Since the release of Pokemon Red and Blue for the Game Boy in 1998, the series hasn’t changed much in its basic formula. As the protagonist, a novice trainer about to embark on his or her journey to catch ’em all, you choose one of three starters (fire, water, or grass types), travel from town to town earning eight gym badges, battle the Elite Four, and take out an evil organization along the way. Despite the similarities from game to game, Nintendo has never released a direct sequel until Black and White Version 2, which retain all of the improvements from their predecessors but don’t do nearly as much to push the series forward.
Having the same starter Pokemon as the previous game is a little disappointing, but since Black and White 2 have even more Pokemon than its predecessors, it won’t be long until you’ve got a diverse roster of six creatures ready to battle. Because the turn-based skirmishes feature the series’ trademark rock-paper-scissors balance of elemental strengths and weaknesses, the Pokemon you choose can put you at a huge advantage or disadvantage. No matter how varied your favorites are, you’ll still find yourself needing to grind from time to time, but this happened a lot less frequently in Black/White 2 than previous games.
The Unova region has changed in the two years since Black/White took place, though you’ll still see plenty of familiar faces and locations. All of the trainer gyms have been redesigned, some with new leaders, and there are a handful of towns that didn’t appear in the previous game. Additionally, you’ll have a chance to capture the black or white version of legendary Pokemon Kyurem, depending on which version of the game you prefer. The events of the previous game are mentioned frequently, and Team Plasma returns for another shot at taking over the Unova region and liberating its Pokemon. The plot itself is largely the same, but at least you’ll be able to pick up plenty of Pokemon along the way, including old favorites like Eevee, Riolu, and Mareep.
When you need a break from wandering from town to town in search of more gym badges, Black/White 2 offer additional activities not found in the first game. The single-elimination Pokemon World Tournament allows you to battle trainers from around Unova and even regions from the previous games, including Brock and Misty from Kanto. Seeing those familiar faces is reason enough to keep coming back for more tournaments, but the thrill of progressing through the brackets and winning prizes is also a pretty good incentive. On the other hand, Pokestar Studios, where you battle Pokemon in front of a green screen, is more of a distraction that slows down the pace of the game.
The Pokemon series has always made it easy to trade and battle with friends and strangers online, and Black and White 2 are no exception. Since the game wasn’t released before I completed this review, I wasn’t able to find any random opponents online to battle, but jumping into the random battle room is as easy as ever. You’ll still need those annoying friend codes to jump directly into a match with a buddy, but thanks to the in-game Pal Pad, sharing your code and registering a friend’s is quick and easy. After completing the main campaign of Black/White 2 you can even trade with trainers from the Diamond, Pearl, HeartGold, and SoulSilver versions, so your Ho-Oh, Dialga, Reshiram, and Kyurem can finally exist side-by-side.
Aesthetically, Black/White 2 are almost exactly the same as their predecessors, right down to many of the same random sprites used repeatedly throughout the game. There are some new trainer and attack animations, as well as minor tweaks to the battle screen, map, and menu, but Black/White 2 treads a lot of familiar ground. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since all games in the series are similar by nature, but feeling like you’ve seen it all before only highlights the repetitiveness of the Pokemon games.
As for what version of the latest iteration you should pick, there are some minor differences in the Pokemon you’ll encounter, but you’ll only really notice the aforementioned black and white versions of Kyurem. Either way, you’ll have hundreds of Pokemon to potentially capture, including some from outside of the Unova region, which was a pleasant change. I was happy to be able to capture a Psyduck within an hour of playing, whereas in Black and White Pokemon from the previous generations took a lot longer to find.
There are times when Pokemon Black and White Version 2 feel a little too familiar, especially when you’re exploring the same towns, roads, and caves from the previous game. Once you assemble a solid team and start earning gym badges, though, you won’t care. The series’ trademark charm and addictive challenges will make you want to keep playing, and you might have trouble putting down your system as you pursue the next opponent, next gym badge, or next legendary Pokemon. In addition to the 20-or-so-hour campaign, there’s plenty of postgame content and extra stuff to do, so you might have this cartridge in your DS or 3DS for a long time. It might just be a holdover until the next generation of Pokemon arrives, but it’s still a good way to pass the time.
Bottom Line: Despite the addition of new towns and trainer gyms, you can’t help but feel like you’re following in your own footsteps if you’ve already played Pokemon Black and White.
Recommendation: If you’ve never understood the obsession, Pokemon Black and White 2 aren’t going to change your mind. But if you’re interested in an addictive, challenging experience, you might just find yourself charmed.[rating=3.5]
This review was based on the DS version of the game.