A Pokémon Retrospective: Pokémon Black and White and Black and White 2

This piece forms part of the Pokémon Retrospective Collaboration hosted by NekoJonez. Want to continue your Pokémon journey? Well, take a look at the hub article where lots of my fellow content creators made even more retrospective content about the Pokémon franchise.

My earliest Pokémon memory is at a friends house, hunched over his Gameboy Colour, slighty tilted to the light, battling Misty in Pokémon Red. I wasn’t allowed to save the game, lest I wipe over my friends progress, but would start again each time I went over, trying different combinations of Pokémon, different attacks and training for several hours. It would be years until I had my own Gameboy and copy of Red, but it was the beginning of a love of the long running franchise. I dutifully played most of the mainstream games, with the exception of the third generation as I didn’t at that point own a Gameboy Advance. I picked it up again with the fourth generation, and continued to play until I completed the games I want to look at today; Pokémon Black and White and Pokémon Black and White 2.

from: https://cdn.bulbagarden.net/upload/thumb/3/3e/Pok%C3%A9mon_White_EN_logo.png/800px-Pok%C3%A9mon_White_EN_logo.png

Released in Europe in March 2011, Pokémon Black and White came out a few months into my first year at university, and I had prepared for its arrival by listening intently to Gamesradar’s Pokemon Monday as they discussed and revealed the games and the Pokémon before the games were released. I had decided which starter I wanted before the games started and was ready to invest hours into the games as I had so many times before. Here I must make you aware that I had bought Pokémon White, whilst my boyfriend at the time had bought Pokémon Black. The calming images of the White Forest and the exclusives for that game attracted me far more than the dirty looking Black City.

And so my new adventures in Unova began, with Smugleaf the Snivy and a lot of time. Eventually I beat the game, playing some of the end game content, and at some point put it down. As I write this though, I can only recall a few things about the game, good or bad. I booted my copy of the game recently and couldn’t remember what I was doing or why. I had a lot of Pokémon in my PC, and was clearly breeding a few for some reason, but I couldn’t bring myself to restart for the sake of this collab. I had invested too many hours in a previous life, and have too few free in this one to start again, even if I could be bothered to trade out my Pokémon from my save to my brother’s and back again. But with a little help from some Let’s Plays and the internet, I can recall what I did, what I enjoyed and what I didn’t, and where it all fell down for me.

As a long time Pokémon player, one of the first things I was aware of was the lack of Pokémon from previous generations, and that meant adventures without my trusted go to party and HM users. As I progressed through the game, I found a team that I could work and stick with for a while. I have never been big into battling, and have long accepted that I am more of a Collector than a Gym Leader; I would rather fill my Pokédex than partake in the Battle Subway. My brother is the opposite. He will fill the Pokédex but would rather battle than trade. I have always felt that as the Pokémon generations pass by, there has been a bigger focus on battling than on the journey and the Pokédex. More and more work has been put into creating the most efficient and battle worthy creatures, and this is sadly one of the things that has turned me off of the series. I do not care for Natures, or EV stats (Effort Values), or breeding to perfect the two. I just want to find interesting creatures and experience the journey. Pokémon Black and White introduced new types of battle – Triple and Rotation Battles. When these special battles appeared, White had a higher proportion of Triple Battles, whilst Black had a higher proportion of Rotation Battles. Triple Battles was similar to regular battles, but added the ability to target enemy Pokémon to focus on one at a time. Rotation Battles meanwhile, were a little more novel, giving the Pokémon in the forefront the opportunity to attack or the option to switch to up to two others without actually switching out Pokémon the usual way. Of the two, I had more fun with Rotation Battles as they provide a little more challenge and interest in battling, although they were few and far between in White.

An example of a Rotation Battle. Image from https://cdn.bulbagarden.net/upload/2/2f/Rotation_Battle_V.png

When I wasn’t battling, I was actually enjoying the game. Pokémon Black and White introduced seasons and seasonal changes. Deerling (aka Shikijika in Japanese, which is a much nicer name) and its evolution Sawsbuck (Mebujika) change their appearance depending on the season. Deering changes colour whilst Sawsbuck gets and loses leaves, flowers and foliage in its antlers. Unlike Animal Crossing, the seasonal cycle is condensed so that every season lasts a month in real time, giving you several chances to see each season a year. Furthermore, the seasons impact on which Pokémon appear during a season. Some Pokémon that appear a lot during Summer may go into hiding in the Winter and be harder to find. This certainly kept me playing for a while longer than I perhaps would have otherwise, but I did actually enjoy seeing the leaves changing and blowing around in the Autumn.

