If there’s always been one consistent complaint against the Pokémon series, it’s that many don’t believe that the series evolves enough with each new game. The formula is always a trainer going out into this world in order to catch Pokémon, earn eight gym badges, and become the Pokémon Master. And while this may be true to some degree, most fans would argue that the series does bring new elements to each generation. It’s the third game of a generation that fails to bring anything new to the table other than a few cosmetic changes. However, that may have changed for good with the release of Pokémon Black and White 2. Rather than a mere update to Black and White, this is a true sequel that takes what was already great about the fifth generation of Pokémon and expands upon it in more ways than you’d expect.
Though it may be a sequel to Black and White, Black and White 2 starts players off with a brand new trainer in a completely new section of Unova. Like every other generation, you’re given a starter Pokémon, a Pokédex, and the goal of becoming a Pokémon Master. The key difference is that this game picks up two years after the events of Black and White. Characters from the previous game have grown up and taken their place in the world and your old character is well known as the hero who saved Unova from Team Plasma. In fact, if you link your old save file to Black or White 2, you will sometimes discover flashbacks detailing what happened in the intervening two years. It’s a great system that, while not extremely pervasive, helps make things feel like a continuation of the previous game. Unfortunately, the story isn’t nearly as strong as it was in Black and White. The remnants of Team Plasma are still the main antagonists, but they aren’t nearly as nuanced and complex as before. It’s actually your rival that keeps the story from being a complete bust. His desperation to save his sister’s stolen Pokémon and complete hatred of Team Plasma gives the plot some much needed depth. Otherwise, it would have felt like any other Pokémon story.
And while the battles themselves may not have changed much from Black and White, the game around those battles has changed dramatically. The first major change is the inclusion of Pokémon from every previous generation. It’s more than likely that one of your favorites has been included creating an excellent mix of both the old and new. This might be one of the largest regional Pokédexes in the series with over 250 entries before you even reach the Elite Four. It helps the variety tremendously and keeps players from experiencing the same Pokémon over and over again. The Pokédex has also received an upgrade in the form of the Habitat function. Every area that you visit throughout the game is given an entry and shows all of the Pokémon that can be caught whether they’re on land or sea. Once you’ve seen all the Pokémon in a given area, it’s given a mark. This function is incredibly useful and helps cut down the reliance many players have on guides to catch them all.
The region of Unova has also changed quite a bit in the two years since Black and White. There are new gym leaders to face while the old ones have brand new teams, new areas to explore, and lots of activities both old and new. The new areas feel like a natural extension of Unova and each offer their own unique feel. Exploring every nook and cranny constantly rewards the player with rare Pokémon or fun distractions. In one place you may explore a haunted house with constantly moving furniture while in another you discover a network of caves that take you from one end of Unova to another. It’s been quite a while since I felt a Pokémon game really reward exploration this much, especially after the straight-forwardness of the past adventure in Unova.
Black and White 2 also encourages players to experiment thanks to the introduction of Medals. These can be earned in a variety of ways, from taking part in a set number of battles to walking a certain distance to participating in many of the multiplayer features. With more than 70 in total, they are an obvious emulation of achievements, and they can be just as addictive. Fortunately, the game rewards the hard work by offering a reward if you are able to earn at least 50. But the Medals mainly serve as a clever way to guide players toward many of the new attractions and minigames. The biggest addition by far is the Pokémon World Tournament where you can eventually take on every gym leader and Elite Four member from past games in a variety of different battle types. It’s a shame that you aren’t able to visit the other regions but battling these characters is an appreciated step in the right direction. And with each tournament won, you earn Battle Points that can be exchanged for rare items.
