Bargain Gaming and Owl In The Rafters: Pokemon Black and White First Impressions

Posted on Mar 15 2011

BG: As I’m sure most of you know, the new Pokemon games, Black and White, were released this last weekend over here in the U.S. to great fanfare.  Due to Pokemon’s high popularity here on the site I figured it would be remiss of me to not do some sort of review for this latest release of the franchise, however there were two issues I needed to work out first.  First was the fact that the Pokémon games are RPGs, and as such require more than a few days to beat and do a proper review for them.  As such, this is going to be a first impressions review, detailing the opening aspects of the games and whether or not it lives up to hype.  Fair enough, but the second issue is that, like all previous Pokémon games, it is actually two games in one generation, meaning that my copy of Pokémon White will not be sufficient to give a truly accurate view of these games.  As such I’ve brought in the site’s resident anime and mangaka reviewer, Tyto, to help me out with his copy of Pokémon Black.  Say hello Ty!

OR: Hello, everyone!  If you don’t know me by now, I write a 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month article titled, The Owl in the Rafters, as BG has already said.  As a friend of BG, and as a fan of Pokémon since its original release, the release of Black and White has been something I’ve looked forward to since the original announcement during the Heart and Soul hype nearly two years ago.  When BG asked me if I’d be interested in doing a joint first impressions review on the games, I was more than happy to jump on board.  It’s only been a few days by now but already I’ve been seeing a good deal of talk around The Internet™ and while I can’t say it was unexpected, there has been a surprising mix of good and bad said about the newest additions to the Pokémon franchise.  Between BG and myself I figure we’ll bring enough of a level-headed perspective to the games to give a fair assessment of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

BG: That we will! So anyway, I figure the best place to start out in a review about a Pokémon game is the new Pokémon themselves, and here I was actually rather impressed for the most part.  The simple fact the game proper consists entirely of new Pokémon is an awesome choice in my opinion, as it brings me back to the sense of wonder in the original Pokémon games, where I didn’t know what anything was and had to figure it all out on my own.  The new designs are also all very visually interesting and unique, making me even more excited when I run into a new Pokémon for the first time!  If I had to make a complaint it would be that some of the name choices strike me as rather…. unoriginal, to explain it politely.  On top of that the three starters for the games were not very appealing to me (this was the first generation of the games where I didn’t know who I was going to pick before I bought the game), though this is somewhat remedied by the fact that their evolutionary forms are all pretty cool.  Your thoughts, Tyto?

OR: As a good and productive member of the generalized Internet community, I’ve been around to see most of the gossip and murmur that had been spreading before the games’ release, and so I can’t say I’m entirely unaffected, favorably or to the contrary, by some of the popular sentiment, particularly in regards to the starter Pokémon.  When we take the choice at face value, I agree with BG, that the first form starters all came across to me as unimpressive.  Snivy might be my favorite among them, but only for his expression and general attitude, his actual design just seems unbalanced by his colossal noggin.  Tepig, while more proportionally balanced, just doesn’t have much to him.  A simple round body with nothing other than his tail and a few splotches of yellow to highlight the design.  Then there’s Oshawott, who took me off guard when the design was first released, and who still bothers me to this day.  Where you normally want a recognizable silhouette, at least two complementary or contrasting colors, and one or maybe two accent features in any sort of character design, Oshawott comes overloaded with 5 different colors and 4 major accents to his design.  The number of colors alone isn’t a huge problem, but the second shade of blue and the high contrast orange/brown colored nose seem needless.  His accents do of course include the out of place nose, but also his freckles, his shell, and the bubble-like collar around his neck.  I could go on about this for awhile, but I’ll stop myself now and just point out that despite all this, I actually chose Oshawott as my starter Pokémon.  BG, take this keyboard away from me before this gets any worse.

BG: You know you scare me sometimes Tyto?  Moving on, one thing I’d really like to hit on with this latest generation are the aesthetic changes it has brought about, namely the game’s graphics.  First off, the game’s backgrounds are a vast improvement over the previous games’, with background objects and buildings appearing to be three dimensional sprites.  These add an additional layer of depth to the game’s world, as the games locales feel more poignant and real than ever before, adding to game’s immersion ( a great example of this being the Skyarrow Bridge).  But what are even more impressive than these improvements are the actual Pokémon and character sprites in motion, as watching the Pokémon hop around and pose during battles is an incredible improvement over the practically static sprites from previous games.  They actually feel somewhat lifelike, or at least as lifelike as a bunch of animated sprites of monsters can anyway.  On top of this the character sprites seem to have received an upgrade as well to match the new 3-D backgrounds and some of them actually have their own little animated images for when they talk on the xtranceiver, which, while only a minor thing, is still awesome in my book!  All of these updates combine to create fresh new visual feel for the game, putting it leagues ahead of its peers and creating what is, to me at least, a fresh take on the classic Pokémon games.

OR: On the subject of minor little charms in the graphics, I can’t help but love that the Pokémon close their eyes in battle when they’ve been put to sleep.  It is a bit odd that they continue their idle motions even while asleep, but it’s still a cute little detail that got a good smile out of me.  Speaking of battle, I’d say this is a good a time as any to point out that the battle system, while ultimately the same old schpeal that we’ve seen something like 6 times now in the past 15 years, got its fair share of polishing this time around.  The basics mechanics stay the same, but a few moves and abilities got tweaked to have additional side effects, which can be a hard change to notice in the slew of brand new moves and abilities that got thrown in as well.  Also, while I feel it was a bit of a wasted gimmick, there was the notable addition of the combinations moves, Grass Oath, Fire Oath, and Water Oath, which when used together in a double or triple battle, have new field effects on you and your opponent’s team.  The snag is that the moves can only be taught to members of the 3 starter Pokémon evolutionary lines.

