Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Pokemon Black and White.

Now that I've been deprived of my DS for more than a month, it's probably about time that I posted a piece I've been working on ever since school started: A thorough critique of Pokemon Black/White. I did not post it at first due to not experiencing everything I wanted to in Black, but I may as well post it since a new friend of mine so kindly asked about the games.

Here goes.

Zekrom and Reshiram appear by *Cachomon on deviantART

Pokemon Black/White: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

This past March, Pokemon Black and Pokemon White hit game stores around the world. Many were salivating for one reason or another: Improved graphics, unbreakable TMs, whatever new Pokemon have you, Dream World, or even the new evil bishounen, N. As more and more information leaked from the Japanese games, they began to sound better and better. 
But were they really worth the hype? We (i.e. a few friends and I) played them ourselves to find out!
The Good: 

Improved Graphics: The graphics are pretty good for a Pokemon game. We were probably expecting more (watch, Pokemon Gray/Sepia will improve it by MILES), but, for now, the visual style has improved. B/W really is trying to work in the third dimension. Whether it succeeds or not is up to you.

Along with this, the Pokemon are now more animated. Instead of just moving when released from their balls, the Pokemon move all the time in these two new games. It took you long enough, Nintendo, but at least you did it. 

Better Story: Team Plasma is not out to take over the world from the get-go. Instead, they resemble PETA - without saying too much, they believe that Pokemon should be free instead of trapped in little balls and forced to fight. This is far more sympathetic than the usual “world domination” gimmick and answers some objections that people have had to the franchise. 

But that fashion sense is soooo 1500's.

The need to see two sides of the story gives people a reason to get both games. Subtle differences in areas  and Pokemon help further the effect. These games really are two sides of the same coin!

Better Characters: It is obvious that some work went into the characters this time around. If I had to guess, a lot more work went into the characters, graphics, and story than any other areas. The rivals are not generic douchebags; one is a trainer searching for the true meaning of strength, the other is Luna Lovegood as a Pokemon character. N is the tool of an evil mastermind, not an evil mastermind himself.  I am also particularly fond of (!non-loli) Caitlin and Shauntal, but more on that later. 

The Two New Fossils: An Archaeopteryx and an Archelon? Many of the other designs easily fall under “the ugly,” but these two really deserve praise. Bless you, Nintendo, even if you are stealing from Fossil Fighters. (The less said about the third fossil, the better.) There are a few other cool designs (I really like Reshiram, too!), but these two struck me as being especially praiseworthy. It’s always cool to see fossil beasties besides standard dinosaurs, and the more people that know about prehistoric wildlife, the better. Also, the Archelon is an easy way to get Shell Smash, one of the best stat-boosting moves in the game, into your Water-type breeding projects. :)

Serperior: Just...Serperior. It is stunning that Nintendo made a snake Pokemon that not only looks good, but plays well, levels at a decent rate (unlike Seviper) and gives Grass a new option. Argue all you like that it’s a rather gimmicky Grass-Type (which will come up again later); snakes needed a boost, and Serperior was that classy, insane boost. It is easily my favorite Pokemon ever after cleaning out a whole Gym full of dragons. Good work, Nintendo. 

Even the bad CGI cannot stop Serperior from looking like it means business.

A Few of the Dub Names: Nintendo's favor towards dragons aside, the “ein,” “zwei,” “drei,” in the new psuedo-Legendary line's name is kinda cool. After a while, Snivy also grew on me (for being an accurate translation). 

New Abilities: Sturdy got a new modification: if an attack would OHKO a Pokemon with Sturdy, it retains 1 HP. Moxie is also pretty cool (kill something and get an attack boost). Contrary is broken. Overall, the new abilities and the modifications to old abilites are cool. 

EVIOLITE: This boosts both defenses of a  NFE (not fully evolved) Pokemon. It makes Chansey and Dusclops fierce foes, even in OU. Dragonair finally has a reason to be besides evolving into Dragonite! (Think about this: A Dragon-type with raised defenses and a chance of healing every turn? Mmm. ) Give not fully evolved Pokemon a leg up? Yes please! 

Wi-Fi options: Probably THE BEST THING about these new games is that, to trade or battle, you do not have to switch out your current team. You can pull them onto the internet straight from your PC Boxes! No more awkward team mistakes!  

