One of the cool things about Pokemon is that there's a new audience every year. Current fans are so young that I feel like a creeper every time I go to a Pokemon event. This new audience is part of the reason Pokemon hasn't had to change much of its formula over the past decade and a half. Still, developer Game Freak has taken note of what fans want, and Pokemon Black and Pokemon White improve in ways that longtime fans have been begging for.
If you never caught Pokefever during the last four Nintendo handhelds, we have a Pokemon history article you can check out. While Pokemon appeals to a younger demographic, fans stay true because it's a really solid series of RPGs with a lot of depth.
Game Freak didn't decide to turn the series on its head, and Black/White remains formulaic. You still play a 10-year-old kid who doesn't seem to have a Dad. You still get a grass/fire/water Pokemon from a world renowned Pokemon professor who happens to live in your tiny, three building town. You still journey from town to town, kicking everyone's butts and taking their money as you collect eight badges. And, yes, you still defeat an evil group of people with a villainous plot. For ones groaning, "Oh crap, not again!" or "What the crap are you talking about?" listen up. I went from literally catching them all in Diamond/Pearl, to burning out and not finishing HeartGold/SoulSilver, but Black/White brought me back because it has more to offer.
First, the villains aren't dumbasses. They're the cliché of an evil group of trainers, but this time they serve the plot of the game. From the very beginning of Black/White, the mysterious Team Plasma, and the Seven Sages drive the story. They also bring up concepts about the morality of Pokemon that are pretty heavy for the series. They're a constant presence, showing up in every town, stealing Pokemon, and confusing the protagonist's motivations. They're never hiding out in a dumb warehouse waiting for a kid to steal their key card or whatever.
Black/White is also a more streamlined Pokemon experience. The developers have done a lot of small things that make the game run smoother. Some of them are obvious, like combining the Pokemon Center with the Poke Mart, but others are more subtle. Battles run just a smidge faster each turn, for example, speeding up the whole process.
Pokemon Black/White has two new fighting styles: Triple Battles and Rotation Battles. Both are in Black and White, though one gets a larger focus in each. I prefer the Rotation Battles, as the ability to switch Pokemon before the attack every turn adds a new level of strategy. The Triple Battles feel like bigger Double Battles, which isn't bad, but isn't very exciting either. There are some cool new move sets like Combined Moves which are normal attacks that create more powerful effects if used in tandem with your partner. The game's cover Pokemon, Zekrom and Reshiram, utilize this with a pair of devastating fusion attacks.
For the most part, Black/White looks and sounds better than previous Pokemon games. The graphics engine is the same, but this time the camera has been shifted down, showcasing the 3D elements more. There are moments when the game looks great, with sweeping camera movements and changed perspectives. Somebody at Game Freak must love bridges because there are numerous huge bridges to cross. Walking across the Skyarrow Bridge plays like a love letter to the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority (that's a Japanese bridge joke!). That doesn't stop the game from looking downright ancient in parts though. Pokemon are still pixelated, so when they're blown up on the screen Black/White looks like a Game Boy Advance game.
There are no familiar faces in Pokemon Black/White though. For the first time since Red/Blue, older Pokemon do not return (at least in the beginning). As you trek through the 40-some hours of the story mode, you'll see nothing but brand new Pokemon. This means that when you go into a cave, you won't see the same damn Zubat and Geodude you always see. Instead, there's some new guy named Roggenrola to catch. This is often awesome; seeing new Pokemon every few minutes recaptures that feeling of adventure the first game had.
I can get over the ones that are just dumb, like a trio of anthropomorphic ice cream dishes, but many of these Pokemon are downright hideous. I love Oshawott, the water starter. I think he's adorable. But then he turns into Samurott, who looks like what hatches from a Poke egg after someone leaves a narwhal and a drunk bear at the Day Care Center. Garbodor conveys the image of a child's art project made only with melted ice cream sandwiches and his father's cigarette butts.
Still a lot of the Pokemon grow on you, and by the end of the game I found myself liking quite a few. And some, like Krookodile, are actually some of the coolest Pokemon in the series.
There are ways to get older Pokemon after you've completed the game, or by using some of Black/White's numerous bonus features, but most Pokemon have to be transferred from previous games.
One of Pokemon Black/White's coolest features is the new C-Gear. The bottom screen is a constant menu for multiplayer, allowing you to jump into a trade or a battle almost instantly using the games IR functionality. Most of my Pokemon multiplayer memories involve the phrase, "Oh crap, I'm nowhere near a Pokemon Center," so finally removing that obstacle is a welcome addition. The ability to trade Pokemon that aren't currently in your party also speeds up the entire process, and is something the game should have had years ago.