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Black & White; first impressions

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Early information points to reinvention
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  • Sunday, May 23, 2010

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This column has been written by YeOldeJacob. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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It has always been a personal policy of mine to never get excited for films, games, etc. based upon trailers and previews. I'm even quicker to put my cynic-cap on for sequels, and especially sequels that promise stirring innovation. All we have seen of Pokémon Black & White are starter and player-character designs, and a few seconds of footage showing off a modified isometric camera system, as well as an example of the new battle sequence (complete with real-time movement of Pokémon and a moving camera). Yup, Black & White are perfect fits for for the sequel-that-promises-innovation bill.

And yet, it seems I've misplaced my cynic-cap, and for the life of me I can't find it. This isn't to say I'm bent on loving these games, but I certainly didn't have the knee-jerk reaction of negativity I thought I'd have. Which is weird for me. Especially with a franchise that spent a better part of the last decade disappointing me.

Pokémon Black and White logos

It seems Game Freak/Nintendo are finally ready to innovate again. Fortunately, this is coming at a time when the series is in desperate need of a bit of a shake-up. They've spent the last two generations tweaking the details to further perfection (be it the introduction of abilities and natures, the refinement of the EV/IV systems, the testing of the DS touch-screen waters, etc.), but left the core framework of the game nearly untouched. This made for an enjoyable, but ultimately hollow experience. Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald and Diamond, Pearl and Platinum were games that seemed to be building-blocks for better games. Maybe Black & White are those games.

Innovation is something I will be harping on until I see it. I can understand why change has been put off. Change is a dreadfully tricky challenge. Two of my favorite game-franchises, the Tony Hawk and Sonic the Hedgehog series, have fallen victim to misguided modification. I'd hate to see another of my cherished franchises go down the drain, but what differentiates Pokémon from Tony Hawk and Sonic the Hedgehog is the series is in serious need for something new. And I hope Black & White can be the proverbial defibrillators for this series.

I'm really digging a lot of what we're seeing. I love the idea of a modified isometric camera system that shifts to accommodate the environment. Black & White seems to be aiming for that. I've never been a huge proponent of full-3D battle sequences, but keeping the 2D sprites while moving forward with real-time movement is something I am fully behind.

The little of the new region we have seen speaks volumes. Isshu is risky chance taken by Game Freak/Nintendo. We know the region is by no means a neighbor to any of the other four regions, as it is further away from them than Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnoh are from each other. This, I believe (along with its unique name), was done to further establish a goal of reinventing Pokémon. Hiun City looks absolutely massive, and exhibits more of the features of a true metropolitan area than any of the big cities in previous regions do. This has me eager to see the more of the rural areas in Isshu. If the same attention to detail exists in them, Isshu has the possibility of being one of, if not the most gorgeous region we've seen.

I'm not completely sold on Black & White, though (Okay. I'm going to buy one of the two regardless of what I think of TBA information, but I'm certainly not obliged to praise it yet. No one should be.). I'm certainly not in love with the new player-characters. I'm not surprised I don't like them. The player-characters have always been an extension of the time-period's fashion. I'm simply not a fan of the I-spent-a-few-hundred-bucks-to-look-like-I-dressed-myself-in-a-garbage-can-during-the-80s look. Due to this, I'm doomed to play through Black & White thinking mini Pokémon trainer me is a mini eyesore. Unless, of course, there is a certain, somewhat demanded, character-customization feature (though I doubt it.).

The starters have yet to grow on me. Pokabu and Mijumaru in particular. They are way too cutesy for my tastes. Pokabu is quite goofy looking and Mijumaru looks like, to steal an apt comparison from a friend of mine, “the illegitimate child of a Jynx and a Bidoof”. I will say, though, I am borderline in love with Tsutarja. It is, to use a painfully outdated expression, too cool for school. In the art grouping all three starters, Tsutarja strikes me, based on its facial expression, as saying; “I'm hanging around these two fellows ironically.” But my complaining and my lauding are both relative. To each his own.

I said in my previous article, referring to HeartGold and SoulSilver, that the idea Game Freak/Nintendo had to reach into its past to create a brilliant game worried me. This is still something that worries me. Not so much after what has been given to us (albeit limited) in regard to Black & White. I don't want to get too pumped for these games, as I've learned my lesson before with this series. It does, however, seem as if novelty may be coming back to this franchise, and that is what it has been sorely missing.