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18 Reviews

Pokemon Black/White

Creature comforts

People say you don't realise what you have until it's gone, and this couldn't be truer of Pokémon.

Fundamentally, Pokémon is, or was, a quest of discovery and learning. Young boy (or girl) versus alien creatures answering to alien rules in an alien world. But the purity of that vision is somewhat muddied with each iteration.

Game Freak's determination to maintain a continuous game world - where 'Mons past and present coexist - has resulted in chaos. Returning fans arrive with heads full of preconceptions, senses dulled to new opportunities, while newcomers find a sprawling, unfocused mess.

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OUT WITH THE OLD
Black/White puts its foot down from the off: a blanket ban on old Pokémon. Not a moment too soon. In an instant, everything matters again. No longer can you rely on tried and tested techniques by grinding towards move sets and team make-ups perfected over ten years of dabbling.

Kick away this prop and you're asked to do something you haven't done in a very long time: actually play Pokémon. We're whisked all the way back to 1999, working out who does what, what hurts who and hurting who what what who. Or something.

We forget the awesome logic potential in the elemental combat system. Every new face, be it floating mask, grinning ice cream or gurning lizard, is a closed book.

Only by testing out move types can we tease out their true nature and bring them to rights. A bird faces metallic cogs and receives a bit of a drubbing; Flying bows to Steel. If the same bird later takes a bite out of a spiky metallic orb then there may be a little Bug DNA in the mix.

Asking players to invest intellectually (it's not Mastermind, but it does stir the old grey matter) deepens the relationship with the world itself. Denying seasoned trainers their old bestiary forces them to enjoy the here and now.

Smiting foes with exclusively new Pokémon requires an appreciation of their quirks. Take, for example, Flying/Electric type Emolga. A cross between a flying squirrel and a Duracell battery, this little sod is a potent threat.

Our bird-killing electric zebra only fed him power, and our electric-resistant crocodile couldn't reach him from the ground. Finally finding an effective Pokémon felt like a real victory, the kind rarely witnessed outside of gym leader battles in past Pokémons.

As they strip Pokémon to the basics, Game Freak aren't afraid to meddle with those basics. Experience gain is now determined by level difference. Pokémon are rewarded well for defeating a stronger creature, less for a weaker creature.

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It may not sound like a big deal, but it works, preventing a single high-levelled 'Mon from beasting ahead. As a result, all monsters feel relevant to the quest - you'll rely on their elemental buffs to beat gym leaders - and the low-level game is reinvigorated.

It actually makes sense to return to earlier areas to train up those weaklings. They've thought hard about the role of story, too. While the yarn is the same old garbage, the sheer number of narrative events gives Black/White a busy feel.

The Unova region feeds into this with a smaller, more condensed map. You may feel a bit short-changed coming from Heart Gold/Soul Silver's dual landmasses, but Unova is a much denser space. Routes are packed full of season specific hidey holes (easily tricked with clock tinkering) and what is lost in square miles is gained in height.

Scaling Castelia City's skyscrapers to whomp timid office clerks is a fun urban twist. Our refreshed interest in Pokémon is supported by a bevy of smart ideas to ensure that interest is pursued in comfort.

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