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24 April 2011

Pokémon Black/White [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 5/10
An organization called Team Plasma has emerged in the Unova region, and seems to be trying to convince people that it is unethical to capture pokémon and use them to constantly battle other pokémon, and therefore, people should release their pokémon entirely. Some members of Team Plasma have even gone so far as to steal pokémon from trainers in order to ensure their freedom. Clearly, someone has to stop them. And that person might as well be you, right?
I'm giving the plot a 5 out of 10. There are some smaller details that make it slightly interesting, but for the most part, there's only so many times Game Freak can roll out the whole "stop-the-bad-guys-from-stealing-people's-pokémon" schtick before it just gets boring. One would think that they'd try something a bit more original in the 5th generation of games in the franchise.

Game Play: 7/10
The basic controls are the same. Directional pad to move, B button to run (once you acquire the Running Shoes), A button to confirm menu choices, B to cancel them. Same as always. The X button pulls up the menu screen. Normally, this wouldn't be a bad thing, since it usually does, but it's a little bit of a disappointment compared to HeartGold and SoulSilver, which had the menu on the touch screen, readily available. Personally, I wish they'd kept that feature. Another feature that disappeared since HG/SS is the toggle button on the touch screen for the Running Shoes. I, for one, was relieved to see a way to run without needing to constantly hold down the B button, and was summarily disappointed in the feature's removal.
Interacting with other players has gotten significantly easier with the addition of an in-game item galled the C-Gear. This wonderful little item allows you to interact with other players without having to track down the upper level of a Pokécenter. (Controls for the device are constantly displayed on the DS's touch screen).
As players have only just gotten used to the concept of double battles, with each trainer using two pokémon at a time, Black and White have not only introduced areas where the player has to engage in a random encounter double battle against wild pokémon, but they've introduced new triple battles, involving three pokémon per side, as well. I'm sure there will be people who don't agree with me, but personally, I feel that the triple battles are a bit too chaotic. And since three of your pokémon are already in battle, it severely limits your ability to swap in a new one, should one faint.
One change to the franchise that absolutely thrills me involves the Technical Machines, that teach pokémon new moves. They are all reusable, now. Not just the Hidden Machines. All TMs can be used multiple times. They no longer disappear once used.
The Pokécenters and Pokémarts have also undergone a bit of a change. They are now both situated in the same building. No more scrambling from one building to the other, all the time. You simply have to enter one building, go heal your pokémon, then shuffle over to the sales counter and buy what you need. One stop shopping at its finest!
Finally, we come to the last change worth mentioning, form my point of view. Every new generation of Pokémon games has strived to be at least partially self-contained, for people who are new to the franchise. Each game explains what pokémon are, and how they work together with trainers, and blah, blah, blah, resulting in a certain amount of repetition, for us long-term fans of the series. Unfortunately, with Black and White, it seems that Game Freak has just decided to assume that nobody who started playing the games back with Generation 1 could possibly still be playing, and that they'd better just explain everything all over again. Even worse, the games' resident pokémon professor essentially walks the player through learning everything they need to know, holding their hand the whole time, and not trusting the player to figure things out on their own. Again, this must be great for anyone who legitimately is new to the series. But for me, it's just plain irritating and time consuming.
The game play gets a 7 out of 10. There was no middle ground, for me, regarding the changes that were introduced. I either really liked them, or really hated them. And I refuse to give a 10 to any game that occasionally makes me angry. Especially when I know the developers really had the best of intentions in mind when doing whatever makes me angry.

Graphics: 8/10
Graphics are the area where the franchise sees its greatest improvement. Initially, they don't appear too drastically different. However, the three-dimensionality that was introduced in the Generation 4 games has been pushed just a little further. The Unova region includes one city that seems to be somewhat circular in nature. While the player remains somewhat centered in the screen, the cityscape bends and wraps itself accordingly, to give the visual effect of walking in a wide semi-circle around the outer perimeter of the city, as opposed to everything being locked into the same old-fashioned grid map of the original Generation 1 games. Similar visual effects appear often throughout the game. Stylistically, however, the developers did not stray too far from the look that long-time players have come to associate with the franchise.
I'll give the graphics an 8 out of 10. They've taken the same recognizable style, and finally begun to push what they can do with it, now that the technology has improved.

Audio: 6/10
Nothing particular impressive going on with the music, in Black and White. Essentially, it's just another collection of more of the same-sounding loop music that just repeats over and over seamlessly as you play. The overall sound of the music changes with the scenery. I'm sure that there's some sort of difference there, between Generation 5 and Generation 4, but if so, it's subtle enough that I don't know what it is. As far as the particular melodies go, I have to say, they are utterly forgettable. As I sit here, typing up this review, I don't even remember any one specific piece of music from the game. All of the Pokémon franchise's music just blends together for me, at this point. There is no voice acting to be had, and sound effects sound the same as they always do. Thus the audio will get a 6 out of 10. No voice acting means no over acting. The music always portrayed the correct emotions for the scene. But, as I said, the music is utterly forgettable.

Overall Score: 6.5/10
I think Game Freak needs to switch up the dynamic a bit, here. With how little the game play and graphics tend to change, from one generation to the next, they should really try to make the stories more varied. First of all, how many evil organizations bent one world domination can there really be? And do they all have to be "Team" whatever? Team Rocket, Team Magma/ Team Aqua, Team Galactic, and now Team Plasma. Can't it just be so-and-so travels to a new region and simply has fun exploring, and helps people do things along the way? It's a good thing for Game Freak that I feel that I've put far too much time and effort into this franchise, over the years, to just give up on it now. Otherwise, I probably would.