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There’s something undeniably different about the latest chapter in the Pokémon saga. For a series that has, for some 15 years, defined itself by retelling the same story time and again with slightly adjusted characters, the fact that it’s a direct sequel alone monkeys with the age-old formula. But this conceit is only the beginning.
Yes, Pokémon Black Version 2 and Pokémon White Version 2 make no secret that they are follow-ups to 2011′s original Black and White. In fact they revel in it, taking every opportunity within the growing narrative to remind players of the events that transpired two years (in game time) earlier. Aside from that, though, the title sticks close to the tried-and-true recipe; you capture Pokémon, battle other trainers and work your way through the regional Gym system on your way to Poké-dominance, all the way facing off against a sinister organization, the lingering elements of Team Plasma.
Still, even these similarities offer some tweaks that push the previous-gen hardware of the Nintendo DS. With battles in venues as disparate as subway cars, fashion runways and dive bars, Black/White 2 really throws a lot of on-screen animation at potential Pokémon Masters. The new visuals are further refined with more dynamically rendered environments – complete with Resident Evil-style shifting camera angles – and ample cut scenes. For the most part these graphics look astounding, even on the sizable canvas of the 3DS XL screen, though the classically pixelated sprites of the actual Pocket Monsters do seem to be showing their age.
On the audio front, however, Black 2 and White 2 excel without fail. Putting new spins on many of those traditional-style Pokémon melodies serves its decidedly old school gameplay well, but the skillful panning and solid stereo mix of each composition has never sounded better. This is especially true through the more robust (and better positioned) speakers on the aforementioned 3DS.
Yet these are the expected alterations within each subsequent Pokémon title; these are the things that any seasoned player could have anticipated. What really seems to differentiate Black and White 2 is the sheer amount of content that each given title throws at you.
I’ve almost begun to think of these games like I think of my beloved Skyrim. There is a strong, enjoyable and lengthy core play experience, but there is also a nigh inexhaustible amount of secondary material that you can explore or ignore as you see fit – and I’m not just talking about going back after completing the story to catch ’em all!
There’s an in-game amusement park, a shopping center you can curate and the brand new PokéStar Studios that allows you to film movies (which are themselves simply stripped-down battles) for fame and fortune. There is also a medal-based achievement system that helps players feel rewarded even when they aren’t just racking up the wins. Then, of course, there’s the Pokémon World Tournament that lets you battle trainers from previous iterations. And those are just the options available on the game cartridge itself!
Depending on your completion level within the original Black or White titles, you can use the Memory Link system that subtly changes the story details within these new sequels. You can also transfer in your favorite monsters from those titles, and later in the game a specialized Poké Transfer Lab allows you to do the same with creatures from Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold and SoulSilver.
Gameplay in my own house has been more or less split down the middle with regard to core story play versus time spent blissfully exploring all this additional content. I, being the straight-ahead gamer, have steadily plodded through the narrative of Pokémon Black 2, while my son’s more laid back approach has been to while away the hours investigating practically everything else Pokémon White 2 has to offer. The singular place where our play styles converge has proven to be exclusive 3DS supplementary title Pokémon Dream Radar.
Dream Radar brings the best of both worlds to our world in an augmented reality search to capture Pokémon which can then be transferred directly into Black or White 2. The logic behind how exactly “Dream Clouds” full of energy-rich “Dream Orbs” and the occasional Legendary Pokémon have amassed in your den is… shaky at best, but there’s no shortage of fun to be had. Mixing the casual gameplay of Face Raiders with the more refined and frenetic spin of Spirit Camera, Pokémon Dream Radar challenges you to track down and snag special creatures – several of which aren’t available within the core games in these particular forms – by capturing them Ghostbusters-style. Of course, these Pokémon aren’t going to make it easy for you, so prepare to give the AR camera, the 3DS gyroscope and your thumbs a workout.
The very best thing about Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 is that the games offer tons of content but don’t often penalize you for not fully plunging into it. They simply want you to enjoy yourself for yet another trip into the wonderful world of Pokémon. Like many fans, I was a little disappointed that this version didn’t mark the series’ full jump to the 3DS, but at a mere $3 more the Dream Radar add-on is a nice addition that gives a proper nod to this current generation system.
Still, whether you’re playing on the 3DS XL or still plugging away on your DS Lite, Pokémon Black Version 2 and Pokémon White Version 2 offer all the RPG goodness you’ve come to expect. It may not be the title to win over die-hard Poké-haters, but even those with a passing interest in the franchise should take this latest chapter for a spin.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America