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Breaking Down Pokemon Black/White

All the critical details you need to know about the next wave of Pokemon.

2011-02-01
This time Pokémon is going to change forever. This time there are major changes coming to the franchise.

It's the same old line we hear about Pokémon year in and year out, and it's the line we've been hearing over the past 15 years. But despite the fact that significant alterations have collectively occurred over the past decade, most of us are under the impression that not much changes year-to-year. That changes with Pokemon Black & White, the first installment of the "fifth generation." Honestly and truly, there are some big shifts coming to the franchise Pikachu built. Consider this your guide to the key details you need to know about the game, which hits the States on March 6.





What is Pokemon Black & White?

You're kidding, right? The latest entry in Nintendo's juggernaut franchise, Black & White marks the start of the fifth generation of the series, meaning we're looking at new creatures, new characters and a new world.

What's New?

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Upgraded graphics and animation

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Upgraded, expanded battle system

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More dynamic camera system

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Over 150 new Pokémon

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Seasonal cycle (in addition to day/night cycle)

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Enhanced global/infrared/WiFi interaction

The Story

You're a new, nameless character in the land of Unova, facing off against a new enemy, Team Plasma. Plasma operates a bit differently than your opposition of old, this time basically operating as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) gone wild. Despite these changes you'll still be collecting badges from trainers, seeking out legendary Pokémon and fighting your rivals.









About Those New Pokémon

Yup, there are plenty of those. In fact at first the game will feature no classic creatures, only 150 or so new creations for this generation. Miss your old Pokémon? Once you beat the game, a Pokémon outbreak will populate the world with most of the 500+ Pokémon you saw in previous games. Locations and rarity will still vary by whether you're playing Black or White, and some creatures are not available at all. Oh, and all of the legacy Pokémon will feature the upgraded graphics and animation.

To be honest, as someone who has a fierce, fierce loyalty to the Original 151, these new creations aren't as appealing to me… but I haven't seen them all. The two new legendary Pokémon (as seen on the covers of the two versions) are fairly impressive. FYI, the black creature is in the White edition and the white creature is in the Black edition. Place your pre-order accordingly.

The Upgraded Visuals

One of the reasons the Pokémon games are typically dismissed as not changing enough is because they've carried the same basic visual style for almost 15 years. In a fundamental sense, that isn't changing here. However there are some significant upgrades here if you see the game in motion.

The most noticeable change comes during battle, as every single Pokémon now features idle and fighting animations. The movement is fairly primitive – don't expect the cartoon or anything – but it's very effective in bringing the creatures to life. The camera has also been tweaked, allowing for zooming and panning during battles and some areas of the overworld. It might not sound like a lot, but it's definitely a cool effect. I saw a sequence during my demo where the camera slowly pulled back into the sky as the lead character rode his bicycle into Castelia, a major city. The result truly captured the scale of the city, something often lost in previous games.

Building on past entries, a great deal of Pokémon Black & White is now rendered in 3D, adding a greater sense of depth to a series that was definitely in need of a visual boost. There's no denying the game could still use more renovation in the graphics department, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. It'll be pretty exciting and interesting to see how the franchise moves to the 3DS.









Introducing Seasons

A seemingly simple idea in Pokémon Black & White will significantly impact how players experience the game. The first day of every month (in our time) will change the season (and visual presentation) of the world in Black & White. This affects everything from the Pokémon that will appear to battle conditions.

The Battle System

The most critical alteration, to passive and hardcore fans alike, is the addition of a three-on-three battle system. In this mode, even the positioning of your creatures matters, as only your center Pokémon can attack any opponent. Your left and right combatants have limited attack options, forcing you to carefully assess what creatures you place in which spots. Other than this change, as well as the dynamic camera, battles operate similarly to previous generations.

Connecting With Others

This is probably the most significant upgrade for the franchise. Players will be able to work with a number of options through local wireless, WiFi and infrared connections to trade, battle and communicate in general. Owners of DSi or 3DS systems will be able to video chat with their friends, while owners of older DS systems can work with voice chat.

Global competition will receive enhanced features as well. In addition to typical competitive play, more casual players will be able to battle their Pokémon on a more even battle field, where advanced creatures will all be lowered to level 50.

Adding to the game's numerous new features is a DS-to-PC concept called the Pokémon Global Link, which operates in conjunction with Nintendo.com. Among the site's many capabilities is the "Dream World," which allows players to interact with each other, customize their own "dream realm" and even acquire new items. In a loose sense, it's like the Pokémon version of Animal Crossing.

Other upgrades include the ability to immediately exchange friend codes via infrared (no more writing down the numbers!), an improved method of trading via infrared and a "tag list" which will work somewhat similarly to the 3DS's "StreetPass" concept.









The White Forest and the Black City

A long-standing tradition in the Pokémon series dating back 15 years, is the idea that there are two versions of the game, each with varying levels of creature rarity and trainer availability. This time around, though all those concepts are still present, but Nintendo is going one step further. Exclusive to each game is a full region – the White Forest for Pokémon White and the Black City for Pokémon Black. These areas will actually grow and evolve if a player links with friends and invites their trainer into the Black City or White Forest.

How Does It Play?

Sadly our time with Nintendo didn't allow us to go hands-on with the game. Still, at its core this is very much the next iteration of the long-running franchise. There is a great deal that is the same, and yet Pokémon Black & White introduces a number of necessary and potentially addicting changes. We'll be getting our hands on the game in the very near future, so stay tuned as the latest release of Nintendo's blockbuster series approaches.

©2011-02-01, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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