Everyone must know about Pokémon by now. Heck, even a friend who cannot stand anything Nintendo-related, choosing merely to focus on FIFA 13 Ultimate Edition on PlayStation 3 and weighing up whether or not to get Rocksmith, was talking about his memories of the craze from just over 15 years ago. Yes, it has been that long! His first words when looking at the copy of Pokémon White Version 2 being played on one lunch break, though? "What?! That looks exactly the same as on that old Nintendo!" Of course, he was referring to the games that started it all, Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Red on the Game Boy. He went on to reminisce about the lunacy of children in the playground with trading cards, how he even remembered Charmander, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and, obviously, Pikachu, as well as that infernally memorable slogan of 'Gotta Catch 'Em All' and the cartoon series' immensely twee theme song ("You teach me and I'll teach you…Poh-kay-mon…Gotta Catch 'Em All, Gotta Catch 'Em All, Pokémon!"). It was one of those moments where the realisation hits home about how important Nintendo and The Pokémon Company's series was, and how unforgettable it is to this very day.
What does this have to do with Pokémon Black Version 2 and Pokémon White Version 2, though? Well, the point that sunk in was how little progress has been made, or how it certainly appears so on the surface. In a world where the latest HD creation is heralded as the best thing since sliced bread, sadly the days of the 'bit' war that raged on until around the demise of the Nintendo 64, has once more reared its head, albeit in a moderately modified form. Playing two games with the exact same content matters not one jot in the eyes of mainstream consumers, hungry for a visual feast. The shinier version wins hands-down each and every time. Poor Game Freak then, as its games must not have a leg to stand on, right? Well, sales in Japan are still trundling along nicely as it nears the three million mark, according to track Media Create, but the rest of the globe is another matter entirely. There is enough hype to drive sales high again, however, and it is definitely justified.
A sequel, you say? Correct! Two years after the events of the first game, it is time to head back to the Unova Region for another Pocket Monster adventure. Thankfully, this is no mere retread of the previous entry, with a wealth of fresh content on offer. Character movement is still that awkward four-directional, tank-like control system; the redundant 'thud' when walking into an obstacle remains; character sprites are horrendously low quality, despite being 'updated' over the years; and the now ancient monster grunts are just as painful on the ear as they ever were. It is something that has been tolerated for so many years that if this successor had been given a total makeover, many might well have walked away. Crazy, right? In a way, yes, but die-hard fanatics are just that…fanatic. Mess with the heart of the series too much and there would be uproar. Therefore, to appease every man and his dog, compromise was made with Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version, also on DS, whereby surroundings were touched up, characters looked more distinct, and even the Pokémon critters looked more like they should in this new generation, yet not too much was amended. Jerky character animations were left in, making the game looked dated, the soundtrack had some great new pieces included, but retained the rudimentary 8-bit Game Boy monster grunts, and battles merely added a moving camera that adds nothing to actual experience.
It all sounds very negative, but what makes Pokémon addictive is in the characterisation; the story's basis has been static over the years, with a rookie trainer choosing one of three species types (fire, water, grass) and then heading out into the world to fill their Pokémon log (the Pokédex), battling against other trainers, beating Pokémon Gym Leaders, and thwarting some other nefarious group that rears its head (in this case, Team Plasma). This time there are new places to visit, numerous fun-filled activities to take part in, and the usual array of weird and wonderful folk to encounter along the way. Unova Region is the setting once more, but two years have passed and the adventure commences in Aspertia City where some new friends are made, and other familiar faces are met, with time leading to their lives changing considerably. Additionally, foes that players thought they knew all about now return with a twist. Team Plasma splitting into two factions, almost competing against themselves? It is the tip of the iceberg!
Battling in the variety of styles on offer (regular, double, triple, rotation), capturing as many Pokémon as possible, grabbing all the intricately placed items dotted around the world, absorbing all the superb little extra details (want to visit Game Freak's offices? You got it!), and enjoying the rivalry between trainers -- all the best aspects of Pokémon are back with great aplomb. Now, though, players can also make their own movies at the Pokéstar Studios, creating feature films that rake in millions of dollars and watching the amusing results of what seemed like basic battles during the filming process. Oh, and there is the little matter of the two new Legendary Pokémon, Black Kyurem and White Kyurem, both of which have devastating ice-based moves.
New, new, new -- what is new? Pokémon Black Version 2 and White Version 2 bring Join Avenue, Funfest Missions, Medals, and the Pokémon World Tournament to the table. Become a manager of Join Avenue to build up the place for people to meet and help encourage new stores to open up where items can be bought for use in-game. Funfest Missions has gamers playing with friends in over 50 special objectives, whilst an achievements element has been introduced in the form of Medals, of which there are more than 250 to collect for meeting various criteria. As for the World Tournament, this provides access to Gym Leaders and Champions from past games -- all the way back to the likes of Brock and Misty!
Everything is so thoroughly enjoyable throughout the entire adventure, but currently there are the aforementioned technical aspects holding the series back from ever achieving a perfect ten, and not only on the presentation side, either. The four-way directional movement feels so archaic, as does the menu setup during battles. There is a sheer lack of fluidity that people have merely become so accustomed to that they will never complain en-masse as they are only minor niggles that can be overlooked the majority of the time. However, it is for these reasons that anyone that tired of the formula within the first five years, will have no incentive for trying again a further eleven down the line. Those happy to ignore the blatant lack of core progress will fall in love yet again, enamoured at how Pokémon from outside of the Unova Region can be caught in the early stages, or how three Pokémon can take on three others in special triple-battles. For now this will succeed in its endeavour to become yet another multi-million selling product, but Game Freak certainly has to tread carefully for the series' inevitable debut on the Nintendo 3DS in the next year or two.