What makes this game really special, though, are the new features and the incredible density of content. Few games have the sheer level of detail as Pokémon Black and White do.
New additions to the series include: global seasons (based on your system date) and related weather effects; various gradients of light and dark to indicate the time of day; nice 3D animations when you acquire a key item or win a gym badge; reflections in water; the ability to discover unusual activity (like rustling grass), leading to encounters with rarer species; darker grass that occasionally spawns double Pokémon encounters; rotational battles (or triple battles in Pokémon White Version); a “Vs. Recorder” which records battles that can be played back later; a “Prop Case” for storing items for decorating your Pokémon; a “Battle Box” that allows a trainer to register a team of Pokémon that they battle with the most, allowing them to be quickly exchanged as a whole with the current party; performing in musicals to win badges and prizes (similar to the contests seen in previous games), either with friends or solo; and a number of other extra usability features, like ‘last item used’, that create a more user-friendly gameplay experience overall.
On the multiplayer side of things there’s the introduction of the “C-Gear“, which replaces Pokégear from previous games and controls the connectivity options via wifi or Infra Red; the “Entralink” which is a place in the centre of Unova that allows players to transfer content from the Pokémon Dream World (by collecting saved games from other players and harvesting the dreams of sleeping Pokémon); the “Pal Pad” which is a book where you can collect the names of your friends and participate in various activities with them (like trading and battling); and various other online functions. Unfortunately, as is often the case with a lot of online DS functionality, much of it relies on Nintendo‘s own wifi service, which no longer exists, so is no longer usable.
One bizarre but interesting new feature is that there’s even a Pokémon virus that can be spread by having infected Pokémon in your active party, although (unlike Coronavirus) it is beneficial and will boost the number of experience points Pokémon get after battling. After a few days of real time the infected Pokémon become cured and then become immune to the virus – never getting it again. So you end up deliberately infecting other Pokémon with it and storing them in a box where the virus stays dormant until they’re brought out again. This allows you to take advantage of its experience-boosting effects on newer Pokémon that you’re levelling-up, by deliberately infecting them.
Features that have been dropped in this generation are: cultivating berries (you are still given berries to use as hold items occasionally, but you just don’t grow them any more), and cooking Poffins to change a Pokémon‘s condition. There’s no underground any more, or any talent contests. All of which are fine by me.
Bridges are more of thing in Pokémon Black and White, and crossing the Skyarrow Bridge into Castelia is very impressive visually. Equally impressive is the city of Castelia itself, which has busy streets and large numbers of people going about their business. It also has a Game Freak office where you can meet the team who’re working on a Pokémon game and can even battle some of them. The way the camera moves around as you traverse the streets is interesting too. Pokémon Black definitely has a real sense of scale to it due to these larger cities.
When you reach Nibasa City you then get to experience the Battle Subway. This is an multi-directional train system where you can take on high-level trainers to earn Battle Points (BP), and these BP can be exchanged for useful items. The type of battle you can fight are divided into single, double, and ‘Multi’ battles, and each takes place on a train that departs from a central station. You take three Pokémon with you (in single and wifi battles; four in double battles) and must fight a series of trainers who each have the same number of Pokémon as you. When you make it past the seventh trainer in a row you then earn some BP (how many depends on the length of your winning streak). You cannot use healing items at all (but are healed between battles), and the Pokémon you encounter are random. The Battle Subway is arguably the single most challenging feature that I’ve ever played in a Pokémon game… The key to winning (it seems) is to pick Pokémon with high-level moves (moves that can one-hit KO, if possible), and also: to know when to switch out your Pokémon, because beating some of the opponents put in front of you is extremely difficult. If you’re playing the game on an actual DS then the Battle Subway will be even harder. So be warned… One great feature is that you can save your best battles and re-watch them later using the aforementioned “Vs. Recorder“.
Unlike other Pokémon games I’ve played I felt that the battle encounters were a little repetitive in the early part of the game. What I mean by that is that in previous games you’d see new Pokémon more frequently earlier in the game, but in this you seem to fight the same Pokémon over and over again and it does make the first part of the game a little tiresome. Also: TMs seem to come more slowly in this game. After seven hours of play I only had two TMs and one HM. In previous games they seemed to come more quickly. The last Pokémon game I played was Gold and TMs came thick and fast in that… But these are minor niggles, really.
Pokémon Black and White are fantastic games that are a significant step up from Diamond and Pearl (the previous DS Pokémon games) – at least in terms of the amount of content and level of detail. Whether you think they’re actually better than Diamond and Pearl or not is a matter of taste.
With combined sales of over 15 million units, Black and White are among the best-selling Nintendo DS games of all-time, and are undoubted role-playing classics.
Final note: Black and White were the first main series Pokémon games to receive direct sequels – Black Version 2 (and White Version 2) were released in 2012 and – believe it or not – are arguably even better than this game. They’re once again set in the Unova region and also feature characters exploring many of the same locations seen in this game, only set some years later, so are significantly different.
Click here for part one of this article.