It's funny. As pivotal as Pokemon was in my youth, it's the one franchise I now share a strained relationship with. The endless, pointless parade of spin-offs after Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire still haunt my memory, and I'm of the opinion that Diamond and Pearl were rather dull. As you can guess, my thoughts aren't too popular with the contemporary Pokemon crowd. But hey, at least I'm not one of the posers who ditched the franchise after the original fad ended, mirite?
In any case, when info began trickling in for Pokemon Black and White, I found myself becoming gradually mixed. On one hand, the graphical enhancements and the exciting additions to the gameplay (three against three battles? Yowza!) had me pumped for a refreshed Pokemon experience. On the other hand, however, there was the most intimidating deterrent: The new Pokemon designs. While I initially approved of Zoroark and the new starter trio, the immediate flood that followed almost had me vomit in disbelief. What was up with the gears? Can I really take that giant garbage bag seriously? Sweet Jesus Christ, did they seriously just take a ball of lint and add wings to it?
Needless to say, I crossed off the new games as a lost cause. Could I simply ignore the designs and just have fun playing the game? Perhaps a true gem lies under the bland look of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but a different story lies in the essence of Pokemon. The creatures are the game. The silent bonds you forge with the creatures you capture and train, whether they're small or frightening or cool or adorably squishy, are what makes Pokemon, well, Pokemon. How on earth could I forge a bond with that?Still, my dormant, yet terminal diagnosis of Pokefever once again nipped at me from within, and in the end I succumbed to the hype. While it would add on to the stress of managing several games (I recently obtained a Playstation 3) and schoolwork, what sort of Nintendo fanboy would I be to deny my childhood love another chance? It was fate. Plus, hey, who can say no to Amazon.com credit on future purchases?
I've been playing Pokemon White over the past month. Thanks to my mountain of school work, I'm only just training to defeat the Elite Four (for those not in the know: the customary end bosses at the end of every Pokemon game). But playing it I have been, and...I'm...
...I'm enjoying it.
No, I love it!
It's truly something magically finally enjoying a new Pokemon game. Yes, I adored last year's Soul Silver, but that was only a remake. This is a completely new Pokemon title, and I'm loving it!!! It feels so good to say out loud and express it in writing! I love a new Pokemon game!!! And the game feels...fresh! Invigorating! Absorbing! All Pokemon-related emotions I thought had been tossed away long ago.
Where should I start?
One of the things I felt Diamond and Pearl took a big step back in was the world map. To this day, the number one reason why I feel Ruby and Sapphire were the pinnacle of the series was because of the sheer amount of variety that Hoenn provided. You didn't just have towns, fields, caves, forests, and an ocean. You had rainforests! And volcanoes! And a desert! And underwater fields! And a sunken ship! And ancient ruins! It was as if I was exploring the African wilderness, which gave Pokemon a brand new, more realistic feel. Hardly of this was present in Diamond/Pearl, and it only reverted back into the town/field/dungeon pattern of the first two Pokemon generations. The environment just didn't suck you in.
Is Black and White absorbing in the same sense? Not quite as much, but it beats out Diamond/Pearl in more ways than one. The folks at Game Freak have clearly taken full advantage of the DS's graphical prowess, as the aesthetic presentations you'll experience are impressive. Many of the towns feel much larger and not quite as compact as in previous titles, so it no longer feels like you're exploring a ghetto town. Perhaps most awe-inducing is the dynamic camera, which is the big key to the three-dimensional focus of Castelia City (pictured above). It's a big step forward for the franchise in terms of both upgrading to the next generation and distilling my pesky suspension of belief (I've always wondered why the residents never have anything in their houses).
Pokemon White also introduces a nifty seasonal system, in which the game changes seasons once a month. Since there hasn't been much of a change in the routes/strips of wilderness you'll be exploring, it serves as a way to shake things up not just aesthetically, but it can also effect the terrain as well (as in, say, sliding on now-frozen lakes). Many familiar elements also return, such as the deserts and water currents found in the Hoenn region of Ruby and Sapphire. Just like those titles, all of these areas have their own niches that I can't wait to explore once I'm finished with the main quest (Hellloooo surfing!). Of course, the biggest new feature to your road trip are the abundance of bridges you'll be cross, most notably of which is the Sky Arrow Bridge. The camera works its magic once again in treating the player to an awe-inducing view (it'll blow your mind the first time you cross it).
Much ado has been made regarding the storyline found in Black and White, which take a more mature, personal approach in handling the world of Pokemon. This time, the games tackle the big question we've always been asking: Are we treating our Pokemon the right way? Some believe we simply catch them, taking them away from their homes and train them just so we can use them as our tools and not as our friends. Team Plasma, the game's antagonist, preaches to the denizens of Unova of the plight regarding their Pokemon, and causes numerous sensations thanks to their ground-breaking schemes.
Pokemon White doesn't make an overt attempt to let the player decide who's right or wrong in the debate (despite their sympathy towards the critters, Team Plasma has no qualms stealing other people's Pokemon for their ideals). Not that this is a knock against this particular plot, but I've never been able to take the storyline of Pokemon as seriously as, say, your typical Legend of Zelda or Fire Emblem. On the other hand, though, I'm glad that Game Freak not only took the initiative to talk about such a controversial subject, but didn't try to dumb it down for a younger audience or get preachy. This is also aided by the presence of Bianca and Cheren, two childhood friends of the player who's individual goals and bonds of friendship add a warmth I've never quite felt from a Pokemon game before. I'm interested in seeing how this story ends.