The Random Battle feature is also sweeeet.  Although you can only use three Pokemon (as in the Battle Tower or Subway) it is JUST AWESOME to be able to battle someone in Japan or Italy that you have never met before. You don’t know what to expect. Neither do they. 

Seasons: The Pokemon you can find vary with the seasons. Pokemon is getting more and more realistic. Honestly, this is a really cool idea. MAJOR props for keeping time and day/night as well. 

Non-Linear Elite 4: There is no “order” to the Elite 4 in Black/White. You can pick who to fight first, second, etc. This leaves you with some options: Level up your team on easier members first, OR take the hard ones first and save the easy ones for when your Pokemon are exhausted. Eat dessert first or save it for after dinner. Your choice. 

Unbreakable TMs: Yes, you can now use TMs over and over and over. For those of us that want a lot of things with Earthquake and Stone Edge, this is a proper blessing. For those of you who liked earning Game Corner TMs (which will likely still be hard to get for anyone not in Japan), sucks to be you; the benefits of reusable TMs outweigh the bad points. Earn a TM once and have the right to use it forever. Sweet. 

The New EXP System: Long story short, weaker Pokemon gain more EXP from fighting stronger opponents, and stronger Pokemon gain less EXP from fighting weaker opponents. This makes a lot of logical sense, even if the result IS crazy EXP gain. It almost compensates for the obscenely high evolution levels of some Pokemon. Almost. 

Cynthia: Sorry, I’m a fangirl. Seriously, though? Her team makes more sense now that Togekiss has been replaced by a badass eagle. Plus, she helps get your team to Lv100 - never a bad thing! 

Dream World: Dream World takes patience, but is otherwise pretty cool. Old Pokemon, new abilities, and more entries for your Dex. There is no way that introducing Sunny Day teams into lower tiers than Uber could possibly be a bad thing.

The Bad: 

No Partner Pokemon: For all of you who enjoyed this feature in HG/SS, it’s gone now. Pokemon can no longer walk alongside you. It’s a shame; keeping partner Pokemon would have served the game’s plot well. 

Trainers Are Not Animated: Even though the Pokemon are. 

No Berries: Except in Dream World, one cannot plant Berries. Even R/S kept Berries after they had been introduced. Isn’t removing agriculture sorta sending players back into the Stone Age? At least they cannot remove Fire-Type Pokemon or the wheel (or Flame Wheel, for that matter). 

PokeShifter: In order to transfer Pokemon to B/W, you need three things: One, a B/W game; two, a Gen IV game; three, another DS to communicate with. After that, Pokeshifter makes you ‘shoot’ transferred Pokemon with Poke Balls in a certain time frame. This is harder than it sounds. Hunting them in Pal Park was bad enough. Now we have a time limit and hand-eye coordination to deal with. We also cannot send any of our items over from the old games. Nice, Nintendo. Nice. 

Obscenely High Evolution Levels: So, I like the Mienshao’s design (even if it DOES look a lot like a Digimon). The bitch of the matter is that the base form, a creature not unlike the “Badger Badger” badgers, has to be raised to Level 50 to evolve. That is a long time, although some would say that its stats justify the effort. 

This is not the only instance of needing an extremely high level to evolve. There is a larval form of a giant, fiery moth that needs to be raised to Level 60 to really get anywhere. The Pseudo-Legendary this Gen does not reach its full potential until it gets in its 60’s, either. This is not cool, Nintendo. Even with the new EXP mechanism, not cool. 

Some of the Designs: Honestly...they wasted three slots on a snow cone Pokemon designed by an American. Ice was not that desperate a type. The gear monsters are uninteresting in every single way. Also, that Garbage Pokemon is just that: Garbage. At least that last one carries Black Sludge. 

No New Eeveelution...or Support For Previous Generations: Luvdisc could use something to do with itself, like evolving into that heart sunfish. There’s a transfer system, but as the PokeShifter point says, it sucks. This game does not even want you to transfer items over. Granted, there is a reason for this (some items, such as Soul Dew, were supposedly deleted), but it still bites. 

Pokemon Musicals: Musicals with humans are already adequate laughing stocks (see High School Musical for details). What made you think that it would work any better with Pokemon? It would, however, be awesome to see a Serperior playing Elphaba in Wicked.

