numerous other characters as you make your way through each city.
You’ll soon encounter Team Plasma too, who play an integral role within the overarching storyline. With their underlying motives of seeking to free Pokémon from the captivity of not only Pokéball’s but their owners, at every turn you’ll question as to what their true plans are. Further to this, you’ll also bump into the mysterious N who becomes a core antagonist within the game. They are easily some of the more intriguing villains seen within the series, and those that place interest in following such a plot will find extra value in venturing through the entirety of Pokémon Black to see it through. A few surprises serve to shaken things up.
Another addition is the Xtransceiver, a new piece of Pokégear, that will allow NPC’s to contact you directly and will cue short conversational cutscenes. The character detail here allows you to feel as if you fellow Unova inhabitants have been plucked straight out of the Pokémon anime series, and is particularly welcome.
Which brings me onto the animation. A step up from previous outings, both environments and battles are far more varied than seen before. Mostly enhanced by the way that the camera is used, which, at key moments on your travels, will veer to a different angle providing an entirely fresh perspective than the stagnant top-down view that previously remained unaltered.
Such a design choice allows the player to gaze upon the next city that they are approaching, looming in the distance, or even to point out how high you have climbed. It serves to make the region of Unova feel an ever more vibrant and exciting setting, and it sure works. The visuals themselves are more varied, with cities now each possessing their own architectural style.
Developer Game Freak have also produced some of the most innovative Gym interiors, ranging from those covered in Ice – challenging the player to slide their way through sections in more puzzle-orientated gameplay – to a later one in which players must blast themselves from platform to platform through the use of a series of cannons. The Gyms become the most enjoyable moments within the game, and something that most will be eager to get to.
Pokémon Black is also a strikingly more linear experience, with the player able to explore at will but never being able to get lost too easily. You’re also handed key HM’s throughout your journey, encompassing the usual Cut, Fly and Surf moves, ensuring that you don’t need to run around talking to random NPC’s in a needless effort to find them yourself.
In battle, the camera is also particularly well implemented. Zooming in whenever your Pokémon lunges at its opponent with an attack, or zooming out when you use a wide-area attack, battles now feel more impactful and the player will essentially feel more involved with what is happening on-screen.
This is further expanded by the introduction of a few new battle styles, incorporating ‘Triple Battle‘ and ‘Rotation Battle.’ Triple Battle sees you pit three of your own Pokémon against your opponents, whereas Rotational Battles sees you position your Pokémon on a rotational platform which you are free to revolve during any of your turns. The latter, especially, allows for a heightened degree of strategic play, with the challenge being to think fast in terms of which of your Pokémon will be effective against that switched in by your opponent.
Improving Pokémon Black even further is the new C-Gear, which dominates the Nintendo DS’ touch screen and provides easy access to infa-red, local wireless and online Wi-Fi forms of connectivity. Such a move seems clearly objective in trying to encourage as many players as possible to take their Pokémon experience beyond single-player, and hopefully it’ll be enough to entice as there is plenty on offer here.
The Xtransceiver allows you to either voice or video chat with up to three friends nearby, or even those that you have played through the Pokémon Wi-Fi Club. The Entralink, an island located in the centre of the Unova region, also acts as a hub where you can cross a bridge to enter another player’s world and assist them in their adventure. Here you’ll be able to work your way through co-op missions, which opens up an entirely new level of play.
Also, for the first time in the series, to my knowledge, you may also search for random players to battle with, removing you from the confines of only ever being able to battle friends. Finally, you can also Trade, as per usual, with a minor gripe being that whilst you can offer three Pokémon to a friend, you are only ever able to trade one at a time making the process a little more lengthy than necessary.
Pokémon Black provides perhaps the most evolutionary step within the series to date, and is by far one of the strongest entries. The perfect set-up to the series’ expected debut on the Nintendo 3DS, this is a title that you certainly won’t want to miss out on.
Alex Seedhouse+ Alex's early adoration for Nintendo began with a Yellow Game Boy and a copy of Donkey Kong Land. This developed over the years, later peaking when he hid in his room to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time one Christmas. Nowadays, his enthusiasm is shared through Nintendo Insider, a place in which he can document his thoughts regarding the big N.