Although the internet is ablaze with talk of the 3DS, I’m instead going to focus on something from the not too distant past. The way with the internet is that trends are gone within weeks, and what I’m about to talk about is now old news; well, that’s not the case for this… I am, of course talking about the timeless Pokémon.
My first experience of the world of Pokémon was at least ten years ago, when I played through Red for the first time. It was a massive craze back then, and certainly the coolest thing to bring to school and show off to your friends. Whilst a lot of my friends moved on after Gold and Silver or even Ruby and Sapphire (and, admittedly, I didn’t get into the third generation myself), I was always drawn to the charm of Pokémon. I decided a couple of years ago (with the help from my Pokémad friend) to journey back into the world with Pokémon Diamond, and I’m glad I did. Whilst the formula hasn’t evolved too much, the games are consistently excellent; why should they change it if it works?
The biggest complaint I had heard about Diamond, Pearl and Platinum were that they had too many Pokémon. Whilst I don’t agree with this complaint, I was very aware that when I was playing through Diamond I was still using my old favourites in my team, namely Machamp. That meant that it was at least one (and up to a full team of six) less of the new Pokémon in my party. Interestingly, the new region of Unova only houses the 156 new additions and doesn’t feature any of the classic Pokémon; at least until you get the National Pokédex after defeating the Elite Four and completing the main story arc of the game.
Having to use the Unova exclusive Pokémon, rather than my faithful team of Machamp, Umbreon, Ludicolo, Flygon and Mamoswine means that the game feels fresh and that I have to work out new strategies, rather than recycling my old ones, akin to the first time I played Red all those years ago. It’s absolutely brilliant, and just one of the reasons that Black has (team) rocketed to the top of “Blair’s list of games in the Pokémon series, ordered by favourite to least favourite”[drop2]Speaking of Team Rocket – the evil organisation featured prominently in the first two generations and the anime, hell-bent on taking over the Slowpoke well to steal their tails (yeah, that was their plan) – there’s a new evil team around, led by the mysterious N (who is nowhere near as good as Giovanni, just saying): Team Plasma. Plasma feel as though they have an actual objective, rather than just wanting to steal everyone’s Pokémon, and they feature heavily throughout the story.
Their objective? Not to steal powerful Pokémon for their own use, but to release them from the evil humans who let them get hurt in battles, keep them locked away in Pokéballs whilst they get on with their lives and don’t treat them fairly. It’s a superb take on the Pokémon world, and it actually makes you think: is what we’re doing right? Aren’t we just causing them immense pain by battling them until they faint? We use Pokémon, don’t we? They are not pets, they are tools: living weapons. The game handles this really well, thus making you bond with the new Pokémon more than any other game in the series.
Team Plasma is just one of the things that makes the story brilliant. That, and the fact that it doesn’t entirely follow the Pokémon formula that we’re used to. All I’m going to say is that you shouldn’t expect to catch Reshiram or Zekrom in a cave and then using them to blast through the Elite Four. You might be confused, but don’t worry; it’s a mammoth ending that you won’t be prepared for. The story keeps on giving and giving too, as even though I’ve completed the main arc and woke up back in my room after the credits have rolled, there still at least three locations to visit, including the version-exclusive Black City and White Forest and there’s definitely a lot more to be done.
The gameplay is obviously a big part of Pokémon, too. The turn-based battle system is largely the same, although the camera seems a lot more dynamic and follows the current attack rather than being stuck behind your attacking Pokémon (it will zoom up when they use fly, blast across the screen when a physical attack is used and there are a lot of other different animations for different attacks). There’s also the matter of triple battles and rotation battles, which add even more to the game. You still have the bicycle, running boots and all of the other gadgets needed to explore the overworld, keeping some of the tried and tested mechanics from the series as a whole.[drop]Visually, however, it’s had a complete overhaul: the buildings are now properly rendered in 3D (no, they don’t come out of the screen) and a lot of different angles are used in different places; the camera will zoom out as you cross a gigantic bridge, or the isometric angle will be more acute in a certain city that includes colossal skyscrapers, extending right up to the top of the screen and beyond. The Pokémon Gyms also look better, and you’ll have to work your way through puzzles around them, one that includes being fired across the Gym in cannons. The scale is marvellous; it certainly feels bigger than any Pokémon game that has come before.
Add all of this to a solid soundtrack that fans will no doubt love, due to the remixed nostalgic sounds from the older games and you have what can only be described as Pokérfection. There’s no reason to ignore this game, whether you’re just someone who’s into an excellent story and some great gameplay with RPG elements, a hardcore RPG fan that must level up his team fully and go beyond the light first layer of the game into the realms of EV training and competitive battling, or if you’ve once loved Pokémon but ‘grown out of it’. No, wait, that’s impossible; Pokémon, like Pokérus, is infectious and in no time you’ll want to learn what that actually is and all of the intricate details behind the main game itself.
Listen up, kids, Pokémon isn’t just for children.