Review

Pokemon Black/White 2

Ramble On

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 let you walk a wonderfully weird world—except for all the fighting.

By Anthony John Agnello • October 16, 2012

When you wander into Pokémon Black/White 2’s second city, the young pocket-monster trainer in your control stumbles upon a drama in the streets. The local Pokémon gym leader, a woman named Roxie, is arguing with the a captain whose ship is blocking the harbor. He refuses to move the boat for unusually whimsical reasons. “I’m going to PokéStar Studios. I’m going to be a movie star and a ship captain!” Roxie returns to her gym—which is also a punk-rock nightclub—where she raises enormous poisonous bugs to fight for her. Turns out she’s extra angry because the captain’s her dad.

This moment is a microcosm of the Pokémon world, a place fueled by the logic of a manic toddler drunk on Juicy Juice—where every major town is within walking distance of the next, every animal you meet is a potential best friend, and every person can be whatever the hell they want to be. It’s a dreamy realm of animal obsession, but as with previous games, the drudgery of raising those animals weighs the fantasy down.

Pokemon Black/White 2

The game is split across two differently colored versions, as is common in Pokémon tradition, the major distinction between them being access to a handful of exclusive beasts in either one. Black/White 2 marks the first time that the series has resorted to a numerical sequel rather than just another new color. That doesn’t mean it’s especially concerned with continuity. The original Black/White villains—terrorists that kidnap Pokémon under the guise of liberating them—return alongside a couple of other characters, but that’s about it. Your generic-child character is brand new. Like all young people in Pokémon, you’re given a pocket monster of your own by a local scientist and sent out into the world to train and study the beasts.

It’s the same formula that has fueled every entry since the 1996 Game Boy games, but this setup remains a good way of getting your adventure off the ground. The roads are filled with strangers challenging you to impromptu cockfights, and unkempt grassy fields hide ecosystems of bizarre cartoon animals. Even when the story gets inflected with world-changing incident—god-like Pokémon, megalomaniacs bent on domination—it never loses its unpredictable, slightly unhinged wonder and optimism.

Pokemon Black/White 2

Want to join the ship captain and become a star of the silver screen? Go to PokéStar studios and film an alien invasion movie series—the filming plays out just like regular fights, but you’re battling to stick to the script. If Pokémon worked like the real world, fame would be followed by an addiction to Potions, scandalous affairs with co-actors, and sci-fi convention appearances with your Oshawatt (an adorable otter Pokémon) signing autographs for $20 a pop. The real world this isn’t. Film stardom gets you paid in lemonade.

Watching the world bloom and fill up with life is the carrot tied to Pokémon’s stick of animal fights. Monster fisticuffs are as simple as ever: Fire Pokémon are weak in the face of water attacks, for instance. It’s a stringent rock-paper-scissors version of Dungeons And Dragons-style fights, and the hook is that you choose how your pet friends change as they grow stronger.

Pokemon Black/White 2

Getting them stronger, and capturing ever more powerful Pokémon, requires an intense time investment, though. At 300-plus monsters, the game’s menagerie feels as diverse as an actual rain forest. There’s a mix of old classics like Psyduck, a befuddled chubby duck with psychic powers, and newcomers like Reuniclus, who looks like a teddy bear with an exoskeleton of Jell-O. There inevitably comes a point in Black/White 2 when you need to halt your continental gallivanting to fight and fight, getting your critters up to snuff. Then you move on, accrue new monsters, and do it all over again. Black/White 2’s landscape eases the Sisyphean aspect of battle-beast husbandry by always inviting you forward into new cities, seas, and forests. But the game still feels like a slog when its monster training stands between you and its big, strange world.

Pokémon Black 2/White 2
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Price: $35
Rating: E

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  • Moonside_Malcontent

    “It’s a stringent rock-paper-scissors version of Dungeons And Dragons-style fights”.

