hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Pokémon Black

Review: Pokemon Black/White

2:30 PM on 03.06.2011 // Jonathan Holmes

Every new Nintendo handheld gets a new Pokémon game. That's the way it's been for the past 15 years. The OG Game Boy got Pokémon Red/Blue, the Game Boy Color got Pokémon Silver/Gold, and so forth.

That has been true until Pokémon Black/White. This is the first time a Nintendo handheld has seen a second new iteration of the Pokémon series within its life cycle. This is the first Pokémon game that can't rely on the power of a new console as a selling point. For that reason, Pokémon Black/White needs to be good enough to compensate for the fact that it's on "old" hardware, which is a particularly tall order considering that the shadow of the 3DS is looming over all of gaming right now, not just Nintendo portables.

Thankfully, Nintendo and Game Freak rose to that challenge. Pokémon Black/White is the most impressive main-series Pokémon game to date, and is more than worth the purchase, old hardware or not.


Pokémon Black/White (DS)
Developer: Nintendo/Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: March 6, 2011
MSRP: $34.99

Pokémon Black/White is my favorite Pokémon game. That's my opinion. It's also the most robust, fully featured, polished Pokémon game on a technical level. That's an objective fact. Put those opinons and facts together, and you can only come up with one conclusion -- if you like Pokémon, you should go buy Pokémon Black/White. Like, right now

Still here?

OK, in that case, maybe you don't like Pokémon all that much. Maybe you've never played a Pokémon game, or maybe you just don't get what's so great about the series. If that's the case, I'd be happy to explain to you why Pokémon is so popular, and why Pokémon Black/White is the best example to date of what makes the series so great.


The underlying draw of all the main-series Pokémon games is their slot-machine-like appeal. People today often complain about random battles in RPGs, but the fact is, developers still utilize them because they still work on our brains. On a strictly biochemical level, random battles are effective game design, but only when used properly.

Like I once said about Animal Crossing, playing Pokémon triggers the same chemicals in our brains that fire when someone is just about to win or lose something in real life. There is a reason why that kid bothered to hunt for a shiny Ponyta for so long. It's because every time he got into a random battle, the music, the graphics, and the promise of a new Pokémon caused adrenaline and endorphins to fire in his brain. Those are powerful drugs. It's a good thing that Nintendo sells the full Pokémon cartridge up front, instead of charging per random battle. We'd have a lot of bankrupt Pokémon fans out there if Nintendo started to treat Pokémon battles like online poker.


Back to the point, Pokémon Black/White maximizes on the "game of chance" aspect of Pokémon by ditching all the old Pokémon, making a new and exciting reward all the more likely. If you've played the series at all in the past, then you're likely sick of running into Zubats, Geodudes, and Magikarps in the process of hunting for new Pokémon. You won't be seeing any of those guys in the main campaign of Pokémon Black/White. Instead, you'll be treated to 155 all-new Pokémon. Some of them are clearly influenced by previous Pokémon designs (the flying electric mouse Emolga is basically a Pichu with webbed arms and black headstocking), while others appear to be totally new ideas (the fire/bug-type Larvesta is particularly awesome). Regardless of how original these new Pokémon appear to be, it's unquestionably more compelling to have each and every Pokémon in the main game be a new design. This is on top of the enormous laundry list of new features and items found in the game (more on that later). Suffice it to say, there is always something new around the corner in Pokémon Black/White, and that's exciting.


The second big selling point for the Pokémon series in general is that Pokémon (the actual Pocket Monsters themselves) are awesome. I say that as a fully grown married man with two jobs and a relatively normal social life. I know that a lot of people in their twenties and younger associate Pokémon with "kids' stuff," and that's understandable. The less-than-sophisticated accompanying Pokémon cartoon show and movies do a lot to further that notion. As a 34-year-old, I'm sort of oblivious to all that. Pokémon first came out when I was 18. I knew that kids liked it, but by then, I was too distanced from the world of children to fully associate Pokémon with being a kid. Instead, Pokémon was just Nintendo's new turn-based RPG to me. It allowed for player-vs.-player combat, and player-with-player trading, which I thought was awesome. More importantly, it took place in a world that was one part EarthBound and one part Dragonball, but with characters that were one part Totoro and one part Godzilla, with a liberal dose of total insanity cast over it all. To this day, I'm still convinced that Squirtle is one of the most ingenious character designs ever. A turtle that squirts water with a squirrel tail, named Squirtle? Fucking amazing.


None of that design genius has been lost on Pokémon Black/White. The new Pokémon are just as amazing as the old ones, if not more so. The best part is, the designers at Game Freak no longer have to rely just on static images to convey their ideas. Each Pokémon now has a smooth, expressive standing animation. That goes for every Pokémon ever designed -- all 649 of them. I believe that's some sort of record for individually animated 2D sprites in a videogame.

