Pokemon Black and White Versions aren't as good as Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, and I still love them.

If you're already a Pokemon fan, you certainly know what to expect by now. And if you're new to the series, this RPG will give you plenty of bang for your buck -- plus, you'll probably want to grab some of the older Pokemon games to see what you've been missing all these years. Either way, Pokemon Black and White Versions aren't perfect, but they're solid entries in a historic franchise that (finally) seems ready to evolve.

From the first time you step into a patch of grass in the world of Unova, every Pokemon you see is brand new. Not a single veteran species has been carried over, and until you beat it you won't see so much as a stray Pidgey. In fact, the game smartly forbids you from trading over any of your older Pokemon until you've finished a playthrough, forcing you to do some research and become familiar with all the new pocket monsters in the region.

Pokemon Black & White Versions panda

Along with new towns, new characters, and new scenery, Black and White nearly recreate the feeling pf wonder I felt first playing Pokemon Red and Blue. Although the story is pretty much the same as it's always been, all the new Pokemon add an element of freshness that has been noticeably absent in recent Pokemon games.

Black and White also improve the core gameplay in several long overdue ways. Weaker Pokemon get a bigger experience share in battle, for example, eliminating a lot of level grinding. The battles pick up speed as they go on, and feature new animations and active camera angles. Technical Machines, which teach Pokemon new moves, can now be used more than once, making team customisation much more rewarding.

In general, Black and White is just a more diverse experience. Even wireless connectivity has been retooled, as you can now use the new C-Gear to passively locate nearby Pokemon players, as well as link your DS cartridges using infrared signals or wireless Internet. Plus, there are new features like multiplayer missions and live video chat for DSi owners.

Pokemon Black & White Versions gameplay

But despite all of the changes, some of the same issues that have blemished other Pokemon games still haven't been corrected. For one, it's still far too simple to steamroll through the game with a single levelled-up Pokemon. If Black and White used its new triple and rotational battles more often, that wouldn't be a problem -- but you'll encounter less than 10 of those battle types in the main game.

However, my biggest problem lies with the 156 new Pokemon. I know it's shallow of me to say this, but too many of them are just plain unattractive. Sure, every game in the series has Pokemon that look awesome, and some that just look like circus freaks, but of Black and White's Pokemon selection about a third look like nuclear fission experiments gone wrong. Just looking at Sigilyph gives me nightmares and wracking, dry heaves all at once.

Pokemon Black & White Versions world

As great as it is, Pokemon Black and White presents only enough tweaks and upgrades to slightly improve the experience – a consistent problem with the series. Even though the graphics are decent, they still look dated, but the game insists on drawing attention to them with sweeping, panoramic shots of its environments.

Nevertheless, Pokemon Black and White pushes through the necessary growing pains that should yield an even better game down the road. Alongside the main storyline, there's still a deep online community spanning millions of players, plus some significant metagame content to tie up the game's loose ends. It's a smaller world than HeartGold and SoulSilver's Kanto and Johto, but it's a new world that should be explored by any Pokemon fan, young or old.

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Pokemon Black & White Versions: Specs

  • Pokemon Black & White Versions are only available for Nintendo DS.
  • Pokemon Black & White Versions are only available for Nintendo DS.

OUR VERDICT

By turns much improved and frustratingly familiar.

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