Along with more dynamic weather and seasons, Pokémon Black and White have more dynamic music, and more dynamic Pokémon sprites. Musically, there are plenty of changes to the music throughout the game for a variety of reasons – seasonally changes, last Pokémon in battle, running and walking and even characters you can seek out in the towns and villages who play musical instruments. Pokémon themselves also get new animations and move throughout battles, rather than standing there robotically or doing a little jig and then standing still. It’s not the full contact battle action that every Pokémon fan wants to see, but it is a vast improvement on the previous games. And speaking of those Pocket Monsters, there were now an additional 156 new creatures to find and collect, and that’s before you finish the game and open the gates to older generation Pokémon. As I previously mentioned, the older generations don’t appear until you complete the main game, which was great for the series as a way to introduce new players to the game, it was a little sad to not find a Pidgey in the first 10 minutes and keep it with me all the way through as I had done so many times.

As always with Pokémon games, there is contention as to whether the designs were any good, or if they were getting less and less interesting and based off of weird things (a set of keys, anyone?) For the most part, the new designs in Black and White were fine with me and bore some similarity to the Kanto region Pokédex. The starter combinations in their final evolution weren’t necessarily the most inspired, but on the whole I was content.

So where did I lose interest? If we discount the battling changes and the general focus on battling that I feel most Pokémon games are given, one of the hardest things I found to like was the sense that I required both friends and an Internet connection to really get the most out of the game. The big “new” location of Black and White, Black City and White Forest, only became useful when you used the Entralink with local friends. If you didn’t have many that played the games, the City and Forest were lackluster at best. There were too many features that required either or both of these things, and at a time where some DS consoles could connect to certain Wi-Fi systems, and some could not. And they certainly did not connect to wired Internet connections which is what I had at university. Having access to Pokémon Global Link through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and the internet gave you various areas to get more Pokémon and items, including the Dream World whilst the C-Gear which looked for local players allowing you to trade, battle and ask simple questions of those players. Not exactly useful when I had no-one around me playing most of the time. I even found transferring Pokémon from the previous generations convoluted. All of these features added up to a game that felt as though it didn’t know what it actually was or wanted to be, and the series still feels that way to me today.

Despite all this, I returned to Unova nearly 2 years later for Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. During this time there has been some changes to various aspects of both Unova and the game. For hopefully obvious reasons, you do not pick up with the character you played in the first games, and start in an area that wasn’t open to you in Black and White. Something I liked from the beginning of Black and White 2 was that the game asks if you need to have things explained to you, like how to open your bag. Having to go through a tutorial every single Pokémon game was tedious when you’ve been playing the games since the beginning. Also unlike many of the games, Black and White 2 has you begin your journey in a city, rather than a village and introduces you to characters that already have a history in the game, and one you as a player are familiar with as you have gone through that journey with them.

Looking to the horizon at the start of a new adventure. Image from https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/I8jy8_qr4qPx44nb17ajWrIE7gI=/0x26:630×446/920×613/filters:focal(0x26:630×446):format(webp)/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/1950891/pokemonblack2star.0.jpg

As I begun this new journey, I decided to choose Oshawott, the otter-y Pokémon who always looks sad. The best thing about starting in a city with this game is that you get access to useful things almost straight away. You don’t have to cross some wild areas to get to either the Pokémon Centre or return to your house to heal as you do in many older generations of Pokémon, and you get access to running shoes early so you don’t have to walk around at Slowpoke pace. And from there the Pokémon journey continues in much the same way as all those journeys in the past – catch Pokémon, fill the Pokédex and beat the Elite Four. As with Pokémon Black and White, the sequels have some interesting Gyms to work through and puzzle out before meeting the Gym Leaders in the various towns and cities. The version exclusive areas, Black City and White Forest have had a little makeover and are now primarily focused on their respective Battle Towers rather than their little settlements. It brings me back to the point I made earlier; Pokémon has an increasing focus on battling and less and less to do with exploring, making friends and collecting creatures.

Black and White 2 kept the use of the various online ideas from previous games, although updated them in some cases. Dream World makes a return, with some slight access restrictions, and Global Link also makes a comeback. I could repeat myself here as well, but I don’t think I need to.

Dream World with friendly Psyduck. Image from https://www.serebii.net/black2white2/dreamworld.shtml

As my adventures in Unova came to a close, I found myself feeling more and more isolated from the Pokémon games and community as more and more battle and online features were added, and I cared less and less about the next generations and the future of the series. I haven’t picked up any mainline Pokémon games since White 2, and I don’t really have a huge amount of interest in the games beyond this generation (and to be honest, I certainly cannot recall all the Pokémon from White and White 2). My Pokémon loves remains with the 1st and 2nd Generations. I haven’t played a mainline Pokémon game since putting Black and White 2 down, and the only Pokégame I currently play is Pokémon GO, and even that seems heavy on the battling front. But let it be said, I do not think Black and White/Black and White 2 are bad games. They’re a great place to jump into the Pokémon universe from if you are a new player, or introducing someone to it. It’s just the place where I jump off.

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