Another great new element is the introduction of Join Avenue, which is a section of road that you are given to manage as a series of unique shops. NPCs will walk around through Join Avenue giving you two options. You can either recruit them to start up a shop of their own or recommend them to opened shops to increase their notoriety. The higher the notoriety, the larger the stock of items becomes. The key is that only a few NPCs walk around normally and the best way to find more is by linking with friends and visiting their Join Avenue. Like many elements of Pokémon, it provides players with a level of customization while also being a useful way to help them along the way. The other notable addition is the Pokéstar Studios. There you are able to use your Pokémon to act in mini-movies and potentially become stars. It all depends on how closely you follow the script provided and if the changes you make work for the audience. The more money your movies make, the more likely it is for NPCs to give you items. It’s nowhere near as substantial as the Pokémon World Tournament or Join Avenue, but it makes for an amusing distraction when you get tired of endless battles.
Though Black and White 2 doesn’t look much better than the original Black and White, it’s still a significant step up from previous generations. Everything retains the classic Pokémon look while adding much more detail and dynamic camera angles. The biggest change is the inclusion of trainer animations. In the same way that Pokémon gained animations during battle, trainers now have their sprites move before sending out their first Pokémon. It’s not hugely significant, but the animation does provide some much-needed personality to the people constantly challenging you. The music may also be one of my favorite soundtracks of a Pokémon game yet. While it does contain many of the classic themes from previous games, there are plenty of new tunes that fit right in. Surprisingly, quite a few actually contain simple lyrics that give them a bit more personality, particularly the underground band mentality of the gym leader, Roxie. It all comes together for a solid package that uses the capabilities of the DS better than any previous Pokémon release.
Pokémon Black and White 2 is the ultimate refinement of the series formula. It’s all very familiar, but it provides enough change that it never becomes dull. The new elements all work and the choice to move the setting forward two years was a good one. It’s the same region that players fell in love with the first time but with enough different that they won’t mind exploring it again. In many ways it feels similar to the return to Kanto in the second generation except that the entire game was built around this. With even more new content to be found once the Elite Four are defeated, including the option to change the difficulty setting, this is an excellent addition to the franchise. The only gamers who won’t enjoy it are the ones that aren’t into Pokémon in the first place.
By its very nature, Pokémon is never a game meant to be played alone and Black and White 2 handily carries on this tradition. Just like previous generations, players can trade and battle whether they’re next to each other or over wi-fi thanks to friend codes. The Global Terminal is also back for players to trade their Pokémon worldwide. In addition, the C-Gear returns and makes the process of exchanging friend codes, battling, and trading much more streamlined. The Xtransceiver has been upgraded to allow players to play two simple minigames as well as its communication aspects like speaking through the microphone and drawing on each other’s screens.
It’s all extremely basic until you begin exploring the Pokémon Dream World and the Entralink. Unfortunately, I was unable to check if the Pokemon Dream World had changed at all since the original Black and White since the new website for it is not ready to be connected to. It should work in much the same way though and allow players to send their Pokémon to the internet in order to obtain items and meet other players’ Pokémon. These Pokémon can be made friends and unlock other minigames to play. It’s an optional system that works a lot like the PokéWalker from HeartGold and SoulSilver.
The Pokémon Dream World is directly connected to the Entralink in that it allows players to catch the Pokémon they’ve befriended there. Players can also do missions that grant them Pass Powers when successful such as increasing how much experience you earn for a short time. In Black and White 2, it has been upgraded to allow players to visit one another’s game world and even do special missions, called FunFest Missions, together. These FunFest missions can be found as the player work through the main game.
The multiplayer in Black and White 2 ultimately serves as a distraction. While many of the elements are integral to the experience, like battling and trading with friends, others just feel superfluous to the experience. Most of the minigames won’t be played more than once or twice. However, the Entralink and the eventual Dream World do offer plenty of possibilities for players looking to catch them all or just play with a friend. It’s worth taking a look at once, but after that it is up to each individual player.
Developer: Game Freak
Release: October 7, 2012
Available On: Nintendo DS
Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow - Loved 'em
Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal - Loved 'em
Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Crystal - Meh
Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum - Liked 'em
Pokémon Black/White - Loved 'em