BG: Which is ultimately useless, seeing as how the majority of your party is going to be from what you’ve caught along the way, with only one, maybe two, Pokémon being starters.  Not to say I don’t appreciate the effort, but it would’ve been nice to have seen this blending of attacks taken one step beyond, but as combing moves like earthquake and eruption in order to create a lava flow attack or combining water gun with leech seed in order to increase the leech seed’s power.  Stuff like that would’ve been a real game changer and really let the player know that team battles were a whole new way to play.  Regardless though, the new move pool is very cool and has added another level of strategy to the game.  I just wish they had stepped a bit more outside of their comfort zone I guess.

OR: It is true that the Pokémon franchise hasn’t taken much opportunity to step out of their best selling formula.  Even with another 150 new Pokémon, 13 new cities, and of course 8 new gyms, the basic elements of the story have still stuck to the basic format of Boy/Girl receives his/her first Pokémon and embarks on a journey across their region to collect and battle Pokémon while meddling in the affairs of some large dastardly organization.  But part of what makes any franchise so endearing to its returning audience across so many iterations is the subtle variation on the consistent themes and elements, and in that regards Pokémon is still running strong.

BG: Definitely!  And while I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more growth from the franchise with this latest release, I must admit that I am thoroughly enjoying this title.  The fact that all of the Pokémon are brand new and animated lends a sort of charm to the game, making me excited every time I get into a new area or battle.  And while it’s true that I could nitpick the little things all day long, the simple fact of the matter is that when it’s all said and done I feel that this is quite possibly the strongest entry into the Pokémon franchise to date.  With all new Pokémon the game is equally accessible to newcomers and veterans alike, while still retaining the same basic formula that made the games a success in the first place.  If you own any form of DS and have not yet picked up one of these two titles, then I strongly urge you to do so.  And I haven’t even gone into the new online and wireless communication options this game has because this is a first impressions review!  Safe to say that this game is chock full of content and options to play either by yourself, with friends, or with strangers from around the world.  I’m actually tempted to tell people who don’t have a DS to just buy the DSi combo pack for $180, that’s how much fun this game is!  But don’t just take my word for it.  Your thoughts Tyto?

OR: Mechanically the games stay mostly unchanged from the rest of the series, but in an endearing and expected way.  The subtle little twists on familiar old tropes are hardly head-turning, but charming enough to hold you to your DS with determination.  The story has taken the forefront in a way that previous Pokémon games never quite did, and coupled with the exciting step up in graphics, the whole thing manages to grab you with excitement and keep you hooked.  The biggest change might be that the difficulty curve has taken a very odd drop and jump at the same time.  Every gym has its own little type, as per the usual, but right next to practically every town is some dungeon or route that is home to a Pokémon with the perfect type to counter the local gym.  If you take advantage of this the game can seem almost too easy, but without the abuse of super effective typing, the gym leaders all have surprisingly elaborate strategies that might take you by surprise if you aren’t a level or two above their Pokémon.  All in all, it’s a strangely “new” feel for a now 15 year old series.

BG: Well said!  Well, we’ve been going on for quite a while, but then again there’s a lot of new stuff going on in these titles.  If you’re interested in a follow up review or just want to add your two cents, feel free to leave a comment.  In any case, this is Bargain Gamer, and I’ll see you guys next time!

OR: And this has been Tyto!  You can catch me and my article, the Owl in the Rafters, on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month.

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  • nerdwerld March 15, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    Pokemon formula works so why change something that works.

    • Bargain Gamer March 15, 2011 at 9:07 PM

      To keep it fresh? To prevent it from being interchangeable with the other games? It’s still a great game, I just like innovation is all.

      • nerdwerld March 16, 2011 at 5:02 AM

        Ruby and Saphire were not innerchangable and besides Red and Blue Ruby and Saphire were my favorite pokemon games.

  • EagleEyes March 16, 2011 at 4:46 AM

    Once again water has the only starter worth choosing 🙂

  • Rhetorical Gamer March 16, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Bargain Gamer
    To keep it fresh? To prevent it from being interchangeable with the other games? It’s still a great game, I just like innovation is all.

    BG does it seem that game freak is doing a reboot since its very focused on the new pokemon?

    • Tyto March 16, 2011 at 6:38 PM

      That’s certainly how it seems to me. I suppose whether it’s a genuine rboot or just a one time gimmick will be clear when/if we get to see a 6th Generation.

    • Bargain Gamer March 16, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      While it’s certainly a step in the right direction, I agree with Tyto that only time will tell. But the focus on a whole new group of pokemon was a nice change of pace. ^ ^

  • Gannon133 March 16, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    Nice article of Pokemon’s newest releases. I found one line that was off, I’ll leave that be. I am unsure about whether you guys will get into further detail of the games, that would be great if you did. Again, really nice article of the games you two did!

    • Bargain Gamer March 16, 2011 at 9:36 PM

      I’d be more than happy to do a follow up review in the future if enough people were interested. Though I must admit, I am curious about this one line you speak of now. >w>

  • mollybibbles March 17, 2011 at 6:52 AM

    This amused me considering I’ve heard all of this from Tyto already. I was curious, though, to hear your side of the story, BG. I think a follow up when both of you beat the game is in order 😀

  • Shidohari March 17, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    Yess…also we need to know who has the better pokemon team in battle. bargain gamer or Owl in the Rafters

  • Zero Gravity March 18, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    This game has the best BGM I’ve ever heard from a Pokemon game

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