    Nonsense.  The only really important similarity between Pokemon and D&D is that everyone thinks the version they played first is the gospel and everyone else is a heretic.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Don’t forget the obsession with stats and devotion to certain races (or in this case “types”).

      • courage in anonymity

        I would posit that pokemon is all about “diversity” though in terms of building teams. Not to say that I’m a great expert on D&D.

  • Enkidum

    Sounds like, at the very least, this is a perfectly competent entry in the series. Will probably pick this up for the Enkidlings.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      I’m assuming your avatar is one of said Enkidlings. Have you trained it to do tricks? And why does it look like its holding a whiskey bottle? Adorable though.

      • Enkidum

        Yup, this is one of the two Enkidlings. It’s 9 years old now, and most of its tricks consist of screaming loudly and insisting it’s high comedy. Well, it also plays the piano and is learning the trumpet (tiger parents FTW!), so that’s a trick of sorts.

        It looks like it’s holding a whiskey bottle because it’s holding a whiskey bottle – we were at a hotel and it started walking around with the bottle, so I took photos.

        • NarcolepticPanda

          I was pretty sure it was a whiskey bottle, I just didn’t know if you’d take that as an accusation of bad parenting. But the not one but TWO musical instruments proves you are a demanding trainer. Don’t worry too much about the screaming; it’s just a phase in its evolution. I did the same. Now that I’m half a decade past that, I post junk on the internet and consider it high comedy.

  • rvb1023

    Pokemon games are always reliable purchases even if it comes at the cost of not changing since Ruby/Sapphire. The original 150 still use their 8 bit “cries” that are closer to 20 years old than 10.

    • PhilWal0

       I guess their voices haven’t broken yet.

  • GaryX

    Man, I think the last Pokemon game I played was the remake of Red on the GBA and before that Silver. 

    I still have some fond memories of playing Red/Blue as a kid, and my grandma buying me “that game with dragon on it” at a Toys-R-Us. My buddy even imported Silver before its US release, and I remember being blown away by it even if I was entering the “Pokemon isn’t cool” stage.

    If Nintendo knew what the fuck was up, we’d already have an MMO. That thing would print money.

    Also, if no one has seen this they should: a girl drawing pokemon based only on poor descriptions.

    • RidleyFGJ

      I see a lot of calls for a MMO, but the majority of the appeal of the series has a lot to do with its portable nature. Take that away and you take away its hooks that it’s had for so long.

      And, well, it’s not like that there’s been a sterling history of 3D Pokemon games that play just like the mainline titles. A MMO would make things that much harder to get right.

      • GaryX

        Well, the reason the history of the 3D games is so poor is because they’ve never nutted up and just made a Pokemon game proper for them. They always fuck around with the formula and change things up. They could make a solid, traditional one 3D first to get the bearings, and then work on an MMO followup. 

        Is the portable aspect even really that big of a draw these days? I feel like proper Pokemon games are going to sale regardless of the system they’re on (and, in this case, are probably doing more for the system than vice versa), and I can’t imagine the kid who would choose the game on the tv over the handheld if given the choice. Then again, I personally find portable game largely pointless anymore in terms of legitimate games. I loved all my various GameBoys as a kid, but I’m not getting dragged around by my parents anymore. When I have time to play a video game, I’d much rather just do it on a PC or console. I’m willing to admit that bias might be coming through on this view.

        I still think an MMO would make obscene amounts of money, and in a few years, I don’t think a portable MMO will be impossible. Or, hell, have some kind of “offline” mode where you can grind, train, or something else that you can do for the periods when you want to go portable, then sync it back up to the main game. Take all that synchronization and cross-platforming goofing around you do, Nintendo, and put it to good use.

        • RidleyFGJ

          Well, the leading rumor about Gen 6 is that it will go full 3D for everything (the Pokedex apps they’ve released for the 3DS aren’t just for show), but going 3D is going to bring about a lot of challenges to try and achieve the same kind of parity with previous gens. Gen 4 (Diamond & Pearl) suffered greatly from the switch to the 3D engine for the overworld, and was dramatically slower than the games that came before.

