Instead of releasing what everyone expected – Pokémon Grey, Nintendo decided to stick to their dual release strategy for the follow-up to the wildly successful Pokémon Black/White Versions. The two versions are very similar, but for one or two exclusive locations and a bunch of exclusive Pokémon, so there’s not much to choose between them. But are they worth playing if you played Pokémon Black/White? That depends just how much you like Pokémon!
Nintendo and GameFreak have not messed with the formula in any way, which is generally a good thing. This sequel just feels like a remix of the previous games, with not a whole lot new on offer, but enough interest to make it worth playing through. It still takes place in the Unova region, has the same areas and cities (although they’re changed here and there and there are different activities to take part in), and doesn’t have many brand new Pokémon but it does include Pokémon from older generations from the beginning and also has a huge Regional Pokédex (around 300 Pokémon) to fill up. The plot of these sequels follows on from Black/White two years later, but you don’t have to have played Black/White to understand what is going on because GameFreak are very careful to explain what happened before in just enough detail so you don’t feel in the dark.
For those who’ve never played a Pokémon I will try to sum up the gameplay in a few sentences: travel the world as a kid, starting with one Pokémon in your team you battle other Pokémon, capture wild Pokémon, level up your team and fight the leaders of Pokémon Gyms around the Unova region. The battle system is simple and accessible and yet incredibly deep, with a huge variety of moves, move types and variables. It looks like a cute kids game and its main mechanic is really collecting things, but it also packs a lot of punch as an interesting RPG in its own right (although not if you’re really interested in story, the story is very basic). The main plot is probably doable in about 20 hours if you gun through the game, but there are side-shows all along the way which are really entertaining, and then there is also this weird need to catch all the wild Pokémon along the way. Pokémon is a game in which you are always making progress – either you’re leveling up your Pokémon, catching new ones or trying to get them to evolve, participating in side-shows like the Pokéstar Studios movies or the fashion show or Pokemon World Championship. Sometimes you also go to those Gyms to get the badge which lets you continue on your quest and complete the game’s story.
One new feature in Black 2/White 2 is a Medal Box, which fills up as you complete goals, from number of steps walked to number of battles fought in to a variety of other activities, giving you a sense of progression and what you could still achieve in the game. The Box is filled by a guy who appears in the Pokémon Centre each time you earn a medal. He also gives you hint medals which indicate what you could earn a real medal for, which is a nice way of pointing you in the direction without giving you a clear indication of exactly what to do.
Another new area is the Join Avenue which builds up as you play the game and especially as you link with people via C-Gear (the Wi-Fi communications your character has) or via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. As people appear in Join Avenue you can ask them to set up shop or to visit one of the shops. The shops sell all sorts of interesting things, such as special items, gifts for your Pokémon or even TMs (new moves for your Pokémon).
There are also a bunch of new ways to connect and share Pokémon, from the Memory Link which connects to Black/White via DS download play, the Unova Link which connects to Black 2/White 2 via infra-red (or Wi-Fi via the Internet), or 3DS Link which receives items or Pokémon collected in the Pokémon Dream Radar which can be bought from the 3DS eShop. The in-game C-Gear apparatus will pick up people nearby who are also playing Pokémon Black 2/White 2 and allow you to start ad-hoc Funfest missions in a place called the Entralink. With each release GameFreak seem to add more and more ways to connect with people, making Pokémon Black 2/White 2 one of the most connectivity-rich games I’ve seen. Nevertheless, I don’t know a lot of people who play Pokémon so I haven’t used many of these features at all. Of course, the online modes still exist, so you can battle people online, or post your team online for people to battle with while you’re offline.
I’ve really enjoyed playing Pokémon White 2. Battles are brisk, especially with animations turned off and text speed turned up, and the encounter rate (how often random battles occur in the tall grass areas) seems to be toned down a bit from Black/White which is welcome. The sprites for all the Pokémon feel fresh and if you do keep animations turned on you will be rewarded with some fun animations. This is probably the last sprite-based Pokémon game since the next game will be on the 3DS and will most likely take advantage of the 3D aspect to differentiate it, so it feels like GameFreak went all out to make it as charming as it could be. Having said that, this is the fourth Pokémon game on the DS (fifth if you count Platinum as separate from Diamond and Pearl), and if you’ve played all the others there isn’t a whole lot new here which might tempt you unless you’re just in the mood for some Pokémon.