Those animations can really go a long way toward making these characters interesting and fun to look at. For instance, when I first saw the new legendary Pokémon Victini, I passed it off as a cheap Pikachu knock-off. That was before I saw his hyperactive dance animations and the tiny changes in his facial expressions, and heard his signature whistling battle cry/death rattle. I love that little spaz so much now. He hasn't left my party since I first caught him five hours into the game, which is saying a lot, since I'm 88 hours (and counting) into my first play-through of Pokémon White.


The attention to detail doesn't stop at the animations. Like all the Pokémon games before it, Pokémon Black/White is an immensely detailed game. Figuring out all the features, systems, and techniques is like a science unto itself, one that I don't think I'll ever fully comprehend. If you want the full laundry list, check out after the review. In the meantime, I'll tell you about a few of the new aspects that really enhanced my time with the game.

Right off the bat, you get a starter Pokemon (like in prior Pokemon games), but after a bit of exploration, you'll also get a corresponding monkey Pokemon of complimentary type to go a long with it. Your first gym battle will also change depending on which starter you chose. A little later on in the game, you'll find that you trade online in real time with strangers, which really ups the excitement and potential for online trading. You can also jump into someone else's game and team up with them on special multiplayer missions, and catch Pokémon that are otherwise unavailable to either of you. Then there are the two kinds of triple battles, which are easily the biggest evolution of the Pokémon combat system to date. I honestly never really enjoyed playing Pokémon against other people before.  One-on-one -- and even two-on-two -- battles just felt too predictable and limiting. With triple battles, that's really changed for me. It's a very straightforward improvement, but it goes a long way to making the game more fun.


On the other hand, Pokémon Black/White doesn't just stack new stuff on top of the old formula. It also works to streamline play. You won't have to rely as heavily on moves like Surf, Flash, Strength, and Cut in order to make your way through the campaign (though all those moves are mandatory for certain side quests). It's all part of Pokémon Black/White's overall push to make the player enjoy every second of their experience with the game. The polygon-based backgrounds allow for dynamic camera angle changes that make even walking around the overworld potentially exciting. The seasons change once a month, which both allows for new seasonal Pokémon to pop up, and for new areas to be explored in the overworld. Music changes dynamically in battles, trainers give mid-battle trash talk, you can get video chat calls from NPCs and PCs alike in the midst of playing; the list goes on and on.


There is also a storyline. I've never been much for the storyline of the Pokémon games, but I have to admit that the story for Pokémon Black/White has its moments. The game is about your player and his/her two best friends setting off into the world of Pokémon, a world that much more closely resembles the United States than in prior Pokémon games. Almost right away, you bump into Team Plazma, a group dedicated to freeing Pokémon from the oppression of humans -- sort of like a PETA for Pokémon. What makes them interesting is that like PETA, they may (or may not) have their hearts in the right place, but either way, their methods are often questionable at best.

The further you get into the game, the more you get to understand Team Plazma, and the fact that they are a truly bizarre, cult-like organization, poisoned from the inside by entitlement and dogma, but potentially saved by the purity of their Pokémon love. This ambiguity and internal conflict is encapsulated in Pokémon Black/White's main "rival," a character named N. I don't want to give away the details about N, but I'll say that by the end of the game, you'll feel like you've gotten to know this mysterious character pretty well. The game's story may not be Metal Gear Solid 4, but it's definitely a step up from the simple "terrorist/organized crime/environmentalist group uses Pokémon to do bad stuff" narratives of the past games.


There are a few niggling issues I've had with the Pokémon series since day one that still bother me in Pokémon Black/White. The menu system remains overly complicated at times. I tried out the game's limited video chat system with Destructoid's Max Scoville yesterday, and it took about a half hour for us to figure out how to get it going. Max is a smart dude, and I'm not totally dumb myself, but we still needed to bust out the instruction manual and engage in some trial and error just to get online. Find your Pal Pad in your bag, exchange friend codes, then go to the Wi-Fi room (not the Union Room, you idiot!) in the Pokémon Center to get each other in the room, then select your Xtransciever, which does... wait, what does that thing do again? It's all much more work than it needs to be. There is no reason I can see why they couldn't just let you select "video chat" from an "online" option in the game's main menu. For that matter, there is no reason for there not to be an "online" option in the game's main menu, instead of breaking up the game's online modes and settings into multiple different locations.

