Pokemon Black reviewed: Is this handheld perfection?

With the fifth generation of the Pokemon franchise being launched for the Nintendo DS, in the shape of the latest Black and White titles for the handheld system,  we take a look at the best-selling games and report on our findings as we put Pokemon Black and White to the test.

With soaring sales figures taking the fantasy fighting title to the top of the game charts in a little over 48 hours Pokemon looks all set to chalk up yet another record-breaking outing for the highly popular Japanese franchise.     

Truth be told I was never a great fan of the immensely popular cartoon’s of the Pokemon titles, maybe I was a little too old in my advanced years of twenty something at the time the series was launched or maybe it was just that I was too involved in other things we will never know, but one thing is for certain and that is my late arrival to the ‘Pokemon Party’ has allowed me to cram in all the best that this spectacular series has to offer in one short weekend, as I managed to get in as much back cataloguing, and research, in preparation of the review of the latest titles in the series, Pokemon Black and White. To say that I was in for a treat is to seriously underplay the sheer amount of real quality gaming that is contained within every title in the first-rate franchise.

But we are here for Pokemon Black and White, and Pokemon Black and White alone. All I will suggest to you, dear GmP readers, is that if you have not yet had the pleasure of this cracking collection of corking games, as I myself had not, then rush out and purchase them as soon as possible, for fear of missing out on one of gaming’s greatest. To Pokemon Black and White with us then…

One of the first things that you will notice when you delve into the delights of the devilishly entertaining Pokemon titles is that there is far more substance to these games than you would have first imagined. This is no ‘up and at them’ style fighting game where the storyline is told through a series of cut scenes and dialogue heavy interludes. Oh no! Pokemon Black and White, as with the rest of their brethren, are far more entertaining than I was ever led to believe, in that the tale that is told to you, as you progress throughout the game, is a far deeper affair than previously thought. As with every other Pokemon title there is the standard format of collecting the badges that will allow you to take part in the Pokemon League. Black & White are no strangers to this tried and tested method, however where they differ from their elder brothers and sisters is that in Pokemon Black and White there are far more characters for the player to enjoy, as well as the two new story based characters Cheren and Belle who will appear at regular interval’s along the way to pop up and give you a damned good thrashing. With 156 new Pokemon characters taking part in the latest title there is no shortage of new faces to keep players interested.

The storyline itself is one of a familiar path with the game setting out to test the powers and prowess of a solitary figure as you venture out across the land of Isshu as the young trainer in search of ‘pocket monsters’ to enlist in the fight for good. The graphics have been completely revamped and reworked for Pokemon Black and White as the developers have decided to broaden the appeal of the franchise, even though its popularity is already second only to a certain mustachioed plumber. But with the new tally of Pokemon’s monsters reaching 453 for gamers to collect, taking the overall number to a staggering 649. Now that’s a whole lot of monsters for your gaming pound. With exclusive Pokemon being available in each version the new Black and White  titles encourage gamers to actively get online with friends, old and new, to trade and play together.

The combat is the turn-based type that has never really taken off with Western audiences, but Pokemon seems to be the exception to this rule, as it continues to outsell its rivals not only in its home region of Japan, but also here in the UK, and indeed in the EU and US also.

Pokemon Black and White are beautifully rendered from start to finish and this is most evident in the smooth as silk combat that has been lovingly and painstakingly brought to life by the games developers. The improved battle system see’s the characters being able to move during combat this time around, and even have expressions of pain and surprise on their faces as they attempt to outfox their rival in the arena. Gone is the weather affected system to be replaced by a far more suitable HUD warning to alert gamers to what is the current state of play.  There are also the impressive Triple Battles, however these are few and far between, and would have been utilised a little better with greater frequency throughout the campaign.

Poke Slinger makes its return to the mini game scene, much to the mixed reaction of our review team I might add, but personally I quite enjoyed the outing, but not, it has to be said, at the expense of the far superior Pal Park which has, for some mysterious reason, been omitted by the developers? But that little niggle aside Pokemon Black, and its sister title Pokemon White, have so much going on in them that the replay value for a handheld title has never been greater. Not content with offering their customers what has to be the single largest collection of gaming characters ever to come to a portable device, Nintendo then go on to make the campaign littered with side missions and mini-games, as well the fact there are any number of post game bonuses to be enjoyed also. Is it any wonder then that the top two franchises belong to Nintendo when they place this much gaming goodness at the fingertips of their staunch fans.

