DS review: Pokémon Black 2 and White 2

Two years after Team Plasma was defeated and N disappeared, a new trainer sets out on his/her journey across the Unova region. Much has changed during the two year gap, as many Pokémon not native to Unova can now be found in the wild. While many of the same areas are still part of the overworld map, each includes new buildings and areas to explore, from the sewers below Castelia City to the Pokémon World Tournament in Driftveil City. A few new towns have sprung up, and are host to a couple of new gyms. At its core, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 remain largely the same as their predecessors, but throw a few new elements into the mix that make for an experience that is overall smoother and more streamlined.

Bianca, rival and friend of the protagonist in Black/White, is now an assistant to Professor Juniper, and provides you with your starter Pokémon - Oshawott, Tepig, or Snivy. From there, the game makes the tutorial process largely optional for those already familiar with the generation five games. You can explore the immediate area around your hometown, catch a few Pokémon from past generations to round out your team, and then proceed to take on Cheren in the first gym. While the first couple of hours do run through preparatory measures, it's less that the game is hand-holding and more that it is covering all the bases for new content that has been added to these direct sequel titles.

With regards to the additional Pokémon, Game Freak and Nintendo have carefully chosen Pokémon that will further enhance the challenge while simultaneously maintaining balance. Because many of the Pokémon from generations four and prior are single-element types, battles take on a whole new dynamic from what was programmed into Black/White. The teams used by the different gym leaders are comprised primarily of generation five types, but each has at least one Pokémon from a previous generation. The gyms are more interesting, thanks to new layouts, and progressively gain more and more challengers that you must take on prior to facing the respective gym leaders. Though the challenge factor is still somewhat dependent on your choice of starter Pokémon and other team members, the gym leaders serve up better fights than in Black/White.

The Elite Four remains entirely unchanged, which is just as well, considering they are arguably one of the best incarnations of the series' signature final boss gauntlet run. The league champion battle is challenging, but is also plain fun, a welcome departure from overly tense encounters like the battle against Lance in Heart Gold/Soul Silver. Team Plasma still relies on relatively weak Pokémon to carry out their plans, but they have a greater variety at their disposal, making encounters with grunts marginally more interesting. Double battles, triple battles, and rotation battles are far more frequent than in the previous entries, and are not version-specific. A few areas require use of HMs like surf and strength, though these are only at a few key junctures and do little to interrupt the process of traveling from one locale to the next.

While Team Plasma makes a few brief encounters early on, their true plans for Unova are not revealed until after the midway point of the game. Though the protagonist does not come face to face with N until very late in the game, his presence is felt throughout as the people of Unova recall the day that Team Plasma called upon the legendary dragon Pokémon (Reshiram or Zekrom, depending on which version you are playing) as well as the hero that foiled Ghetsis' plans (the protagonist from Black/White). Though your new rival and childhood friend was never present in Black/White, his life was impacted by Team Plasma two years prior when they stole his younger sister’s Purrloin. While Black 2/White 2 break some traditional storytelling methods found in many direct sequels by putting you in control of a brand new character, the games feel very much the part of true sequels to Black/White.

There is plenty to do outside of the main game. While the light and fluffy entertainment found through dressing up your Pokémon and watching them perform in a musical has been retained and even further developed into a similar time-waster of filming movies, fans of the Battle Subway will be glad to know that too is accessible in Nimbasa City. Expanding further upon this idea is the Pokémon World Tournament, where trainers can compete in a bracket tournament against fellow trainers, gym leaders, and league champions from every region from the five generations of handheld Pokémon games. With only three Pokémon allowed at a time, planning a strategy is key, though completing the various tournaments unlocks new methods of approaching challengers – for example, a tournament against only the water-type gym leaders or only ghost-type gym leaders.

The legendary Pokémon Cobalion, Virizon, and Terrakion will challenge you directly over the course of the main game, while Zekrom/Reshiram and Kyurem are reserved for later on. Past the main game, you can also catch a shiny Haxorus and be rewarded with a shiny Dratini or Gible, depending on which version you are playing. Legendaries from the Hoenn and Sinnoh regions also make appearances, and both the reworked Black City and White Forest add to the adventure for completionists.

Nintendo and Game Freak have stuck to a strong plan with Black 2 and White 2 – if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. That said, there is plenty of new content to merit full-blown sequels for the generation five games, and streamlining the process of catching Pokémon and progressing the story nixes any real need for grinding. Nearly all of the Pokémon from Black/White had practical uses, and the inclusion of Pokémon from past generations makes strategizing all the more interesting.

My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)

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