Despite generation after generation of updates (and as a 90s child, I experienced the fervor from the onset), the core Pokémon has never included a true sequel.  So to send off the Nintendo DS in strong fashion, Game Freak has deliver the first continuation of an entry in the series.  Pokémon Black 2 (and White 2) pick up two years after the events of Pokémon Black and Pokémon White, and much has changed in the Unova region.  And while this intriguing experiment with the franchise makes for one of the more enjoyable adventures of the entire series, at it’s heart, the game is still Pokémon, and you know exactly what to expect with that title.

As its predecessor had perhaps the most involved storyline of any Pokémon title, it’s only sensible that Black 2 continues the intriguing tale of Unova.  Though you play as a new protagonist, Team Plasma is still at the center of this tale, having reformed after its previous defeat.  Intriguingly, the evil organization has regrouped in separate factions with disparate goals.  Your character must contend with this threat along with some mysterious interlopers and a hometown rival who is pursuing an unfamiliar goal.

This land is your land, you just might not recognize some of it.

These attempts at fostering a more engrossing story are to be commended for a franchise that has remained narratively stifled for years, but sadly the story does not live up to its precursor.  The moral questions raised in the original Black and White are not at the forefront of these game’s struggles, and at times, the enemies feel more like oversimplified bullies and less like three-dimensional villains.

Yet, as a sequel, Black 2 defines its position in the series quite well.  Commencing from another hometown, your trainer is thrown into the journey to fill out a Pokédex and defeat the Elite Four.  Because of this alternate starting point in the southwest of this region, the route you’ll take around Unova is quite different from that found in Black, sometimes blocking off once easily accessible areas until late in the game.

Thankfully, this adventure will not feel monotonous due to the alterations some towns have undergone.  If you’re a fan of the original titles, it is a unique idea for this franchise to explore once familiar locales in new style.  My favorite upgrades for this adventure, however, were found in every city – the gyms.

Burgh's bug gym will impressively wrap you in its web of confusion.

Given grand makeovers, the gyms are as close to set pieces as this title can visually reach, from Burgh’s cocoon-infested tower to Roxie in Virbank City’s gym built to resemble a nightclub.  A clear level of craft has been put into these hallmarks of the series, and I can only hope the rest of the franchise’s well-trodden mechanics receive similar facelifts in the future.

Battles still operate the same as in every major Pokémon title, so don’t expect this sequel to iterate in this regard.  Luckily, Black 2 at the very least increases the variety of pocket monsters you will encounter.  Black 2 features 301 of the little creatures to encounter and ensnare in a Pokeball prison, many of which are from previous generations.  As a fan of the series since it first released, I took quite a bit of joy in discovering a Psyduck, Mareep, Lillipup and Pidove in the same area.

A true double threat - actor and...captain of the seas?

This frequent variation may have you switching out your team often, but it only increases the chances of discovering a few of your favorites.  The Pokédex’s new “Habitat List,” which details which Pokémon are found in each section of the region, encourages collecting all available monsters.  It is such an ingenious but obvious inclusion I couldn’t help but wonder how I had played without it.  Still, battling these wild foes will flow exactly like you would expect, and if Pokémon’s core gameplay has never captured you before, don’t expect this one to captivate you either.

And at the end of the day, the familiarity that so often plagues the series creates my most profound disappointment with Pokémon Black 2.  For all the steps the original Black and White took in the right direction of shaking up the concept, these sequels, for the most part, fail to continue that trend.

Unova is waiting for you climb every mountain and search every shore in search of its its varied list of pocket monsters.

New additions do demonstrate sparks of progress, such as the Pokéstar Studios and the Pokemon World Tournament.  The former allows players to take part in the Pokéworld’s moviemaking industry, which involves traditional battles with a puzzle-game twist.  To produce the best film, you have to follow the script and decide which attacks will prove most effective in each scene.  The latter offers players the chance to fight gym leaders and champions from previous Pokémon titles, offering a blast of nostalgia in this new land.

These additions shake up the format to an entertaining effect, but they too show the age of Pokémon’s battle and collect system.  As a player of the franchise since its beginning, I want to see more risks taken, a more fully realized experience developed rather than retreading a trail forged on the original Game BoyPokémon Black 2 is by no means a poorly-constructed title, and may be one of the most enjoyable entries in the franchise.  Yet I cannot ignore what has preceded it, and it only makes me wish Game Freak had pushed the franchise that much farther with this sequel.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ An interesting take on how to expand the Pokémon universe
+ Beautiful, exciting gyms that should be the norm
+ Intriguing additions like Pokéstar Studios shake up the formula, but…
- …That formula shows its age for longtime players
-  After the narrative success of its predecessor, this tale falls flat
- Other changes fail to live up to the ambitions Game Freak has insinuated it possesses

 

7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.

Pokémon Black 2 was developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo.  It was released on October 7, 2012 for the MSRP of $34.99.  A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.