Editorial: Feeling Grey About Pokemon Black and White 2

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As I am sure all the Pokemon fanatics are already aware, last weekend Nintendo announced Pokemon Black and White 2 for the Nintendo DS. The Big N also confirmed that the first official sequels in the franchise would be available this year – June in Japan, and sometime in the fall in Europe and North America. Few other details have been revealed, other than three of the brand-new monsters appearing in the return to the Unova region.

Obviously, this announcement has sparked some discussion and debate amongst the gaming community. In terms of sheer numbers, the Pokemon series is one of the highest-selling franchises of all time, ranking below Angry Birds and the Mario brands. Any new entry in the franchsie is a big deal, generally because the launch of a fresh set of Pokemon games means big money for Nintendo. For a company that just posted its surprisingly massive financial losses in 2011 (partially due to costs related to the new RandD facility), new Pokemon games probably couldn’t come soon enough.

That being said, I think the announcement of Black and White 2 is very concerning for multiple reasons. It should be known that I consider myself a very, very hardcore Pokemon fan – a walking Pokedex, if you will. With the exception of Crystal, HeartGold, and Black, I have purchased and invested hundreds of hours into every single Pokemon title within the “main series”. There is no doubt in my mind that I have collectively spent more time playing Pokemon than any other series of games, which is why there are some major issues that seem to stick out to me like a sore thumb, even if I only know such precious few details about Black and White 2.

First of all, before I get to the obvious concern that everyone is complaining about, let me point out that the announcement of Pokemon Black and White 2 doesn’t fit any of the traditions of the typical Pokemon game release. This is probably because Black and White 2 aren’t the typical Pokemon games – they aren’t the start of a new generation of games (such as Gold and Silver, Black and White, etc.), a “third version” (such as Emerald), or a re-make (such as HeartGold and SoulSilver). They are the first sequels to date, which puts them in their own category.

If you take a look back at the history of the Pokemon series, Nintendo and Game Freak have been shockingly predictable about the release schedule of these games. The localization process for each game rarely fluctuates much; even the time between the launch of the new generation titles (like Gold and Silver) and the inevitable third versions (like Crystal) seems to be a pattern. This has given the Pokemon series a surprisingly predictable routine over the years, which actually helped me predict the March 6, 2011 launch of Black and White nearly eight months ahead of time. Since none of these patterns really apply to or fit Black and White 2, they seem to be in their own grey area – ironic, considering many fans of the series expected the announcement of Pokemon Grey long before they anticipated sequels.

Moving on, I’ll touch on the biggest debate involved in the Black and White 2 announcement: why are they coming to the DS, and not the 3DS? This decision has left almost everyone in the gaming community scratching their heads, including myself. Nintendo has made questionable decisions and gone against the grain in the past – I point no further than Iwata’s “People do not want to play online games” comment – but this seems especially puzzling. First of all, the obvious: just based on the limitations of the DS hardware, Black and White 2 are now restricted to the visual quality, the online capacity, and the functional capabilities of an inferior unit. Pokemon Black and White were largely regarded as a step forward in terms of graphics and production values, so one would think that Nintendo would want to push that momentum forward a bit – this does not seem to be the case.

The 3DS could really push the Pokemon series toward console-quality visuals, something that I think everyone has wanted to see since Pokemon Stadium was released on the Nintendo 64 – and after seeing the monsters rendered so well on the Pokedex 3D app, I think it is obvious how nice the games could look on the handheld. Next, why would The Big N want to support the DS – an aged handheld that is quickly being phased out by the 3DS, which ultimately overcame a very poor launch in 2011 and picked up a lot of steam heading into 2012? As I mentioned earlier, the sales of any new Pokemon games are a driving force for Nintendo – they even push hardware, something that the 3DS could certainly use right now. Sure, we’re getting Kid Icarus: Uprising, Luigi’s Mansion 2, Paper Mario, Mario Tennis, and about a dozen other “AAA” titles in 2012 – but wouldn’t a new Pokemon title (or two) do even greater things for the 3DS?

It is obvious that Black and White 2 will flesh out the plot that was introduced in the original games, which is interesting, considering that the developers appeared to invest more into the story this time around. I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but this is where I’ll stop, because I think this could be a very good thing for the Pokemon series. Much like Final Fantasy XIII, the fifth generation of Pokemon simply offered one of the deepest and richest new worlds to explore in the history of the series. It’s obvious why Nintendo and Game Freak would want to go back to Unova, exploring more of the events that unfolded in Black and White, and bringing back some of the characters. I for one would like to see more returning characters from previous games, and definitely more evolutions of old Pokemon – not just new forms of fifth-gen ones, like Black Kyruem and White Kyruem.

I might be complaining about a lot here, but I am nonetheless excited for Pokemon Black and White 2. I think that they are slightly unorthodox amongst the other Pokemon games, but I also know very little about them. That will surely change over the next few weeks, as the official Japanese launch is slated for June – when I’m sure we’ll know everything there is to know about Black and White 2. Until then, keep checking Game Freaks 365 for more information and tidbits related to the sequels.