Saturday, July 2, 2011

Video Game Review: Pokémon Black/White Version

The Pokémon franchise has gotten a bit of a bad reputation for its lack of innovation. I'd explain why, but if you're reading this you probably already know why, and besides this VGCats guest strip makes the point much better than I ever could.

Clearly, Nintendo and GameFreak heard all the complaints, which is why when they were working on Pokémon Black/White they made a point of letting everyone know that this game was finally going to give us that "something new" everyone had been asking for.

So, did they succeed? By way of answering that, allow me to present to you the top 3 problems with Pokémon Black/White version:

3. The new pokémon.
One of the big hype points for Black/White was that it would have all new pokémon. That is to say, the old pokémon will have to either be transferred over from old versions or caught in specific special areas. No more caverns full of zubats, no more caterpies hiding in every patch of grass. Unfortunately, Nintendo and GameFreak handily showed us that they were not capable of coming up with 150 more pokémon.

You can go through the list and point out where most of the new 'mons are obviously just old ones with new designs. Pidove is the same as Pidgey, Timburr and its evolutions are the same as Machop and its evolutions, and while it's true that we no longer have the caves full of Zubats and Geodudes all the other games had, that's only because they're now full of Woobats and Roggenrolas.

Speaking of, Roggenrola actually shows a fair amount of potential for uniqueness. It could be a rock type with a propensity for sound-based moves like the newly introduced Echoed Voice. Maybe its evolution could be called Roggstar. That'd be cool. Instead, they abandon the rock-and-roll pun after its first evolution when it becomes Boldore and proceeds to completely rip off the Geodude line. In fact, the only thing really differentiating the Roggenrola line from the Geodude line (aside from its appearance) is that Geodude has a larger move list. The two lines even evolve the same way. (Once at level 25, again when traded.)

The Roggenrola line doesn't even seem to know what it wants to be itself. Gigalith's (the final form) pokédex entry makes a big deal out of how it absorbs sunlight to fire powerful energy beams. That makes it sound like the pokémon's signature attack would be Solar Beam (which is a grass type move anyway, so why?) which is weird because Gigalith does not learn Solar Beam. It can learn it as a TM, sure, but so can almost every grass, fire, bug, and normal type in the series. They had here not one but two different possibilities to make this pokémon unique and they squandered both of them.

2. The philosophy.
When he was reviewing the movie I Am Sam, Roger Ebert said, "you can't have heroes and villains when the wrong side is making the best sense." That line sums up this game's big philosophical debate pretty handily.

The main villains of this game are Team Plasma, a group who believes that kidnapping sentient creatures, locking them in tiny balls, and only letting them out so they can participate in glorified cockfights might not be very nice. I know, shocking, right? Their point is obvious and hard to argue against, so naturally they never seem to be capable of making it in any real way. When asked to defend themselves, rather than point out the obvious, they usually change the subject and talk about their evil plans instead.

To be fair to Plasma, no one seems to be able to mount a decent argument in either direction. When asked to defend their own worldviews, the trainers' main argument is to whine "but we like training pokémon," in much the same way that a 19th century plantation owner might have said "but I like owning slaves." It's not only ludicrous but starts to get sad toward the end when you realize it's not the NPCs saying it but Nintendo and GameFreak desperately trying (and failing) to convince us that pokémon training isn't completely cruel

Here's the thing, though. These questions aren't that important. When I played HeartGold I understood the moral implications, but they never hindered my ability to enjoy the game. The difference here is that they brought it up. I can only assume they quickly realized they didn't have an answer to the argument, so they tried to avoid it. That begs the question, though, if you couldn't argue against it, then why bring it up?

1. Just, generally, everything.
I really hate to say this game is bad because it's obvious that they did try to give us some actual innovation in this game. Unfortunately, most of it's wasted on superficial things like camera angles and sprites that wiggle around in battle.

As for the new pokémon we were promised, let me go on record as saying that a few of them really are cool, like Pawniard, Hydreigon, and the water type starter. Sadly, most of them are either lame rehashings of older 'mons, or else just totally uninspired.

So as much as it pains me to give this game this rating, I'm afraid it's the only one I can honestly give.

KR Rating: BAD
If you want to play a Pokémon game, play HeartGold/SoulSilver instead. It's easily the best game in the franchise. As for Black/White, there's no reason to even bother.