Though there are minor additions with each consecutive Pokemon iteration, change isn’t something Nintendo and Game Freak pursue when creating the popular monster-catching games. Pokemon White is one of the latest dual releases in the long-running series, and while this entry doesn’t exactly shake up the basic formula, it offers enough innovation to capture longtime fans all over again, reel in newcomers, and present itself as a legitimate sequel to the series.
Initially, the game throws you a curve ball by throwing you into two battles right from the get-go. Once you get past these obstacles, you engage in a series of events that all feel familiar. You say goodbye to your mom, meet the Pokemon professor, receive a briefing by said professor, and head off into the region of Unova. If you’ve played Pokemon games in the past, these events probably bring back memories. Overall, the setup of the game and even the actual progression greatly resemble previous entries in the series.
One big change, however, is the dark nature of the story, which revolves around Team Plasma, a group of villainous crusaders who are out to take trainers’ Pokemon away in an attempt to liberate them. Or so they say. You constantly encounter Team Plasma, and it is your job to intervene in their plot. Though the group still consists of whiny characters who do a pretty bad job of standing their ground, their reluctance to quit and belief that they are fighting the good fight makes them a lot more sinister than Team Rocket. It’s definitely a better change, and it adds a bit of welcomed complexity to the storyline.
Pokemon White once again requires you to travel from city to city, capture new Pokemon, and battle eight gym leaders. The game flows fairly smoothly and gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and collect gym badges as you see fit. You can talk to civilians and learn about the gym leaders, enter forests to capture Pokemon and complete your Pokedex, and engage in battles with roaming trainers. If you’ve had the pleasure of playing past games in the franchise, you’ll undoubtedly get a sense of nostalgia throughout your travels.
Despite the lingering familiarity of Pokemon White, developer Game Freak was sure to make some interesting new tweaks to both the battle system and the online battle component. Aside from standard one-on-one and two-on-two battles, you can now compete in three-on-three and Rotation battle types. Three-on-three battles play a lot like two-on-two bouts. Rotation, on the other hand, has you switching between three Pokemon and deciding which will take the bulk of the damage and which will attack the opposing team. This mode is especially enjoyable due to the new strategies it allows you to employ, changing the flow of battle considerably.
The C-Gear is another new addition, and its primary function is to make battling against other human opponents much less taxing than in the past. With its features mapped entirely to the touch screen, the C-Gear allows you to battle locally or online, make trades, and participate in mini-games all through intuitive menu navigation. Unfortunately, you’re still forced to deal with annoying Friend Codes if you want to register your buddies, but at least the act of entering a battle is easier than before.
You’re bound to spend upwards of 40 hours working through the main story in Pokemon White. If you’re like me, however, and enjoy exploring every corner of every city, talking to each citizen you meet, and walking around in circles through tall grass to encounter new Pokemon, then expect to spend much more time playing before you reach the conclusion of the game. Even when the story ends, the actual game continues. There are plenty of mini-games and side quests to keep Pokemon fanatics busy for hours, and the addictive nature of seeking out and catching Pokemon is stronger than ever before. This is because throughout the majority of your adventure, you won’t come across Pokemon from past titles. You’ll encounter brand new Pokemon, and it isn’t until much later in the game that you’ll actually be able to capture and transfer classic Pokemon. Personally, I found a few of the design choices for some of the new Pokemon a bit on the ugly side, but for the most part, I was won over by the largely adorable look the developers chose this time around.
Pokemon White is easily the best-looking game in the series along with Pokemon Black. The camera angles in the game pay closer attention to the environments, with zooms putting emphasis on skyscrapers, bridges, paths, and other structures. The angles all look more dynamic this time around, performing tricks that really show off the 3D world. Sadly, the visuals during battle scenes are a mixed bag. Pokemon now animate pretty fluidly, bouncing from side to side and shuffling as they await their next command. Additionally, attacks feature some cool effects such as swirling fire and leaves. Where the battle scenes leave much to be desired, though, is in the design of the Pokemon themselves. While it’s nice to see the characters animate freely, they look much too pixelated and unattractive. Clearer sprites would have been appreciated much more.
A collection of enjoyable songs and sounds round off the overall presentation of the game. The music does a great job of getting you pumped as you progress through your journey. You’ll hear pleasant themes as you traverse cities, forests, and other locales. The music you hear during battles consists of a larger variety of themes and is catchy and fun to listen to. Chimes and beeps are also heard as you make selections in menus, and these are nice and crisp, too.
Ultimately, Pokemon White borrows heavily from the series’ classic foundations. However, thanks to the improved presentation, stronger emphasis on plot, inclusion of brand new Pokemon, and exclusion of older Pokemon at the start, the latest game in the series actually manages to feel quite new. Yes, White is based on older games in the franchise, but for the first time in a long time, a Pokemon game feels like a proper sequel rather than a remake or a rehash. It’s the combination of classic gameplay and the emphasis on new features that make Pokemon White an impressive monster-catching adventure that will keep you entertained for hours and reward you with satisfying offline and online gameplay. If you’re a fan of the series, don’t miss out on what is the best entry in recent years.