Pokémon has always had three versions. Two that are released simultaneously with minor differences between and one released afterwards with further tweaks. Red and Blue would be joined by Yellow, Gold and Silver would have Crystal as their companion, Ruby and Sapphire would have a new plot string added in Emerald, and you could go into the Distortion World in the follow-up to Diamond and Pearl: Platinum. None of these can really be considered sequels though as they re-tread the same general plotline. Pokémon Black 2/White 2 therefore ventures into new territory by setting the clock two years after the events of Black/White and while it doesn’t quite tick all the boxes, it does provide an intriguing adventure worth embarking upon.
Being a direct sequel to perhaps the one Pokémon game that has had the most interesting narrative structure in the series’ history, there are a few key alterations this time around. Fundamentally it is the same journey you have embarked upon countless times before, but it is the subtle changes in characterisation that reflect the identity of the game itself. Your rival isn’t as concerned about hassling you every five minutes, but rather has a vendetta against Team Plasma for stealing a Pokémon with sentimental value, giving him a more three-dimensional persona.
Speaking of Team Plasma, they have revolted against themselves to essentially form two divided sides. The Pokémon liberators of the last game have been cast aside for a more traditional antagonist team bent on global domination. Some interactions are fascinating, but where it all comes unstuck is just how under-utilised the execution is. You’ll also bump occasionally into Colress, a scientist whose goal is to bring out the full potential of Pokémon and who provides interesting insights into the ethics of training Pokémon. While the plot isn’t up to the standard that Black/White had the potential to be, it is at the very least a continuation of the evolving narrative structure the series is going through.
What hasn’t really changed at all is the combat mechanics. If you have been a consumer of the Pokémon franchise since its appearance on the Nintendo DS, the battles are exactly the same. No new moves to speak of and hardly any evolution in the concept of the bulk of the game. This is no real surprise as Black 2/White 2 is essentially the “Yellow” to “Red” and “Blue”, but it is disappointing nonetheless. The variety of the creatures available to capture is vast however, giving your party a more diverse feel, but with the ability to trade from Black/White at an early stage it is all too easy just to send in your elite squad once you obtain enough badges.
As you enter the Unova region once more, returning players will notice the hand-holding right at the start. Given that you are not given the option to skip all this stuff, it is a bit tedious. Gratefully this doesn’t take up much of the game at all and you can go straight into discovering the weird and wonderful! The tutorials are at least helpful in explaining without too much exposition the new features for those who have come back after a long hiatus, while newcomers will get up to speed quickly.
The innovation with Black 2/White 2 is based on more than just the number of the sequels. With the development that has taken place in Unova comes a whole host of brand new features. Some such as Join Avenue and the returning Pokémon Musical are quirky diversions, while others like Pokéstar Studios have a little more depth by turning battles into cinematic scenes. Battles in the movies are not only determined by the Pokémon battles themselves, but also responses to the enemy taunts.
There are far too many new features to comment about in a single review, but the standouts are the aforementioned Pokéstar Studios and the Pokémon World Tournament. Fundamentally, the latter isn’t too dissimilar to features from the likes of Pokémon Stadium, but it is the sheer spectacle of the presentation that makes it a success. Couple it with DLC support and post-completion challenges from Gym Leaders/Champions from previous games and you have the whole world knocking at your door.
Plenty of in-game events also keep you on your toes, along with many new interconnectivity features. The Join Avenue makes a note of every trainer encountered via the social features, allowing you to get them to shop or open new stores. The Memory Link allows for new game events to occur based off your endeavours in the previous game, whether that is being able to battle against old rivals or the ability to catch previous antagonist’s Pokémon. One feature that feels more tacked on than necessary is the achievement like Medal System, which adds very little compared to the vast array of new content.
Back to the series is the C-Gear which allows you to put Pokémon to sleep to access the online Dream World via your PC, go to the Entralink via Wireless or use Infrared to link with trainers on the go without wireless connection. The biggest change here is the Wireless option, instead of requiring two people with the game to play wirelessly, Black 2/White 2 uses the mode more like a leaderboard. You still obtain Pass Powers, which provide bonuses on your adventure, but the added incentive of hard-to-find items and the mode’s leaderboard structure make the Entralink a more viable gameplay option. Battling online and trading happen just as they always have. Considering how smooth these features have become over the past few years, this is only a good thing.
Pokémon Black 2/White 2 may not look to be different on the surface in comparison to its most recent iteration. That’s because it has the same template, featuring remarkably similar design choices and familiar locales. Battles look exactly as they always have for example. However, rather than be a carbon copy, it is the mix of brand new areas such as Aspertia City, and updated locations such as the development of Route 4 that provide an interesting commentary on regional development. As a result, Unova is less wild than it was in Black/White and work wonderfully thematically. The technical limitations of the DS are still to be considered when looking at the update, but even on the aging hardware it showcases just now nice games can look.
At its core, the game plays just like every other iteration from the DS era, but look at the game a little deeper and you’ll find some surprises round every corner.
Classic music has always been part of the series history, but with the first direct sequel there are occasions where the game will either surprise or confuse you. Where it gets confusing is trying to tell the difference between the Trainer battle music from the previous game to this one, as they are almost the same. It also is quite baffling as to why Game Freak still haven’t allowed you to choose what music you fight to when fighting trainers online. However, the touches that surprise you will outshine these, such as the themed variations on the Pokémon Gym music. Several tunes are brought back from previous generations, while others such as the brand new piece that plays during Pokémon World Tournament Finals provide an epic backdrop to battles that visually have no improvement over Black/White.
With Pokémon Black 2/White 2, the question is no longer “Has the gameplay become stale?”, but more “Does the gameplay suffer from its wide variety of content?”. At its core, the game plays just like every other iteration from the DS era, but look at the game a little deeper and you’ll find some surprises round every corner. The plot might not be as thought-provoking as Pokémon Black/White was, but it is nice to see a full-blown continuation as opposed to re-treading on old ground. The first numbered sequel to a Pokémon game might not be as earth-shattering as it suggests, but it does at the very least go about it in a tasteful way.