And don't even get me started on the game's "box" system. Why does it still take me more than three steps to get into the Pokémon storage system? Why do the "Deposit Pokémon" and "Withdraw Pokémon" options even exist? These are such little problems, and it seems like such common sense to fix them, that I can't help but wonder if I'm missing something here. I'm pretty sure it's not just me, though. It's probably just another case of Nintendo making an incredible game, but missing the boat on a few basic interface optimization techniques that would do a lot to make their software more fun to use.

There are a few other tiny problems I have with the game. Some of the Pokémon animations are a little bland; the "legendary trio" this time around doesn't look all that legendary; and there is the occasional bout of slowdown (usually in particularly large areas of the overworld or in triple battles). I could also do without the mandatory in-game tutorials on how to catch Pokémon and what a Pokémon Center is. They're great for beginners, but veterans like me shouldn't have to sit though that stuff. Overall, though, those issues really do nothing dampen what is the newest, most polished-feeling Pokémon sequel to date. Just before writing this, I tried going back into Pokémon Pearl/Diamond/Platinum to see how it stacked up to Pokémon Black/White. It felt like such a step backward that I could barely stand to look at it. Even without new hardware to rely on, Pokémon Black/White still delivers the next step in the evolution of the Pokémon series.


If you like Pokémon, or ever could like Pokémon, this is the game for you.



Pokémon Black - Reviewed by Jonathan Holmes
Entrancing - It's like magic, guys. Time disappears when this game and I are together, and I never want it to end. I'm not sure if this is a love that will last forever, but if it is, you'll get no complaints from me.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
 Follow Blog + disclosure Tips
"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Ju... more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

Cynic without a Cause avatarCynic without a Cause
I just wanna get drunk and listen to J-pop
extatix avatarextatix
Spiel was mightily expensive. Holy shit... Good thing I didn't bring more money with me, too. Saw enough stuff I'd love to own.
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
In memory of Lesser Dog of the snow fields. 1 spaghetti = never forgetty
ChrisHannard avatarChrisHannard
Trialling PS Now - review to come later - has reminded me of a piece of little-reported PS3 news. Owners of hacked PS3s could turn any PS2 game into a 'Classics' title and run them on a bog-standard PS3 with few issues.
nanashi avatarnanashi
Wanna ask a question for tomorrow's PStoid? You still have time! While you're at it don't forget to ask one for Riobux too!!
SkarKrow avatarSkarKrow
I caught a reflective mumbling about MGSV's open structure and how it doesn't sit well with me, to be published whenever I litter it with images.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Welp, an article today got me thinking about this so without further ado, whats your favorite pokemon? This is mine:
Clarence Sheridan avatarClarence Sheridan
Winter is Coming and so is the new mobile game: “Frosty The Assassin” New Mobile Game coming soon... [img][/img]
SkarKrow avatarSkarKrow
I cast my little worm in to the pond for a topic to try to make a blog about today. I fish fish fish but nothing bites bites bites.
Perro avatarPerro
I cracked and bought Final Fantasy Dimensions on Android last night. Half off sounded like just the right price, though I wish this came out on 3DS or even the Vita but at least it gives me something to do on the porcelain throne!
Jiraya avatarJiraya
Coming soon in Mortal Kombat XXX DLC - HUMILITALITY [youtube][/youtube]
Robo Panda Z avatarRobo Panda Z
Those N64-era THQ wrestling games have actually held up really well over the years. Take that, nostalgia!
Halflocke avatarHalflocke
Underhero a 2d side scrolling rpg on indie gogo
extatix avatarextatix
Heading off to Spiel in a bit. A whole lot of games there, just of the cardboard variety. I love me some board games.
absolutfreak avatarabsolutfreak
Finally finished The Witcher 3. Definitely one of the best games I've played in my 30 years or so of gaming. Now onward to Ground Zeroes/Phantom Pain.
Nathan D avatarNathan D
*playing an old ps1 game* "START and SELECT don't bring the menu up?! WELL WHAT THE FU-oh, it's Triangle..."
TheDefenestrator avatarTheDefenestrator
If anyone's playing Marvel Puzzle Quest (any platform) you should join my Alliance, RedRightHand, and help me kick some Galactus butt for their second anniversary event. (Please?)
Shinta avatarShinta
MGS Online Day 3. I have 3 character up to level 10 now, one in each class. They're all pretty handy, but I do miss the scout's mark speed the most on other classes.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
The SW: Battlefront is pretty and has great sound design, but the gameplay is so shallow and has seemingly no depth! If the full game is like this I will be disappointed.
Torchman avatarTorchman
*looks at Amazon preorder* This one's for you Chib'
more quickposts


destructoid's previous coverage:
Pokémon Black

  Feb 25

More details on upcoming event Pokémon Meloetta

A better look ahead of next week's distribution event

  Feb 04

Here's how to get Meloetta in Pokemon Black and White

North American distribution event next month

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!


Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -