While Pokémon Black/White Version 2 may look like some sort of clever repackaging of the previous DS titles at a glance, they actually indicate a first for the old franchise: a direct sequel. For the first time in twenty years, players return to the world of Pokémon to pick up the story told in its predecessor, and without a doubt, this is the biggest and best Pokémon experience to date.
Black/White 2 continue the story told in Black/White, though a lot has changed. It has been two years since the "hero who saved Unova" stopped Team Plasma from destroying the bond trainers and Pokémon share, and things across the region have been fairly quiet. Childhood friends from the first title, Cheren and Bianca, are now a gym leader and assistant to Professor Juniper, respectively. Some gym leaders have even passed their position on to others, and new towns and cities are accessible. Taking up the mantle of a fresh adventurer, players are asked to explore the same land they sunk so many hours into with a widely different view.
The Pokémon titles have always used two-dimensional sprite animations, but in recent releases the franchise has seen an increase in more dynamic camera work when adventuring, and the panoramic scenes make Black/White 2 two of the most striking DS releases in recent memory. Seasons return to the Unova region too, covering the land with rain, leaves, snow, or sunshine depending on the time of the year. Beautiful music also makes a triumphant comeback in Black/White 2, and while some tunes may not be as instantly recognizable as Viridian City's theme, it is undoubtedly Pokémon.
Just look at that view.
While Pokémon games have changed mechanically over the years, the battles are the staple that holds them all together. Besides the multitude of trainer types, from preschoolers to Pokéfans, the gyms are some of the most interesting parts of Black/White 2. Gyms often require the player to solve puzzles to reach the leader, rather than using brute strength to brawl past a straight line of trainers as in past games. Several of the gyms have also been redesigned, contributing a better sense of a world revisited after two years passed.
In an age where gamers want the most bang for their buck, it is now commonplace for games to shoehorn in multiplayer functionality or pad the main campaign to add length. While RPGs often boast hundreds of hours of content, there tends to be a severe dropoff in the amount of that content during the endgame. Thankfully, Pokémon serves as an exception, and Black/White 2 remains the shining example.
Players can still battle and trade Pokémon with their friends, but with the release of Black/White 2, there is a whole slew of features to prolong online playtime. Most notable is the revamped Entralink, which gamers can use to engage in activities such as collecting as many berries possible, all while competing with up to one hundred other players.
For those who wish to take a break from the fighting and level grinding, there is the brand new Pokéstar Studios, owned by the appropriately named Stu Deeoh. Here trainers can watch and star in movies such as "Brycen-Man" or "Love and Battles." These films play out similar to battles, where trainers must follow a script to obtain a good ending for the picture. Items can also be earned when a video earns a large amount of money or concludes with a certain kind of ending (good, bad, or twist).
Face off against Lance in the Pokémon Champions Tournament.
In the same vein as the Fight and Survival Areas of the previous generation, Black/White 2 offers up the Pokémon World Tournament, an event where players take on gym leaders across all Pokémon titles, allowing refinement of skills and the chance to see old faces like Brock, Misty, and Blue.
New to Black/White 2 is the Medal Rally, an in-game achievement system that rewards players with medals for accomplishing tasks, be it evolving their Pokémon or searching trash cans for hidden items. These medals are handed out in Pokécenters by the Medal Master, and with over two hundred to collect, there is definitely plenty here to increase a completionist's playtime.
Pokémon has always been a franchise that stands in the upper echelon of game design, and Black/White 2 are by far some of the best, standing alongside the original Red, Blue, and Yellow. Great artwork, a fully realized experience, and music that is both heartwarming and beautiful are just a few of the myriad of reasons to fall in love with this Pocket Monster climax. If anyone falters on picking up this terrific RPG up because of the child-friendly appearance, they are making one of the biggest gaming mistakes of their life.
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: October 7, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 1-4 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Nintendo DS (Reviewed)