          I think people forget that Game Freak isn’t the largest studio out there (they total less than 100 employees), so asking them to work on a genre that requires such a significant investment of resources and would entail such a dramatic switch from the format that they’ve been using is kinda crazy.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I think the reason why Pokemon stays pretty resolutely portable and off-line is because it’s by and large marketed towards kids (even moreso than other Nintendo franchises and platforms, which skew young). It’s complex and interesting enough that people still play the games into adulthood, but the target market is definitely kids.

          Young kids do still get dragged around by parents, do still see tremendous use of portables as a result, and a game as complex and time-intensive as Pokemon pitched at such a young age makes sense to deliver on a platform that kids have with them all day when they’re in the back of the car accompanying mom or dad on errands and stuff.

          This would also explain the no-MMO thing, as Nintendo’s blanket reason for being slow to embrace transparent on-line functionality with their hardware was to ‘protect’ the kids who were their primary audience. Even if they were to roll out an MMO experience, I would imagine it would be a kid-friendly space (like Club Penguin or FusionFall or something) that “hardcore” or older gamers would probably find too limiting anyway. And then it wouldn’t be the cash cow that, say, WoW is, because adults wouldn’t play it, and kids’ parents aren’t going to pay a monthly fee for their kids to play an MMO.

        • GaryX

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Yeah, I get that, and it’s totally fair–that’s what I was going on about my own bias for. 

          Still doesn’t mean I wish they’d skew a little older with the market. I don’t need “OMG SO HARDCORE >_<" Pokemon, but I would love one that was a little more expansive.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           That may be what Shin Megami Tensei is for.

    • PaganPoet

      OMG, THANK YOU for that tumblr…I’m a page and a half in, and I’ve already gotten a great ab workout.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Speaking of funny Pokemon-related links: Pokemon fusion.

      I second your call for a Pokemon MMO. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be an MMO; it can just be an immersive 3D RPG à la New Vegas or Skyrim. That game would sell so many Wii Us that Nintendo would be able to give a swimming pool full of cash to each of its employees.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    Pokemon is such a strange phenomenon. It debuted when I was in grade school yet it still holds an insanely devoted following. When I initially moved on after the Gold/Silver cycle, I expected the fad to die much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other child-focused marketing/cartoon schemes but it has gained a following that is more akin to Dungeons and Dragons than those cartoon shows. Where college age friends gather to discuss stats and weaknesses, and their perfect teams, while trading stories about their perma-death playthroughs (which they apparently turn into comics later)! The amount of fan-made lore is staggering.

    All of that aside, I still don’t see a fundamental evolution (tehe!) of the series over all that time.  Considering the advances in technology it’s disappointing how little Pokemon has changed. All I ever wanted was a decent console, 3D RPG version. Is that so much to ask?

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      http://www.1up.com/features/interview-building-better-pokemon

      People can dismiss the series all that they want (I’m not saying you are), but it’s 1 of the best examples of well-designed games winning in the marketplace at least partially because they are actually well-designed.  Nintendo prevented it from becoming a fad.  This one’s the 1st to be made just because there’s a mandate to expand on the technology, but every one really DOES hone everything to a fine point.  Everything has a purpose.  in the age of The Elder Scrolls and Tales games, it’s nice to have the alternative, too.

      Also, “‘It would be very cool if you could play Black 2 and White 2 on the Wii U,’ Masuda says with a laugh just long enough to make it unclear if he was dropping a hint or joking completely.”

      • Citric

        I think it’s a series that works best for the young and unemployed though, since it benefits so heavily from obsession. I tried to play one as an adult, and I got to a point where I said “I’ll never have time to catch them all!” and gave up.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          That’s true, and the grind is as 1980s gaming as a popular series can get, but for a general audience, the main game is also pretty easy AND that’s basically the whole point of trading.

