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The Pokémon formula hasn’t evolved much over the years. Each new release brings a handful of minor revisions and graphical updates, but the core remains unaltered. Pokémon Black & White 2 is the first direct sequel to a game in this series, but rather than moving on to the brand new 3DS, Nintendo’s kept it on the aging DS. Does Pokémon Black & White 2 do anything at all to change up the formula, or does it rest on the series’ laurels?
Set two years after the events in Pokémon Black & White, you take the role of the new trainer on the block, embarking on an adventure to become the next Pokémon master. Aside from new areas and a few side attractions, the core formula remains unaltered–it’s still all about capturing and raising Pokémon to take into battle against other trainers in your quest to earn the eight gym badges and defeat the elite four. You’re strung along a linear path with few opportunities to deviate resulting in a progression cycle that’s mostly all rinse and repeat.
The multiplayer elements are usually the highlight of Pokemon games, but since the inclusion of online support, Nintendo’s done very little to advance the system. The process of getting online is tedious, especially the absurd restriction of having to progress far enough in the story before you can access the multiplayer components. Even if you just want to play with your pals, you’ll have to go through the cumbersome process of adding friends manually. It’s a counter-intuitive system and a huge missed opportunity–Pokemon should be all about effortless multiplayer.
The bottom line is that Pokémon Black & White 2 feels dated, and despite a handful of additions that try to spice things up, the series is stuck in a holding pattern.
Much like the structure of the game, the basic mechanics here continue to stick to the established blueprint. There are a few side attractions that break from the norm, but the series’ allure has always been the battles. The problem here, like in previous installments, is that many of the remedial fights become a chore, which completely squelches what could be one of the more exciting aspects of the game. You’re going to spend hours grinding through these types of battles in order to keep pace with the increasing difficulty, which brings the pace to a crawl. Even the boss-style battles are losing their appeal and falling to predictable patterns.
Pokémon’s rock-paper-scissors style of combat is easy to understand, but difficult to master. However, with the exception of multiplayer battles, you rarely are forced to tap into the strategic well, and there’s almost no opponent that can’t be overcome by brute force. More advanced mechanics like turn battles and fights where you’re facing multiple opponents at once do attempt to mix things up a bit, but there’s nothing truly new in the mix. Some of the spin-offs in the series have given us a taste of different combat styles, and the mainline series should consider looking to them for an infusion of new ideas.
There has always been a lot of potential for Pokémon’s battle system, but Nintendo continues to water it down for the sake of simplicity when it comes to the single player experience. If you’re looking to get the most out of it, you need to head into competitive multiplayer.
Even when judged against the 3DS current library, Pokémon Black & White 2 manages to look passable, though the art direction carries most of the weight. Veterans of the first game will experience déjà vu, though, since much of the game’s world is recycled in the sequel. This also holds true for the soundtrack, though the occasional remix is a nice touch.
Despite throwing in some new bells and whistles, Pokémon Black & White 2 doesn’t deviate from established formula. It manages to deliver everything you’d expect out of a Pokémon game, and it’s still a decent RPG, but it fails to take any chances or offer real innovation. Considering it’s only a DS game rather than a proper sequel that takes advantage of the 3DS, it’s hard not to label this as a lazy attempt to make a quick buck. Hopefully the next game brings some much needed reform.
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