There’s little doubt in the minds of Pokemon fans that Pokemon Black/White was a refreshing and engaging entry into the series. A slew of new Pokemon that have quite possibly the best designs since Gold/Silver for the Gameboy Color, paired with a storyline which is quite possibly the best scripted and most complex of the entire series (for Pokemon it is, anyway). Immediately after its release, critic and fan alike wondered just how it could be topped. The obvious choice could’ve been to have the next Pokemon game be completely new and on the 3DS. Perhaps it would be a hypothetical Pokemon Grey, a slightly altered take on Black/White, analogous to the likes of Pokemon Emerald and Pokemon Platinum for their respective generations.
Rather than go with any of these ideas, Game Freak decided to stick with the DS and create the first true sequel to a Pokemon game – and thus we have Pokemon Black /White 2. Set two years after the events of the original, Black and White 2 retains the same setting and continues the story – but not in ways that you’d expect. It could have been a very simple rehash of its predecessor, but Black/White 2 is bursting with so many new angles and things to do that even if you’ve played out the original completely there is more than enough to entice you to catch ‘em all again.
The same basic premise of all the past Pokemon games is still firmly in place here – you still need to catch Pokemon, defeat eight gym leaders to advance to the Pokemon League, and in time defeat the Elite Four and the Pokemon Champion, all the while battling an organised crime group dedicated to stealing Pokemon for one goal or another. It still works, and is still fun to play on this level. When a formula such as this is refined and works so well, it doesn’t need to innovate. Nonetheless, there are still tweaks in different areas of Black and White 2 that freshen things up just a bit.
As mentioned earlier, the setting of the Unova region has been kept, but the story is completely uprooted. You start off in a different town, and since there is a two-year time difference between games,there are also a lot of other differences. Some towns and areas that were little more than villages have become thriving cities. Bits of the landscape have been irreparably damaged and changed. The gym leaders and the order in which you face (or don’t face) them have also also been uprooted. Even the very gyms themselves have been given an overhaul – some reside in the same buildings as they previously did, while others have been entirely remodeled or are in a completely new building, building on the already creative battlegrounds of Black and White.
Speaking of gym leaders, another welcome function of Black and White 2 is the Pokemon World Tournament, where you are able to take on gym leaders and Pokemon champions from past games. Located south of Driftveil City, each tournament consists of eight participants, and you must mow through your opponents without any breaks between battles for the win. It’s a nice bit of nostalgia that can prove to be filled with tension and is very challenging, causing you to really think about having a well-balanced team before you throw yourself into the heat of battle. There are also some downloadable tournaments which are to be released periodically.
Of course, there are a lot of other new bits and pieces which make their debut in Black/White 2. Not only are you able to catch Pokemon across generations from the outset, you can also have an easier time keeping track of them with the new Habitat Tracker. The Habitat Tracker records where you’ve encountered individual Pokemon and if you’ve caught them, making it a lot more simple to retrace your steps and catch any Pokemon that you may have missed over the course of your travels to be the very best. Other smaller but no less welcome additions include more Fun Fest missions for the Entralink, an achievements-like medal collection system, hidden grottoes which contain rare items and unique Pokemon, as well as the ability to link Black/White 2 with its predecessor. Not only does the link system allow for transfer of Pokemon from the old to the new game, there are also certain plot elements which are revealed that recount what happened during the two year time skip. It’s a very unique feature, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in too many other games. These are but a fraction of the small but welcome implements that are the icing on an already tasty Pokemon cake.
The previous visual splendor of Black/White is both retained and expanded upon for this release. The environments, characters and buildings are as lush and detailed as ever, and in some cases exceed previous efforts – the different gym settings in particular push all kinds of environmental and camera setups that give your journey an even greater sense of gravity. This is all topped off by an even greater level of cinematic sequences. They don’t dominate the story, but prove to be used to the greatest effect in many of the game’s most important plot points and set pieces. They’re rendered into a 3D-ish style, and the only way in which they could be improved upon is if Black/White 2 were on the 3DS itself.
Even without all of the extra features to play around with, Pokemon Black/White 2 is as robust and lengthy an adventure as you could possibly get on the DS. Playing through the story will net you in excess of twenty hours playtime, but all Pokemon fans know that there’s much more longevity to be had once those final credits roll. There are over 300 Pokemon that you can catch and evolve on each cart before having to start trading to fill out your Pokedex. On top of this, the plethora of trading, battling and community options are more expansive and easier than ever, adding up to the most satisfying online experience you could possibly imagine for any handheld console game bar none. As an added incentive to buy the game early and connect online, players will be able to download the legendary bug Pokemon Genesect from the comfort of their own homes via Wi-Fi, making some of your fledgling battles that much easier to manage while you raise your ideal team.
Pokemon Black/White 2 is simultaneously the most intricately complex and accessible game of the Pokemon series to date, and perhaps serves as the true final curtain for the Nintendo DS. The only possible flaw that one might imagine is that it wasn’t made for the 3DS, but in no way does this detract from a truly amazing game. A story more engaging than ever, perfectly married with new features that accentuate but don’t dominate, all centered around a core gameplay system that has maintained its depth, addiction and entertainment for over a decade now. If you’re an old fan that has strayed from the series or a new one looking to get into it for the first time, then Pokemon Black/White 2 will easily quench your desire to truly catch them all.