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Pokemon Black 2 review: a slight tint

by Steve Watts, Oct 08, 2012 1:30pm PDT

Pokemon games tend to thrive on minor iteration. Through its long history, each game has added just a handful of new features. Even as an adult, I've been excited to try out each new game. I've been eager to pick my starter Pokemon and begin exploring, catching new monsters, and engaging in battles. I say all this to point out the sad truth: Black 2 is the first time I've felt so utterly fatigued with Pokemon.

As usual, you're a young boy or girl in a small town, conscripted to pick a friendly monster and go exploring for new species. Along the way, you meet rivals, friends, trainers, and a villainous gang. The plot has never deviated from these facets, and I've never bat an eyelash at it. The paper-thin story serves as simplistic comfort food, to stay out of the way of catching "em" all.

The Pokestar Studios movie mini-game

But almost immediately upon starting Pokemon Black 2, I started to notice a distinct sense of deja vu. My choice of starter Pokemon, a highlight of every Pokemon game, was precisely the same. Most of the monsters in my early hours were familiar from the early hours of the prior game. And while many of the minor innovations that made the first Black and White games stand out were still in place, it seemed the developers were content to stop there. As a veteran of Pokemon White, I spent several hours feeling like I was simply replaying the same game over again. It was more a remix than a sequel.

To be fair, the game does make a few smart tweaks. Item management and the Quick Select option have been improved for better usability. It gives an Exp. Share item much earlier, allowing for easier training of multiple Pokemon at once. And the Pokestar Studios, a mini-game that has you acting out parts of a movie script by using specific moves at the right times, is genuinely cute and charming.

This is also the first time the Pokemon series has experimented with a persistent story. Most of the games take place on entirely different continents, but Pokemon Black 2 takes place on Unova, roughly two years after the events of the first game. It was a change of pace to hear characters reference past events, even if I wasn't dying to know what happened on this continent.

Despite these very minor changes, though, the series has gotten stuck in a rut. In fact, the changes are so small, it may have accented how little has changed. The series has existed for years, bolting on parts without touching its core mechanics, and so Pokemon Black 2 feels top-heavy. It's the inevitable result of constantly building new structures on a foundation that was never meant to support this much weight.

The first White and Black were the best of the series so far. Black 2 is essentially the same game with a handful of new features. This should mean that Black 2 is a better entry, but I just felt exhausted. Maybe as a series veteran I've become prone to franchise fatigue; the series has already lived this long by constantly introducing itself to new generations. Every Pokemon is someone's first -- but if you've played any of them before, especially Black or White, this version can be safely passed over.


[The Pokemon Black Version 2 review is based on a retail box copy of the Nintendo DS game, provided by the publisher, Nintendo.]





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