Every new generation of Pokémon games hosts a variety of changes to take advantage of advancing technology. However, Black and White are arriving sooner than expected, releasing for the Nintendo DS as opposed to the much-anticipated 3DS. We already have five main series games for the system: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold and SoulSilver; just how much could Black and White improve upon them? The answer, really, is quite a lot.
These are what I feel to be the five biggest changes that the fifth generation has to offer. You can find the list after the jump.
5. Moving Sprites
In essence, Pokémon games are very similar to each other. You travel across the game’s region catching as many Pokémon as you can and trading with players of the opposite version to complete your Pokédex. Along the way, you battle several trainers, gym leaders, an evil organization bent on world domination, and the Elite 4 to ultimately become a Pokémon Master. GameFreak is constantly updating and developing this formula to continue to appeal to gamers, but the one thing that never seemed to change were the battle sprites. Of course, the graphics and special effects had improved greatly since Red, Blue, and Yellow, and each Pokémon had been given an entry animation, but they were otherwise static and two-dimensional throughout the battle. Several players complained that Pokémon games were behind the times when compared to other DS titles such as the Final Fantasy IV remake and Dragon Quest IX, but this finally ends with Black and White.
While the Pokémon sprites are still two-dimensional, they now move constantly with their own unique animations. For example, Timburr (the new Machop, if you will), throws its plank up into the air and catches it again, and Ferroseed (a dual Grass/Steel type) spins rapidly in place (ironically, it can’t learn the move Rapid Spin). They may not be 3D models like in Pokémon Battle Revolution, but you’ll definitely notice the difference if you decide to play one of the older games afterward.
4. Dream World Abilities
Since the third generation, every Pokémon has had an ability that either aids them in battle or provides some sort of secondary effect, like healing status afflictions upon being switched out. Some Pokémon have two potential abilities from which one is selected at random when encountered or hatched. Black and White add yet another possibility with the new Dream World, an expansion of sorts that you access on your computer. You can add furniture to your Dream Home, grow berries and collect items, then transfer them back to your game. Additionally, you can befriend Pokémon by playing minigames with them. Once befriended, they will be sent to the Entralink Forest in your Black or White version, where you can ultimately catch them. Depending on how well you do in the minigames, the befriended Pokémon will have learned a move it can’t normally learn. It will also possess an ability it usually doesn’t have.
So what’s so special about these Dream World abilities? Picture a Politoed with Drizzle, a Chandelure (a dual Ghost/Fire type chandelier boasting an insane base Special Attack stat of 145) with Shadow Tag, and don’t even get me started on Inconsistent Bidoof! These potentially lethal combinations have competitive battling communities such as Smogon foaming at the mouth trying to decide which abilities should be banned. What’s more is that as long as the mother has a Dream World ability, it has a 50% chance of being passed down through breeding. These are only #4 on the list because they aren’t all that prevalent yet in the competitive arena. To my knowledge, the amount of Pokémon you can befriend in the Dream World per day is limited, there are only two Pokémon with Dream World abilities that can be found in-game (Zen Mode Darmanitan and Telepathy Musharna), and Nintendo is being conservative with its Dream World ability event Pokémon. Unfortunately, some Pokémon lack a Dream World ability; mainly those whose only normal ability is Levitate (since levitation is vital to their character).
Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal saw the addition of a day/night feature; different Pokémon would appear throughout the day as time passed. With it came a new evolution method: happiness evolution based on the time of day, evident with Espeon and Umbreon. The day/night feature was strangely absent from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed, and LeafGreen, but time was still kept, allowing for time-based evolution and the growing of berries. It was brought back and improved upon in Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, and SoulSilver, providing an even better representation of progression from day to night by including morning and mid-afternoon hues and small aesthetic changes like having the lights turned off in buildings during the late evening. More time-based evolution methods were introduced, like leveling up while holding a certain item at night; such was the case with Weavile and Gliscor. The biggest development, however, was the use of the Nintendo DS’ internal clock for keeping time. No longer did the games have to rely on batteries that would eventually run out, which prevented the growing of berries or saving of progress. Black and White improved on the time feature even further by adding seasons to the mix.
Most notably, seasons alter the appearance of the landscape. In spring, the grass is a lush green and flowers will take on a beautiful pink. In the winter, the ground starts to lose its color and snow accumulates in some areas, allowing for access to obscure items. Each in-game season lasts one month in real life (beginning with spring in January) so you can experience three cycles per year, and the progression of the day will change slightly depending on what season it is (for example, it will become nighttime earlier during the winter and later during the summer). Seasons also affect the types of wild Pokémon you’ll find and the occurrence of special in-game events. Additionally, there is one Pokémon (two if you count its evolution) that automatically changes its appearance with the seasons: a dual Normal/Grass-type fawn called Deerling (this change in appearance does not affect its stats or moveset). There is a seasonal institution in one of the routes where a researcher will give you a Leaf Stone if you show him all four forms of Deerling.