          So, I assume that the hole in your heart when you quit is because you extinguished your inherent desire to collect and kil-…knock out cute monsters.  I get it, Citric.  I get it.  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qbj5htnD4tQ/TOWzaHzglJI/AAAAAAAABx8/Q21BMUkrHQQ/s1600/1019936_com_ludicolo.jpg  Irresistable.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    LET’S TALK GAME FREAK’S OTHER GAMES.

    Rhythm Hunter: HarmoKnight looks like a better version of Maestro; Jump In Music and Pulseman is super-underrated, but Drill Dozer/Screw Breaker is legitimately 1 of the best games on an awesome handheld.  It takes the basic key-lock system typical of puzzle-platformers, couches it in a clever concept, and then extrapolates from said concept to include even more neat play ideas.

    Has anyone else played it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

      Man, Game Freak makes the most delectable platformers. Drill Dozer has such unbelievable variety between its levels, each one almost feels like a distinct game on its own. I also love Pulseman, which does supremely interesting things with momentum.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I’ve played a bit of Drill Dozer on an emulator and it seemed pretty solid. I’ll have to actually give it some more time. 

      Maestro: jump in music turned out to be one of my favorite discoveries for the DS. I love weirdo rhythm games like that. So Rhythm Hunter looks like it’d be right up my alley.

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        Glad to know somebody else picked up a copy of Maestro. I definitely enjoyed that one even though it felt like one or two clever ideas that were not quite resolved into a full game. So many of my favorite DS titles could be described the same way, though.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      Drill Dozer and Pulseman are both absolutely wonderful and—even with strong fan buzz on the internet—entirely under-appreciated. My favorite, though, will forever be 1989′s Mendel Palace. That game just completely blew my imagination wide open for a large chunk of the early 90s and remains one of my most beloved NES carts. Emulate it now, you will not be disappointed. Perfectly balanced cute/badass ratio. If I could, I would throw a parade for every non-Pokémon release Game Freak produces, they’re so consistently delightful.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I can’t believe that I forgot that one. I mean, its Japanese name is Quinty.

        Too bad the parade would be very irregular.  *sad face*

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    We called him Mother Serperior on account of the length of his habit… of beating ground-type pokemon. 

    • Moonside_Malcontent

       TRAINSPOTTING SLAM

  • Travis Stewart

     Oh good, I thought I was the only one who thought the insistence on combat was getting in the way of exploring an interesting world.

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

    The most frustrating aspect of Pokemon, to me, is being forced to jettison critters that I’ve invested so much time in. (That’s also a beef I have with Strategy RPGs) “Sorry, Blastoise, we’ve had a good run, but I really need a water type with levitation. You COULD stick around as my HM slave, but that wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”

    I only put a few dozen hours into either Platinum or Black. SoulSiiver, however, I’ve put hundreds of hours into. I’m at the point where I have a nicely balanced team, with all the moves I need, but I still have some insane grinding ahead to beat the Kanto Elite 4 and beyond.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      It’s really sad when you store one and bring him back 20 hours later 20 levels behind your mains.  *sniff*  It’s like coming back to your Animal Forest/Crossing village months later.

  • His_Space_Holiness

    You know, I’ve never played Pokemon, and I have an old Game Boy Color I barely used lying on a shelf somewhere. I might have to pick an old one up off ebay if I ever find myself in a situation where I have a long commute or something.

    Edit: Also, you can tell the guy on the right is evil because he’s wearing green and purple. The official school colors of EVIL!

  • http://twitter.com/Protowizard Liam

    Fun fact: the series has long since dropped the catchphrase “Gotta catch ‘em all”. It is no longer mandatory to get all 600+ pokemon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005576982955 Chaotic Leppy Tracy

    Wouldn’t becoming addicted to Rare Candy be a better one?