Pokémon Black Version 2
The Pokémon world is a strange place. The people you meet either want to fight you or give you free stuff, and both kinds of people chase you down the moment you cross their line of sight. It’s a bizarre world, but it is an inviting one, and time flies by as you get absorbed.
Pokémon games get two color-themed releases, and then a third a few months later named after another hue. I assumed that Pokémon Gray was the logical follow up to Black and White, but we were all surprised when Nintendo and Game Freak announce a direct sequel. Despite the number 2 that appears after the title, these games feel more like the Gray we expected.
You take on the role of a new trainer who sets off on his or her own journey two years after the events of Black and White. You cross paths with characters from the original, as well as the villainous Team Plasma, but for the most part this is a separate story rather than a continuation. It hits all those saccharine notes of friendship and fighting for what’s right without anyone ever being in real danger – everyone makes their Pokémon fight all of their battles for them, after all. The story introduces you to all kinds of different trainers with distinct looks and personalities, something I have always appreciated in the Pokémon games. Even if they only have a sentence or two to say, I was always interested.
Like Black and White, the world is 3D with 2D elements, battles are fully animated, and you occasionally have up to three Pokémon battling at once. There are a number of aesthetic changes to the sequel, including redesigned gyms and characters to account for the two-year storyline gap. All of the impressive online trading and battle features also made the transition. These are all great features that work well with the Pokémon formula, but none of them have expanded in a tangible way for the sequel.
Movie-making sequences are among the new additions, and they involve a slowed down battle where the player has to input combat commands in a certain order. After completing the fight, you can head over to the theater and watch the finished product. So you battle slowly, and then re-watch the battle you just fought in normal speed. As one of the few brand new elements of the sequel, this mode could have helped set the experience apart. Instead, it offers so little that it may as well have been cut. Thankfully, players can skip it entirely and pretend it isn’t there.
Nintendo and Game Freak don’t introduce any new Pokémon this time around, another strange choice for a supposed sequel. A few classic Pokémon roam the world of Unova, though. I openly chalk it up to nostalgia, but when I see Pokémon like Psyduck or Rattata show up in the field, I get excited. Not many of the recent Pokémon inspire the same emotion. Tepig (my choice of starter), Purrloin, Drilbur, and Minccino (who rivals Pikachu in cute factor), all have simple designs that are clearly based in the real world, but most lack the elegant simplicity of Pokémon of the past in favor of being bizarre and slightly terrifying.
This latest entry benefits from the long line of previous releases that have iterated on and perfected the original Pokémon games that released in 1998. It’s still incredibly addicting to catch ‘em all, and seeing your Pokémon evolve is one of the most rewarding forms of leveling up in any RPG. So many little things make these games fun that it’s tempting to forgive their stubborn opposition to experimentation, but the lack of innovation is disappointing. I know that is a common complaint about Pokémon these days, but it has been earned through years of Nintendo and Game Freak sticking to the same formula. Black and White Version 2 has a title that is usually reserved for sequels that adds new features and expand the experience, but it doesn't live up to that promise.
Even if it's not quite the full sequel we were hoping for, Pokémon Black and White 2 offers an inviting world, and time flies by as you get absorbed.