We won’t get caught again
When Pokémon Red/Blue hit North American shores 14 years ago, I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined the phenomenon it would become and continues to be to this day, as the franchise keeps churning out hit games (that, in turn, also lead to truckloads of other merchandise and media). In all that time, though, Pokémon‘s never seen a true sequel. Most of the time, we simply see the same game rehashed over and over again but with new opponents, new areas, or the most popular choice of new Pokémon, which has bloated the Pokédex to more than four times the size of that seen in Red/Blue. Finally, though, we get a direct sequel, and it’s a follow-up to one of the more beloved Pokémon games in recent history in Pokémon Black/White 2.
The game starts like every other Pokémon outing: You choose between a male or female trainer and then set off into the world to become the greatest trainer ever by collecting eight gym badges—and hopefully conclude your adventure by challenging the Elite Four and the Champion to become Champion yourself. Along the way, you’ll also try to bring justice to Pokémon and people in need and promote positive relations between Pokémon and humans by completing sidequests. Much of this revolves around crushing the resurgent Team Plasma, who wish to steal all the Pokémon for their own nefarious purposes.
But as you start to get deeper and deeper into the game, you’ll get a feeling of déjà vu; many of the areas and trainers you’ll meet are exactly the same from the first game—and this is Pokémon Black/White 2’s major flaw. Minor aesthetic changes can’t hide the fact that this game is a soulless carbon copy of its predecessor unlike any other Pokémon release before it.
Now, I understand that Pokémon has used this formula for years, but when you make a sequel and set a game in the exact same universe as the previous title, the story needs a little extra “oomph,” and players need to see more differences from the original game. The first Pokémon Black/White was so adored because it mixed things up for the first time in a long time while still sticking to the core gameplay values. These same values remain in Pokémon Black/White 2, but the story here makes it feel like you’re playing the exact same game most of the time but with a couple of meaningless new side areas like Pokéstar Studios.
The gameplay does at least shine through here, though—it’s still as tight as ever, and there are still few greater feelings in RPGs than capturing a wild Pokémon (especially a legendary one) or overcoming a difficult foe by knowing what types work well against your opponent and actually outplaying them. And some minor gameplay additions do augment the action in positive ways—like the new Challenge and Assist modes that allow you to raise or lower the level of your foes on a second playthrough. Still, all this doesn’t hide the fact that the game just feels like a sad attempt to doll up an experience that seems more like Pokémon Black/White 1.5 instead of Pokémon Black/White 2.
In the end, Pokemon Black/White 2 handles just as tightly as any other game in the franchise’s history, and it’s still fun to play; it would also serve as a great jumping-on point for any newcomers. But for veteran Pokémon players—or even fans of the first Pokémon Black/White—you’ll most likely end up disappointed.
SUMMARY: The story takes a step backward, and the new game modes aren’t that impressive. Mostly, it’s just the same ol’ Jigglypuff song and dance from Pokemon Black/White 2.
- THE GOOD: A few interesting new locations and game modes.
- THE BAD: The story takes a step backward and does little to differentiate itself from the previous game.
- THE UGLY: The fact that the Pokédex is at almost 650 Pokemon now…
Pokemon Black/White 2 are Nintendo DS exclusives. Primary version played for review was Pokemon White 2.