Welcome to part 15 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This fourteenth post features entry #5 – Pokémon Black & White 2.
Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.
If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.
#5 – Pokémon: White Version 2/Pokémon: Black Version 2
Principal Platforms: Nintendo DS | Developer: Game Freak | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: RPG | Year: 2012
Anyone who has stuck with the core Pokémon series for a decent length of time is aware of how this works.
The first generation brought us Pokémon: Red Version & Pokémon: Blue Version; two editions of the same game with minor remixed elements to promote more interaction among the player base and generate more interest at retail.
An enhanced Yellow version followed 2 years later; essentially the same game again, but this time with more added features, sharper graphics and a remixed game environment. Even though Yellow Version was just a re-release, it sold like crazy and so the precedent was set.
In subsequent years, Pokémon Crystal would follow Gold & Silver, Pokémon Emerald followed Ruby & Sapphire and Pokémon Platinum would succeed Diamond & Pearl.
Are these re-releases faithful upgrades for an eager fanbase or merely a cynical cash-grab on part of its publisher Nintendo? Whatever popular viewpoint you ascribe to with regards to this issue, one thing remains constant; the games themselves have always been good.
Common sense dictated then that Pokémon Black & White would be followed by Pokémon: Grey; another dependable re-release with a bit more content, tighter mechanics and a few remixed encounters, right?…
Not even close.
If you read my top 20 game surprises then you’ll know how highly I rate Pokémon Black & White; the fifth generation instalments for Nintendo‘s DS handheld. Game Freak‘s commitment to refreshing the tired Pokémon formula in these games is as unmistakable and as it is warmly received; but why stop there?
When the time finally came for the ‘obligatory re-release’, no expense was spared in making the absolute best follow-on possible and a title that, for me at least, defines the absolute pinnacle this series has seen so far.
Unlike previous remasters, the colour coded naming tradition was dropped here in favour of the lofty moniker of Version 2 with the game receiving a double cartridge release to further sweeten the deal.
Indeed Pokémon Black: Version 2 & Pokémon White: Version 2 are much more than simple remasters as they change up almost every aspect of the original to provide an all new gameplay experience rich in the dependable Pokémon goodness that fans have come to expect.
Aside from a metric ton of aesthetic changes, Version 2 introduces a completely new storyline with new characters, altered environments and remixed list of available Pokémon to catch. In a rare move, the narrative in this remastered edition follows two years on from the events of the previous game and many of the sights you saw and people you met on the first time through Unova will be vastly different.
The construction site called ‘Cold Storage’ is no longer present in Version 2; having been demolished to make way for the new ‘Pokémon World Tournament’ building. Similarly, returning NPCs often find themselves in new situations that are revealed to the player through the use of animated vignettes that only trigger if the player has imported save data from the original Black & White.
It’s little touches like this that betray a new maturity on the part of the developers, as they work to bridge the gap between their works and make each one feel like part of a more cohesive universe.
Although many of the direct gameplay changes are fairly minor in Version 2, the overall mechanics of play have never felt so streamlined.
One such feature; the new ‘Challenge Mode’ is exactly the sort of thing that expert players have wanted for a long time. Essentially a ‘hard’ difficulty setting for the game, Challenge Mode is an unlockable parameter that raises the levels of AI Pokémon teams and sets their battle capability to maximum.
Whilst it sounds great on paper though, the publisher’s regression to ‘protecting’ its younger player base has prevailed here and the Challenge Mode is criminally hidden away until either the game is complete or a second Nintendo DS console (with completed save data) is used to unlock it.
This is by far the most disappointing aspect of the game, as eager players are restrained from experiencing the hard mode on their first time through without significant wrangling. As it is, the whole feature is both exactly what the game needed and also its biggest missed opportunity at the same time.
One feature that makes a big positive impression though is actually one of the oldest; the Pokédex. Pokémon is usually quite an “FAQ heavy” game; a mammoth title where information isn’t always as readily accessible as you’d like it to be.
Common questions such as: “what Pokémon can I find on this route?” and “which ones am I missing?” are now quickly answered with the new Pokédex feature that records a monster’s habitat. This allows you to see a list of all your visited locations complete with an itemised display of the relevant Pokémon found there.
Once you’ve caught every Pokémon in an area then that page in your habitat list is ‘stamped’ with a special red sticker to commemorate your achievement. These may sound like small features, but they’re visual refinements that play perfectly to the game’s intended strength of exploration and that old “gotta catch ’em all” mentality.
Tying into this further is the new medal system. Essentially a take on the modern video game achievements, Version 2 has a massive bank of medals to hand out to those players who are after a little more replay value than usual.
The game records many of the actions you take in-game with a certain character proceeding to add medals to your medal box once you accomplish certain tasks.
Among the standard story progression and exploration medals though are tougher ‘challenge medals’ that are awarded for harder-to-accomplish tasks such as capturing every monster, finding a rare “shiny” critter or beating the final battle with only a single Pokémon.
The Pokémon series has always been notable for its ‘endgame’ content of course, but key features like this make Version 2 one of the very best in terms of overall longevity.
Adding to this further are the usual slew of side attractions that fans will either love or loathe in equal measure.
The addition of Pokéstar Studios gets your player creating animated movies with their party of monsters, the Pokémon World Tournament offers even more competitive battling and the multiplayer ‘Entralink’ feature returns with a few new surprises in store too.
Version 2 still may not be the perfect Pokémon game, but even the lesser points of the standard formula prove a bit easier to live with here. Two specific Pokémon can easily handle the awful HM moves that this series keeps persisting with and the different trainer encounters are varied enough to combat the “grind” feeling that can be common during extended play.
But it’s perhaps the feeling of a journey that this game truly gets right over other handheld RPGs. The environments are so well illustrated and the story so effectively told, that you’ll likely be exhausted when the end credits finally roll.
I could not believe that the Nintendo DS still had enough mileage to deliver another Pokémon game of this magnitude, as I was fully convinced the newer 3DS system would take over duties at this point. Indeed, for a handheld console to receive a game this big towards the end of its lifespan is simply incredible.
Pokémon: Black & White Version 2 is a rare game in the Nintendo DS collection then; a title that lived up to every one of my expectations on release and one that has since obsoleted any older Pokémon titles that I may still have considered playing.
Super effective, indeed.