After Pokémon Black and White released in 2011, everyone began speculating the announcement of the requisite Pokémon “Grey” that we all thought was inevitable. Instead of a third expansion-like title à la Emerald or Platinum, however, Game Freak threw fans a curveball by announcing Pokémon Black/White Version 2 –– two games that would, for the first time in Pokémon history, be true sequels to their predecessors. But is a continuation of the story and some new content enough to revitalize the series, or is Pokémon Black/White Version 2 more of the same?
Gotta catch ‘em all… again
Pokémon Black/White Version 2 take place two years after the events of Pokémon Black and White and feature a new starting town, new male and female player characters, and new rival, but familiar baddies Team Plasma are back as the main enemy organization. As direct sequels, the games make a number of references to their predecessors, but knowledge of Black and White is not entirely necessary to enjoy the game. However, a new game sync feature allows players who have completed Black and White to link their games for a number of memory sequences that enhance the story and a few perks post-game that do make the experience more worthwhile if you’re a Black and White veteran who doesn’t mind going back to the Pokémon grind only a year and a half after you last caught ‘em all.
The main perk of Black/White Version 2 being direct sequels are that the games come packed with new content, with everything from new gyms, areas, and time-sinks such as the PokéStar Studios vying for your attention. The basic formula, however, remains exactly the same: you’ll choose from Snivy, Tepig, or Oshawott as your starter and battle your way through gyms with the ultimate goal of beating the Elite Four and the region Champion in order to unlock the myriad of post-game content that awaits the most hardcore of trainers. One such post-game feature is the new Pokémon World Tournament, which features gym leader favorites from all of the past Pokémon generations, all the way back to Brock, Misty, and Lt. Surge. Not only is this a great way to test your skills, but it makes for a great walk down memory lane for fans who have stuck with the series since it debuted 14 years ago.
The beauty of Pokémon Black/White Version 2 comes both from the sheer number of things available to players to do as well as the acute attention to detail the developers have put into each of these elements. Though the movie-making feature available in PokéStar Studios was not up my alley, it provides a fun and potentially addictive alternative to battling, where players get the chance to star in “movies” with their Pokémon and returning gym leader-turned movie star Brycen. The new Join Avenue also adds a new connective component, as players are put in charge of managing a shop district that expands as you communicate with others via wireless and infrared. Some of these shops provide services that offer significant boosts to your Pokémon, so it’s actually quite rewarding to promote its expansion.
Of course, the greatest strength of the Pokémon series is the sheer volume of options available to players and the extent with which you can get lost in its world. Unova is more engrossing than ever, but I’d argue part of its appeal this time around partially stems from the fact that it is a direct sequel. These may sound inconsequential to some, but I genuinely appreciated little touches such as the updated soundtrack and finding out what my favorite Black and White trainers had been doing to pass the time. For example, Castelia City is a recurring location from the previous games, but your interactions with the characters you meet there are markedly different, and those who have played the original Black and White will notice how Burgh’s gym has changed this time around.
Change here, addition there
The sheer amount of new additions to Black/White Version 2 can not be understated, though your mileage with the various features will vary. Many have heralded the new in-game achievement system as being one push towards modernizing the series, but I’d argue that these medals are of little consequence and did not really serve to enhance my experience. However, if you’re the completionist sort, acquiring special medals to put in your case for doing everything from trading a Pokémon for the first time to beating the Pokémon League with only poison Pokémon may be right up your alley.
Habitat lists, however, are an entirely different matter. Now, not only does your Pokédex tell you information about already-caught Pokémon, but it includes a habitat list that details exactly which Pokémon are available in which area as well as which ones you’ve caught thus far. This is a great way to make sure you’ve found every Pokémon available in an area, and comes in handy especially for some that are notoriously hard to find. Looking at the habitat list before fully exploring an area can spoil the excitement of running into a new random Pokémon for the first time, however, so I’d advise only looking at it when absolutely necessary, but it certainly takes some of the pain out of the age-old quest to catch ‘em all.
One more change of note in Black/White Version 2 is the addition of all generations of Pokémon to the region of Unova from the get-go. Though it provides an increased amount of diversity and will undoubtedly thrill fans of older Pokémon, I’d argue that it doesn’t feel like an addition, but rather something that should have been in the original Black and White in the first place.
Embark on a not-entirely new adventure
By and large, Pokémon Black/White Version 2 is the same Pokémon experience fans know and love, but one that those who have grown tired of the series will likely be drawn back by. Though Game Freak had the opportunity to really innovate the series with this being the first direct sequel to any of their titles, they decided to stick with what they knew and remain with that winning formula. Regardless of whether you’ve had enough Pokémon or not, Black/White Version 2 offers one of the best experiences in the series to date, and will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most immersive RPG experiences on the Nintendo DS.
- Release date: October 7th, 2012 (NA), October 11th, 2012 (AU), October 12th, 2012 (EU)
- Genre: RPG
- Platform: Nintendo DS
- Developer: Game Freak
- Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
- Rating: E
- MSRP: $34.99
Our Score: 4/5
Review Statement: A copy of the game was provided by the Australian publisher for the purpose of this review. This review is based on Black Version 2.