Monday, October 15, 2012

Platypus Reviews: Pokémon Black and White 2

Something about the phrase “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” still resonates in me nearly fifteen years after the release of the seminal Nintendo Game Boy classics, Pokémon Red and Blue. Enough for me to spend nearly seventy bucks every time Nintendo and Game Freak release the latest iteration of those pocket-sized critters and Pokémon Black and White 2 is no exception. That should sound rather sad for a man who is pushing thirty but there is much to appreciate about the series when it comes to the fundamentals of its core concept. Very little about Pokémon has changed throughout its history, Game Freak may have tweaked the mechanics of the game itself but you still play the role of the silent protagonist who embarks on a journey, confronts a villainous organization, encounter a creature of legend and become the champion. However, Game Freak used this plot to the point of monotony despite the changing themes of Land/Sea/Air of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Time/Space/Antimatter of Diamond and Pearl.

This imperfection is particularly evident in Black and White 2 because the game itself is a direct continuation of Black and White with no new pokémon (aside from the new Kyurem and Kami trio forms) or significant alterations to the gameplay. So what made Black and White 2 good enough to take up twenty-five hours of my life that could have been better devoted to other endeavours? It is primal storytelling at its finest. Pokémon, from its first generation to the current fifth, evokes Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces and the “monomyth”, or as Campbell himself eloquently says,

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

What makes Campbell’s observation particularly poignant is that YOU are the protagonist of the game. You pick your partners for the journey, you participate in the battles between good and evil, you encounter these fabulous forces, and stand victorious each time you unseat the champion. Whereas most video games focus on characters like Mario, Kratos, or Master Chief, Pokémon elevates the player to the heroic figure in a fashion few other games can accomplish. No matter how repetitive the plots of each iteration of Pokémon get, I am instantly sucked into that world the moment I turn on the game and the only way to get me out is to pry my Nintendo DS from my cold, dead hands (with apologies to Charlton Heston.)

What makes Pokémon Black and White 2 stand out from the previous games is that it picks up where its predecessor left off, something that Game Freak has not done since Gold and Silver twelve years ago, and even takes you to unexplored areas of the Unova region. Black and White 2 even exceeds the original Black and White in that the journey is not has linear. Whereas Black and White was a continuous line from the starting town to Victory Road, Black and White 2 has the player zigzagging around the map, especially in the latter half of the game. The sprites are more animated, which adds more life to the experience, and the plot involving Kyurem as well as the frequent references to the previous game make the experience of Black and White 2 feel more complete. Almost like everything in Unova has come full circle.

Would I recommend this game to everyone? If your main criticism of the series is its repetitious nature, then you will not find anything new in Black and White 2. In some ways I agree that the Pokémon series is not living up to its potential when the concept lends itself to other genres like the MMORPG. However, the game, despites its flaws, appeals to those who appreciate mythology like myself. So as long as the world of Pokémon calls me for adventure, I will answer every time.