The Land of Isshu has never looked brighter or better, and the gameplay that lies in wait for you is second to none, quite literally. Add to this the fact that the developers ,and Nintendo, have made significant improvements to the connectivity issues, and you will see that the vast differences between Black and White and the previous titles in the series are poles apart, as the all-new outlook adopted by Nintendo to take the new games and make them masterpieces of the Wi-Fi zone works a treat.

Dream World and Global Link will see Pokemon players challenging and interacting with friends from around the world with the same relative ease as they would have connecting locally to their network. Dream World will allow gamers to get online via their Wi-Fi set up to exchange some of their Pokemon with other players thus adding characters that are only available from certain titles. This means that their Pokedex will get closer and closer to that magical moment when it houses all of the Pokemon Monsters and therefore grants bragging rights that extend to the realms of the masterful. Global Link see’s players able to hook up to the Pokemon Official Website where they will be able to ensnare previously unavailable Pokemon to add to their ever-expanding collection of the cutey-pie creatures. There are also the opportunities to gain extra content and grow additional berries, and even to upgrade your Pokemon and C-Gear at the Global Website. Players will also be able to battle online with friends and even take part in events at future dates.

Graphics: Vastly improved upon and looking sharper than ever, whilst at the same time never putting a clawed or webbed foot wrong. Pokemon Black and White look sublime, and play even better as once again Nintendo prove why they are still the King of the Castle.  10

Gameplay: With some first-rate additions to what has to be one of the most successful franchises ever, Pokemon Black and White has got class oozing from every pixel as the game is literally packed with content from the onset. Breaking down the turn-based combat barrier with relative ease, this is one game that will keep you entertained from the moment you connect. The added bonuses of unlockables, collectibles, extra modes, mini games and a corking single player campaign is made even better with the top quality online features that propel Pokemon Black and White into the realms of gaming perfection. Often imitated but never bettered, Pokemon does it again! 10

RePlay Value: There is just so much to do in Isshu this time around that it is doubtful that you will ever tire of loading this game into your Nintendo DS. The fact that the developers have managed to cram this much content into one title is a testament to the quality of their talents, and their motivation to deliver the very best game they could to their customers is never in doubt when you get to experience just how good Pokemon Black and White really are. Excellent single play, cracking co-op and outstanding online make this the handheld title of the year so far! Pokemon has it all, and then some. 10

Presentation:  Nintendo have some of the most memorable, and lucrative, franchises in the gaming industry. Pokemon is just one of them, but when you get to experience one of these awesome games in all their creative glory, and see the way that Nintendo manage to get so much quality content into one title, is it any wonder then why they are flying high at the top of the sales charts? What you see in Pokemon Black and White could reflect the entire ethic of why the company is head and shoulders above its rivals. Yes they could have just repackaged any old fighting game and slapped a Pokemon title on the box and it would have sold well, but for how long? Instead, what Nintendo do, is turn to their developers and give them the scope and free hand to produce the best handheld title that they possibly could, introducing new features, stunning visual’s, top-notch sound effects and second to none gameplay. Then to top it all off they pop a lovely connectivity cherry on there that is sweeter than a fresh Maraschino. This, for me, speaks volumes of the company that instead of sitting back on their laurels they are constantly pushing, and constantly looking to give their customers more with each new release of each new title. No minor adjustments here and there to fool their fan’s into thinking that they are getting something new, what Nintendo do is take it back to the drawing board and completely overhaul the franchise to make it bigger and better than it has ever been, and has all that time and effort paid off? You bet your last Pokemon Pokedex it has! A truly inspired title with some of the best gameplay and visuals to be found on any handheld. The longevity of the title is placed firmly in the hands of the gamers as Nintendo continue to support the franchise with online services and additional content. Magnificent! 10


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