THOSE GODDAMN MONKEYS: At first, I thought the three elemental monkeys, Pansear, Panpour, and Pansage, were going to be like Eevee - that is, extremely rare in-game, so raise yours well. Nope. They can be found in the wild, have a male-favoring sex ratio, and everyone and their mother has one, if not all three, in-game. They would be tolerable if they were rarer; when, oh, hey, another trainer has a mutant Aipom or three, they get annoying fast.

Sure, they look cute now, but then you fight them over...and over...and over....

DRUDDIGON: There is one Pokemon that embodies EVERYTHING WRONG WITH THESE GAMES: Druddigon! It’s a dragon, it sucks (high ATK, but slow), and it looks like something drawn by a six-year-old. It feels like somebody at Game Freak said, “hey, Sugimori? We need another dragon Pokemon for the Opelucid City Gym!” so Sugimori asked his son to design a dragon on the spot. 

The English name bites double; it not only sounds bad, but the Japanese name did not even reference this Pokemon’s status as a dragon. If you were going to do that, Nintendo, there would have been a million classier ways to do it.

Think the idea of a dragon-gargoyle is cool? Think again.
(Druddigon/Crimgan: Clearly a product of Pokemon INbreeding.) 

Ash Still Exists: Because if you’re going to start the anime series for your brand-shiny-new games in a new region with all-new Pokemon, you just have to bring the oldest character in the series and his Pikachu along for the ride. People in Isshu are stunned by Ash's Pikachu. Probably could have saved the animators some work by just designing all-new characters. 

The Ugly: 

Zorua and Zoroark: Oh, wow...where do I begin? These were only two Pokemon we knew about for a LONG time, and they’re both event Pokes that require another DS and a super-special Legendary to encounter. (These Legendaries ONLY being available at GameStop at first just added insult to injury.) The new foxes got the Movie treatment just like Lucario did, complete with full support from the furries. 
While Zoroark is a very fun Pokemon, it (in the case of the event, she) is also undeniably furry bait. They are also undeniably useful in-game (but slightly less useful in PVP). The people who have those Shiny Beasts are going to be rich just from breeding Zorua for the deprived furries. This was not a good use of two Pokemon. Zoroark, I love you, but I really wish Nintendo had not handled you the way that they did.

We Were Expecting Better: The graphics in B/W are only slightly better than in Generation IV. They do new things, but in general, the quality is only slightly improved. The main silver linings are the animated Sugimori drawings, which have never been done before in a Pokemon game and thus have no precedent to worry about. It’s more like teaching an old dog new tricks than an actual improvement. 

Nintendo Has Become A Copyright Stickler: Back in September, Nintendo wanted PokeBeach and Serebii to remove all of their official images. This was probably because the sites were using sponsored links, thus making money off of Nintendo’s work. 

While this is understandable, really, Nintendo? Are you sure that you want to target privately-owned news sites as opposed to bootleg merchandise made in sweatshops and colored using child labor and lead paint? Those are probably stealing more of your money, and they’re killing people. Priorities. 

Many of the Designs: Without being outright horrible-looking, many of the designs fall into the nowhere-mire of “this could have been cool, but...” Much of it resulted from working backwards - case in point, the three djinn monsters (we wanted a pure Flying-type, so we got one). Some of them are also clear Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s references, which is also kind of sad. (Reshiram, for example, has very similar wings to Stardust Dragon...if a bit more plausible. The Nazca line Pokemon speaks volumes.) 

What is REALLY ugly, though, is the rift that Nintendo has created between those of us that loved Gen I and II and the new players, who may not experience the same dislike of the new Pokemon. I have never seen so many people both in favor of and against the new designs. Maybe it’s the usual “Old VS New” rift, but it feels more intense than that. I am honestly split this Gen. There were some designs I loved and some that I HATED, so I can see where both sides are coming from. 

Power Creep: Making this gap even uglier is the sheer power of the new Pokemon. There are Pokemon with better stats than ever before without half the effort. B/W Pokemon make all of the older Pokemon we know and love worthless. Sure, our old friends can do new things, but numbers talk; the new Pokemon completely outclass Pokemon from even one Generation before. 