And then you have deal breaker: The Pokemon themselves. It goes without saying that, for the most part, I take back what I initially believed about the designs. It really is strange how most of the ones that weirded me out somehow grew on me after a while, and upon reviewing the Pokedex lists online, you actually have some really awesome designs here. A double-bladed dragon with a long neck? Check. A huge robotic sentinel made of stone? Check. An oversized killer centipede? Check. A badger with steel claws? Check. I've come to realize that you can categorize Pokemon in three types: Cute, Silly, and Cool. And for this generation, Pokemon White provides a very healthy selection of "cool" Pokemon that I can't wait to check out once I beat the main game (I do all the extra stuff afterwards).
However, it falters with the silly category. While it goes without saying that we've always had goofy Pokemon (Mr. Mime, Spoink, Smeargle, Jynx, Nosepass, and Loudred being the most prominent examples), the problem here is that the goofy Pokemon present in White are a little..too goofy. I think the underlying factor here is previous goofy Pokemon worked because while they may have had the attitude of a jester, their charm was undoubtedly infectious and grew on you immediately. The same can't be said for most of the doofs here (most notably the Ice Cream guys, several of the legendaries, and Crustle), and while it's obvious that the designers had fun making them, they don't really exude a Pokemon vibe and as a result I cannot take them seriously. As for the ones I had specifically mentioned early in the review...I've made my peace with Woobat and Garbodor, but sweet Jesus Christ those gears are painful to look out. It doesn't help that not only did I have to traverse a cave with them as the MAIN POPULATION, but its evolutions are so lazy and nonsensical that it's a wonder they got past the drawing board process (a potential factor to discuss in my review? Hmm..).
Can't be helped, I guess.
...so who's on my team? The De Facto leader of my team. Originally the Snivy I had chosen at the beginning of the game, this beautiful Serperior was born with the abnormal defect of forever holding a smug look on its scaly face. However, he began to take note of his delight in defeating his opponents while sending them off with the said smug look, and began to treasure it as a natural element of his gorgeous body. A trickster, he delights in using Leech Seed to slowly suck away the opponent's HP while using Coil to boost his Attack and Defense, shielding himself as he hacks away at their health with Leaf Blade and Giga Drain. All the while, his smug demeanor succeeds in pissing off his opponents. ...which is how I gave him the name of Smugbob. It's my first time picking a Grass starter. It's pretty difficult. The badass of my team. Gurdurr (Of who I have given the name of Ryu) smashes his foes with his giant STEEL BEAM, which in my imagination happens when he uses Cross Chop. His nature specializes in Defense, so he's pretty sturdy. If I trade him to another friend's game, he can evolve into Conkeldurr. WAITING ON YOU KENNETH This giant puppy just so happens to be one of the reasons why I was initially apprehensive about purchasing this game. I mean, I love goofy designs as much as the next guy, but his giant mustache rendered him rather out of place when juxtaposed with older Pokemon. Then again, I suppose one could make the same argument with Lickitung and Nosepass. Still, his goofy facial features grew on me and Stoutland (who I have named Tugger after my friend's dog) is now a valuable member of my team. I'd like to improve his moveset though...something tells me Earthquake would come in handy. When I was eleven, I probably would have flipped out if I found out a future Pokemon entry was going to have elemental monkeys, so I guess that's why I've inducted Simipour into my team. Despite his horrid defense, he sweeps the competition away with his Water attacks (feel dat Surf!).I've named him Calvin after the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. I suppose Simisear would've been a better choice given his fiery nature, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Ah, now here's an example of a new awesome Pokemon I initially overlooked! Upon discovering Sandile, I was interested in the prospect of a ground crocodile, so I checked out his future evolutions and liked what I saw immediately. Now he's a big, scary Krookodile...and he's half Dark type! He's especially intimidating with the Moxie ability, which raises his Attack power every time he defeats an opponent. ...he seems to go down easily though. Ever since Ruby, I've found it necessary to induct a tiny mascot member of my team. For Ruby, it was the bouncy Spoink. For Diamond, it was Pachirisu, an electric squirrel. For White, it's Emolga, the electric FLYING SQURRIEL. Believe me, this little scamp wasn't easy to find, but it's totally worth it. He's surprisingly effective if he can dodge his attacks, and his Acrobactics move, which doubles its power if he isn't holding an item, is fun stuff.
Pretty neat, huh?
There's much more I'd like to go over, but I'm afraid I'd end up wasting material I could be using in my review. Plus, not every feature of the game is avaliable until the online update tomorrow. So yeah, while I diiiiiiid say I'd write a review the month after a game comes out, I think I'll need a bit more time to fully digest everything in this little game card before I can write my inevitably humongous review. Expect it by mid-May!
In other news, I've been listening to this nonstop for the last three days.
It's so weird. I never even played Super Mario Kart all that much and here I am drowning myself into this haunting, euphoric remix of the Rainbow Road song. I just feel like..this one remix defines everything I've ever been through when it comes to Nintendo, and it just takes me back to the days of Super Mario World and Mario Kart 64.
I'll never abandon this hobby. For as long as I live.