As expected after the success of Pokémon Black/White, a sequel has emerged, but for the first time in the main series, the games have numbers attached instead of a color change. Taking place two years after the events in the first game, Pokémon Black Version 2 has you taking on the role of a young child who is of age to embark on a Pokémon journey. Your mom happens to be good friends with a Pokémon professor who wants to know how the regional Pokémon population has changed in the last two years. When you've gathered the necessary materials for your task, a neighbor shows up on a quest to become a better trainer.
The crux of the game is still the same. You start off by picking up your first Pokémon, each representing one of the series' major classes (fire, grass and water). You go out into the wild to catch new Pokémon or battle other trainers. As your Pokémon battle, they gain experience, which lets them level up to learn new moves and, in some cases, evolve into a more mature form with new abilities. Ultimately, you'll face off against the eight gym leaders of the region and the final four bosses before you can call yourself a Pokémon master. The formula feels timeless enough and works very well for both series veterans and newcomers alike.
Usually, the semi-sequels offer a few tweaks that aren't seen in the main game, and that is the case here as well. The entire bestiary is available from the start instead of limiting things to the Black/White-specific ones until you finish the quest. While it is nice for veterans to encounter wild Psyducks and Rattata without grinding, it also presents players with different strategies for confronting the Pokémon early as opposed to repeating the quest. The game asks if you want to use certain items again if a copy of it runs out; it makes for faster fights since less time is spent navigating menus to get a refill. There's also the ability to replay the quest with variable difficulty levels, a first for the series. A few new Pokémon have shown up as well, though they're mostly of the "Legendary" variety and have shown up in the previous game but are now in a more accessible form. You can also visit the White Forest, so ownership of the complementary game isn't necessary this time. Finally, the ability to transfer your cache of creatures from the first to the second game still exists, giving you a leg up on those who are starting the game fresh.
What isn't expected, however, are the new additions in what is usually a minimal update. Most of that change comes in the region and the passage of time within it. Unova might be the same, but you start out as a different trainer from the first game with a completely different rival. New gyms replace a few of the older ones, and new gym leaders have emerged, some of whom you'll recognize if you played the first title. The time change also evolved the enemy group Team Plasma, though not for the better, as they have splintered into different factions. Their sense of purpose feels lost due to their split loyalties, as they've essentially become the Team Rocket under a different name. Even though not many people will pay attention to the plot, it is interesting to see some evolution in the world, especially when the games seem to go out of their way to hit the reset button by moving from one region to another with every new version.
As far as side-quests are concerned, there are some new ones here, though some are odd. The Pokestar Studios mode certainly fits under the odd heading, as you set up your Pokémon to act in staged battles that serve as the movie's action sequences. Unlike other battles, the goal is to follow the script, so you'll have to perform certain conditions in the fight to make the battles exciting, even if you have greatly overpowered creatures at your side. While you are rewarded for following the script, you can deviate a bit to get other rewards and some new script paths. Again, it's a bit silly, especially since you and your Pokémon dress up in wild-looking costumes, but the rewards ensure that you'll give it a shot instead of dismissing it.
Join Avenue is another feature that seems odd at first but ends up being very useful. You manage a mall with other trainers you've met through various communication methods (IR link, online, etc.). As more players come in, you can recommend the shops in your avenue and get rewarded with special and rare items. With the shops and avenue having their own leveling system, it's something else you need to manage, though it's engaging enough.
A medal system has also been introduced. Acting as achievements for a portable console that doesn't have a similar built-in system, a character named Mr. Medal gives you medals for completing tasks. You'll get medals for exciting things like winning X number of battles or more mundane things, like saving a certain number of times. It doesn't add anything substantial to the game, but those who like to "catch" everything will certainly be attracted to the 250+ medals here.
The big new mode people will flock to is Pokémon World Tournament. As the name implies, you enter a tournament against some of the best trainers, including former and current gym leaders. The big draw is that leaders and trainers dating back to the original Red/Blue games return, making it an all-star affair when you're fighting the likes of Brock and Misty with their original Pokémon lineups. Having the chance to play against all of your old enemies from the series makes it worthwhile, but the enhancements will motivate those who don't have the same nostalgia attached to these trainers and leaders.
Despite the small improvements and changes, some parts of the game prevent it from being the definitive Unova region experience. The always-on run mechanic is still missing after being available a few versions ago. Though items in battle are easier to access, there are still too many menu moves required to swap out Pokémon via the PC in each Pokémon Center. While there are multiple ways to get into a multiplayer fight, you still can't access it until you've spent a good deal of time in the quest. In a way, this is fine for new players who still need to build up their Pokémon and their levels, but for those who already imported their collection and want to get into a fight right away, patience is needed. Then there's the story, which is fine by series standards, but after it went into some darker territory last time, some may not appreciate the move toward a younger-oriented tale.
The other part that could irk people is the dependence on time-based events and specific systems to utilize everything in the game. There are a few Pokémon that are only available at certain stores or during certain time periods online, so if you buy the game late, you'll only get them if you run into someone who has them and is willing to trade. Also, there's the ability to link the game to Pokémon Dream Radar to transfer Pokémon. Unfortunately, this app is only available on the Nintendo 3DS, so those who aren't planning to upgrade to Nintendo's latest handheld will miss out on the complete experience until they upgrade, especially since some Pokémon are more easily attainable than in the game.
Not much has changed in the presentation. The audio remains perky with an upbeat score, and sound effects have been cleaned up but remain the same as they were from the original Game Boy. The environments and camera all move in a 3-D space, giving you more dynamic views of both your surroundings and your battles, but everything else remains in nicely animated 2-D. It is still a very impressive outing for the old handheld and a good look for a series that was never a forerunner in graphics. Keep in mind, though, that playing it on a 3DS or a 3DS XL produces graphics that are more pixelated than when playing the game on anything from the original DS family. It isn't exactly a deal-breaker, but it's something to keep in mind for those who are switching to the new system to take advantage of the exclusive minigame.
Like the first game, Pokémon Black: Version 2 is a solid title that most fans will enjoy. The addictive qualities remain, and partaking in the quest to meet and capture every Pokémon is still as exciting as it was several handheld generations ago. While the base game is still great, longtime fans will be less enthused by the restrictions, despite the many improvements and included modes. For those looking for their next series fix, this entry will do nicely.
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