Game Review: 'Pokemon Black Version/White Version'

Filed under: Video Games

Rated ON for Ages 8 and Up

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that "Pokemon Black Version" and "Pokemon White Version" are nearly identical games with the exception of one exclusive character and one world-area in each. There is a morally challenging plot, in which one side argues that Pokemon monsters should be liberated from their human owners and the other argues that the creatures are better off and happier with their human friends. But most importantly, parents need to be aware that there is an online component to the game, which allows players to compete with random players (but without chatting with them). For those using a DSi, it also allows video chat among up to four people, though only with registered friends.

The good stuff

  • Ease of play: It feels like there's more to keep track of here than ever before in a Pokemon game; however, all the various rules and strategies are explained quite clearly through the course of the story.
  • Educational value: There's a well-known strategic element to Pokemon battles, as players must figure out which Pokemon to use, when to use certain moves, and when to use bonus items. Kids must also keep track of their in-game money and spend it wisely.
  • Online interaction: While kids don't need to play this game online, there is a heavy online component offered. Players can battle against online friends, or, for the first time, random players from around the world. If they have a DSi with a camera, they can engage in video chat as well, though only with registered friends. Still, Common Sense Media recommends caution for any game involving live chat. Kids can connect wirelessly to trade Pokemon, and they can also enter an online Dreamworld to play special mini-games and meet (and copy the save files of) other players' Pokemon.
  • Messages: There's always been something a little troubling about Pokemon's basic concept: Humans capture wild Pokemon and make them fight each other. In this story, the developers tackle the issue head on, with Team Plasma -- "villains" whose goal is to liberate the Pokemon. The protagonists argue that Pokemon are happier with their human owners and develop loving bonds with them. Neither side is specifically stated to be wrong, but Team Plasma comes across as villains because they use questionable tactics to achieve their goals.
  • Role models: While the heroes are on the side of keeping the Pokemon (rather than setting them free), they talk repeatedly about the importance of caring for their Pokemon, seeing to their needs, making sure they are happy, etc. They truly want to get across the message that humans must treat their animals with kindness.

What to watch out for

  • Violence: As in most previous Pokemon games, fighting is depicted in unrealistic, turn-by-turn strategic battles. Some of the moves have violent names, like "Bite," "Scratch," and "Incinerate," but you'll never see one Pokemon touch another. With some of the moves, you will see water or fire rise up around the Pokemon, but damage is still only depicted by a health meter going down. Losing Pokemon "faint." No one dies.
  • Sex: Not an issue.
  • Language: Not an issue.
  • Consumerism: The game is sold in two versions, Black and White, and both contain the same storyline, but each has one exclusive Pokemon monster that the other doesn't. Each version also has one exclusive area to explore: Black has an urban city and White has a lush forest. By releasing these games at the same time, they tempt kids to own both.
  • Drinking, drugs, and smoking: Not an issue.

What's the Story?

The plot to "Pokemon Black Version" (and "Pokemon White Version") is more morally ambiguous than most (in a thought-provoking way). This time, there's a group called Team Plasma that wants to liberate the Pokemon creatures from what they call human oppression. You play on the side of the Pokemon trainers, who believe in building loving relationships between humans and Pokemon creatures. But rather than simply state their case, Team Plasma starts using dirty tactics to "win" people's Pokemon away from them. In addition to the long story mode, kids can play online battles, chat with registered friends, and trade Pokemon with online friends.

Is It Any Good?

"Pokemon Black Version/White Version" is possibly the deepest, most feature-filled Pokemon game to date. In addition to its intriguing storyline, it also introduces changing seasons (with different monsters that appear in each), three-way battles, and a slew of modes for online or wireless multiplayer action. There are over 150 never-before-seen Pokemon in the game, and those new species are the only ones you'll encounter until you've finished the main story -- making Black/White much more appealing to veterans of the Pokemon franchise. But you can also download your Pokemon from previous games into Black or White. And newcomers can easily slide into the game with nice clear tutorials that are neatly inserted into the story. This newest Pokemon is not just a retread, but a nice build upon the series.

Publisher's Details

Developer: Nintendo
Released on: 3/6/2011, Price: $34.99, online enabled
ESRB Rating: E for Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence

This review of "Pokemon Black Version/White Version" was written by Christopher Healy.

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