Dragonhumping:  Dialga, Giratina and Palkia were the last cover trinity, and they were all dragons. They were also poorly-drawn, barely looking like dragons...or much of anything, really. Reshiram and Zekrom look considerably better, but some of the other dragons this Gen look like they were drawn by 6-year-olds.  I do not care HOW much you like dragons. That cave dragon (Druddigon, Crimgan, whatever) and Kyurem have no excuses for how horribly they were drawn, but people will want them just because “OMG DRAGONS!” (On a cultural note, it is also very weird for a dragon to be considered “yin” in a yin-yang pairing.)

Gimmicks: Yes, the Dream World Serperior is powerful, but its only real strategy is to spam Leaf Storm. Nobody is going to use Triple Battles ever, even if you give us cool new moves to use with them. There are a lot of things in this generation designed to work exactly one way, which will suck until Nintendo brings out some new move tutors. 

Isshu/Unova: It’s set in New York. Seriously, what? Sure, it led to a bunch of North American animals getting the spotlight for once, but there was not much need to stray outside of Japan (let alone to a wildlife-deprived part of the United States). There are still a few Japanese aspects left in, like shrines and dream-eating tapirs. Were you trying to please Lady Gaga, Nintendo? 

Then again, I'd like to please Lady Gaga, too.

The New Dub Names: For the first time ever, Nintendo has changed the name of the new region from “Isshu” to “Unova.” Presumably, this is a portmanteau of “United States” and “nova (Latin for ‘new’)”, but that does not make it suck any less. “Pansear” and the names of the other monkeys will be lost on most people. At least “Snivy” is a fairly accurate translation of the Japanese name. “Servine” is a blasphemy to the English language; it sounds waaaayyy too much like "cervine," which means "deerlike." Some of them have grown on me, but others have not. 

Too Many Things in Threes: Three is a magic number. This Generation sports three Legendary Trinities total, three mutated Aipoms, and two different styles of three-on-three battling. No matter how magical the number three is, I am quite sure it knows when it is being unnecessarily whored. Have I mentioned the monkeys? Yes? Okay. 

This Is How It Is Going To Be: Nintendo seems to have disowned the previous four Generations. They are not allowing any Pokemon from any region except Unova in the 2011 Championships. Expect very little support for all the Pokes you know and love. They better make a new Eeveelution or two in Gen VI. 

Does it need another evolution? Not really, but it shows you care, NIntendo.

Ruby and Sapphire Remakes?!: The new games have a lot in common with Gen III. The thing that really screamed “I’ve seen this before” to me was Route 17/18, which has a ton of annoying jellyfish and swift currents of water that tell you where to Surf. They also have a bay with a few Dive spots and a perfectly useless pink fish. This is going to get problematic and/or interesting if Black and White are indeed set in the future (how will Hoenn have changed?).

Double Talk: First Nintendo says that they will not put any old characters in the game, then they put Cynthia and the Magikarp guy from Kanto in. Dream World’s whole selling point is catching older Pokemon, and you need a Johto Legendary to get Zoroark, an extremely helpful Pokemon against the new Elite Four. What happened to “all new” and a “fresh feel?” 

I am personally worried about Caitlin, no matter how much I like her; the age difference compared to Caitlin in Platinum and HG/SS implies that years have passed between Gen IV and Gen V, which opens a whole new can of worms. Some have told me that B/W take place ten years in the future. That seems a little much, but some time has definitely passed.

What happened to the Battle Frontier? Did Sinnoh get hit by a giant earthquake nuked? How about Oak? Did he CEASE TO BE? Is he an EX-PROFESSOR? If so, it might explain why he is not in these games... 

For a game that’s supposed to be all new and fresh, Nintendo is blurring the lines a lot. Either make it super-shiny new or acknowledge that a lot of old stuff will show up. Cut the BS. 

Freemasons?: The background for Black and White is a checkerboard. Combine with the brainwashing N went through from a young age and one has a conspiracy theory in the works. That is, of course, if you believe such things.

Overall Verdict: 8/10. Famicom was exaggerating - these games are far from perfect.. If you can wait for Gray or whatever the Ruby/Sapphire remakes will be (...please don’t make them if you can help it, Nintendo), hold out. If you just have to get at least 6 of the new Pokemon, by all means get Black/White. Otherwise, you can probably wait. Stick with Gen IV games if you can.  Gen V looks better than Gen III, but that is not saying a lot. 

1 comment:

  1. Gen V is far far far more better tham Gen IV. (in my opinion)