Pokemon Black and White: Initial thoughts

Pokemon Black and White are out and will undoubtedly top various sales charts. A common complaint about the game is that throughout all the various different versions since 1996 the game hasn't really changed that much. This is largely true, the 400 games since then have only added to and refined the original ideas. So how does the fifth generation fare? Well here's a list.

1) Not broken but fixed anyway. The last three generations and their various sister and companion games have been very fickle when it comes to features. The love/hate competitions, where you pit your pokemon in dancing and dressing up competitions appeared in ruby/sapphire, disappeared for fire red/leaf green came back in Pearl/Diamond and then vanished from Soul Silver/Heart Gold for example. Other features that were good but were cut were the vs. seeker, the pokewalker, the poke radar and most recently your lead pokemon no longer follows you around. Which is a shame. Not only was it nice to have your chum on screen at all times it was actually useful to know which pokemon you had in the lead position. This feature has sadly gone for no good reason.

2) Flow. The flow of the game has been slightly fixed. Before as you continued on your 'journey' navigating from town to town would be through annoying routes filled with random battles and you'd have to make sure that you had pokemon with certain moves to get from A to B (cut to cut down trees which block paths, surf to go across water etc.). This meant that you'd only ever visit 90% of the world map once, never to return just as soon as you could fast travel from spot to spot. In Black and White there's much more freedom to choose between arduous routes or quicker routes between places and I for one won't be fast traveling so much.

3) It's actually an MMO. Albeit one that is currently broken. Relatively early on you pick up a piece of gear that fills the bottom screen allowing you to connect via IR, Wi-fi or connect to the internet. I've not picked up on any so called video games 'news sites' picking up on the fact that these games are probably the most successful in terms of MMO sales in recent years. Probably because currently (in Europe at least) the whole thing is broken. I'm probably older than most who'll be playing this game but even I'm having a hard time working out how to play online. Reading through the instruction book isn't helpful and this page seems to change from broken to nothing is working until March 30th. The PC-ification of games seems to have spread to the DS, we'll see how well the service is used come April but I imagine many younger players just won't bother by then.

4) The character design. The character design has been one of the most important parts of the pokemon franchise, the design of the little monsters being a kawai spin on the natural world, mythology, art and wider culture. However, this gen is a bit hit and miss. Sure it was ballbreaking to play through every single one of the previous games and fight thousands of geodude and zubat but at least zubat is analogous to microchiropteran bats. By contrast Swoobat seems a bit unnecessary and is the world of birds so small that they're already riffing on pigeons again?

5) Cross generational Compatibility. For me at least this feature is what keeps me playing the games. I'm still playing with the team I originally trained up way back in 2002. As well as ones from other games on the GBA, DS, Gamecube and the DS games. I've no idea how many other players are bothered with this but for me it's a revolutionary and winning feature and it's still in although it does require two DS.

That's the impressions so far. Like I said, some parts are still not working and I've only traversed the first five towns and cities, it's mostly good so far with a few niggles but I imagine it'll still be one of the games we end up playing for well over the two hundred hour mark or so.


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