Pokémon Black and White remains the best Pokémon generation in the franchise.
Black and White innovated and challenged what the Pokémon formula could look like. Chockfull of new gameplay features like triple battles, seasons, Pokémon sprite animations, and an original roster of 150 new Pokémon to choose from, it had it all.
It’s easy to forget this game was released on the Nintendo DS; it pushed the 2D pixel art to its limit, flexing both dynamic and dramatic camera perspectives that are visually astounding for the time and system.
Black and White is also unique for having a meaningful and nuanced story. It asks the rather simple and obvious question: “Should Pokémon be free?” while exploring each side of the argument in compelling and thoughtful ways through its sympathetic and fantastic rival, N. Top that off with grandiose set pieces and landscapes, and Black and White proved the series could be grounded and deep, not obtuse and childish.
Yet, thirteen years after its release and nine Generations later, and not a single Pokémon game since then has come close to matching Black and White‘s quality or scale. In fact, the series has been on a sharp and steady decline for years. The mainline games continue to religiously follow the formula, but largely refuse to add any substance or change. The stories are more bombastic and absurd with each installment. The characters are flat and archetypal.
Each generation continues to be plagued with glitches and software issues. New Pokémon games are churned out every couple of years, which speaks to a lack of quality assurance and care at Game Freak.
Then there’s the spin-offs. Some of them, like Pokémon Snap and its sequel, New Pokémon Snap, are novel and an absolute joy to play, while others like Pokémon GO and the recent Detective Pikachu game are dull and lack any real substance.
Unless you were a fan of trying to “catch ’em all” and have a complete PokéDex of the over 1,000 Pokémon available at this point, Pokémon Legends: Arceus‘ shake-up to the formula doesn’t work. Reducing the elements of team-building and eliminating progression through Gym Battles, then switching the emphasis to purely catching Pokémon and little else, is hardly what I’d call a nice change of pace.
Black and White had a focus on creating a compelling world and story with thoughtful characters and ideas. It didn’t need to stray from the classic formula to be attention-grabbing; it simply perfected it. I’d rather Game Freak take their time to develop a new Pokémon game with the same level of care and love that was given to Black and White. Because, until they do, Black and White will remain the golden standard of what Pokémon games could–and should–be.
Featured Image: Game Freak
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