Every generation of Pokémon games basically puts you on the same quest: fill up your Pokédex, collect gym badges in select cities and towns throughout the region, ruin the evil organization’s plot, and finally defeat the Elite 4. If you’re like me, you’re left wondering how becoming a Pokémon Master is “bigger” than saving the world. Without spoiling too much, Black and White breaks this mold and throws you for a huge loop. Team Plasma, which seeks to liberate Pokémon from their trainers, is perhaps more involved in the story than the criminals in any previous handheld Pokémon game. And if you’re confused as to why the white Legendary Pokémon represents the Black version and vice versa, don’t worry; that question will be answered as well.
Another common complaint of the series is that there isn’t enough to do after beating the main game. The number of things you could do postgame has steadily increased with the introduction of the Battle Frontier in Hoenn and Battle Zone in Sinnoh. But in Black and White, you’ll gain access to literally half the region once you complete the main story, several previously inaccessible areas will open up, and more Pokémon will become available for you to catch. You’ll gain the ability to transfer Pokémon over from your fourth-generation games and even get to see a couple familiar faces. Oh yeah, I hope you like challenges, because the trainers’ Pokémon jump up about 20 levels. And after all that, you still have to become the Pokémon League Champion (hint hint).
So…are you satisfied now?
It all finally boils down to this: my personal opinion of the greatest change Black and White has to offer. You may be asking, “How is the setting so important in a Pokémon game?” and I will tell you why. First of all, the game’s region, Unova (pronounced “you-nuh-vuh”) is not based on a Japanese nation this time, but instead on New York City. If you’ve learned anything from history class, you’ll know that America is a melting pot of different cultures; you’ll see evidence of this in Unova after beating the main game. It is speculated that Unova stands for the United States “ov” America. The region’s Japanese name, Isshu, also originates from the word isshurui, or “one variety” to describe the blending of cultures into a single, indivisible entity.
Secondly, some of the Pokémon’s designs are based on American culture. Three notable examples are Vanillite, an Ice-type ice cream cone Pokémon; Trubbish, a Poison-type garbage bag Pokémon; and Braviary, a dual Normal/Flying-type eagle Pokémon; because Americans like ice cream and garbage and eagles. YAY, EAGLES!
Thirdly, Unova is home to several different types of locales, ranging from small towns to a GINORMOUS metropolis city. It contains forests, caves, a desert, towers, castles, sports domes, and even an amusement park (don’t worry; your department store is there as well, but in a route instead of a city). The main thing to know about Unova, though, is that it’s the most technologically-advanced region in Pokémon history, boasting the longest bridge in Pokémon history, where cars race down a highway underneath you; unfortunately, you don’t get to drive one. Instead, you get neat gadgets like the C-Gear, which handles your wireless, infrared, and Wi-Fi connections, and the Xtransceiver, which allows you to see your friends through the DSi or DSi XL’s camera while you talk to them. Did I mention that you are also capable of seeing your Pokémon’s dreams? Next thing you know, we’ll be having Pokémon battles on motorcycles.
Fourthly, unlike past Pokémon games, a couple of areas actually differ in appearance depending on which version you have, taking version differences to a whole new level. A prime example of this is Opelucid City, which is futuristic in Black and pastoral in White. And after the main game, you can access Black City in Black, a large city where you can battle several powerful trainers, or White Forest in White, an expansive forest that many foreign species of wild Pokémon call home. The cool part is that Black City’s trainers’ Pokémon are the fully-evolved forms of the wild Pokémon you will find in White Forest. Using Entralink, you can cause more trainers to appear in Black City or wild Pokémon to appear in White Forest depending on which Pokémon appeared in the other player’s version. For example, a Black version player may find a trainer with a Pidgeot in Black City after linking with a White version player who’s White Forest contained Pidgey.
Finally, Black and White take full advantage of the DS’ 3D capabilities. If you followed the Japanese news release, one of the first aspects they showed off was the camera in Castelia City. In the hemispherical main area, the camera follows your character from the side, rather than overhead, as you walk from one end of the city to the other. If you move toward the outer edge of the city, the camera will pan out, allowing you to see the magnificent height and vast quantity of the buildings. After beating the main game, you can board the city’s cruise ship, the Royal Unova. From its deck, you can watch in full 3D as it sails up to the Marvelous Bridge and back, allowing you to see Unova’s southern coast from a whole new perspective. Black and White are also the most cutscene-intensive games of the series by far; make sure to prepare yourself for an epic climax!
Though the Nintendo DS is fading out of the spotlight as the release date for the 3DS creeps ever so closely, Pokémon Black and White allow it go out with a bang! If you still aren’t hyped for the latest iteration in this popular franchise, just know that Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a perfect score of 40/40 (four individual reviewers gave it a 10/10). In comparison, Diamond and Pearl only had a 35/40, Platinum a 36/40, and HeartGold and SoulSilver, remakes of what most fans consider the best Pokémon games of all time, received a 37/40. This proves that GameFreak still has several tricks up their sleeves; too many to detail in a single article. Black and White will make you scream “Oh, Conkeldurr!” in excitement as they sadistically charm you into catching ‘em all over again while simultaneously causing untold amounts of lost sleep and a drop in school grades everywhere. When games can do that, you know they’re good!