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Junipers Pruned

Pokemon Black and White - Change, I Chose You Ian's avatar
pokemon black and white
Mere minutes after Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are released the Pokemon people are itching to announce their new game. Remakes? Whatever! Here's the goddamn fifth generation already!

Firstly they showed new logos, then some scans of the latest Famitsu showed some screenshots. The biggest thing I've noticed about these was that they appeared to be moving away from the tile based area design that past Pokemon games have used, as there appeared to be actual curves on roads and some angles that aren't 90 degrees. This may not sound like much, but the tiles were key to the way getting into battles with pokemon trainers worked, so it seems like they are going to have to overhaul that and other systems.

Finally a video cropped up of some appropriately wacky looking Japanese TV hosts watching and reacting to some gameplay footage. Here it is:

Most notable is the change of perspective with the camera being much closer to the ground than before, and what appears to be an area based on a cylinder which reminds me of a Lemmings game no-one played called Lemmings Revolution. While the forth generation (Diamond and Pearl) mostly seemed to be about the added connectivity options the DS hardware enabled and to a lesser extent making the jump to 3d, this generation seems like it'll be more about changing some core things about the series.

But what should they change?

Edit: James brought up the theory that the cylyndrical level might just be a fancy camera trick hiding a still tile based design. He suggests that should a player leave by one of the steps at bottom of the screen, the camera would swing around so that the stairs are verticaly orientated. He also pointed out that the NPCs are pacing around like they are going between tiles as they used to do. We need them to release more videos before this puzzle will be solved I think.

Editor Opinions
Ian's avatar

I guess I should say at the outset I've always been reasonably fond of the Pokemon franchise, but have never finished a pokemon game. I came to the series in the third generation playing Pokemon Ruby on a DS and got 5 badges before giving up. This didn't stop me from immediately diving into Pokemon Diamond which I played for roughly the same amount of time. I've been thinking a lot about why I stopped playing them, and I think it comes down to a gradual frustration with a lot of the game mechanics that slowly build up to the point where I no longer want to continue. I will present these issues for you in list form:

  • Combat Speed - More than anything, I cannot stand the pacing of the combat. Almost everything about the combat flow seems to of been designed for the original gameboy and then never updated ever. Each iteration only seems to make it slower. Most obviously I hate the way that it informs you of super effective/not very effective every single time. YES I KNOW IT ISN'T EFFECTIVE, SHUT UP. Then there is any fight which has an environmental effect like rain, which it dutifully shows you between each turn and informs you that rain continues to pour. Beyond that, the leisurely pace at which each action is carried out and each text box appears just makes me want to immediately stop playing.

    All these things could easily be communicated to you visually, for example 'SUPER EFFECITVE' could appearing briefly in the attack animation. Rain could be shown to be continuing to pour in the visual represnatation of the battle that you are looking at. With the way it is now I am just constantly hammering the A button the entire battle in the hopes that it'll either get the idea and hurry the hell up, or a fast forward button will somehow manifest. So in summation, I would like a complete re-working of the flow of the combat with an emphasis on speed. I don't have a problem with the overall battle mechanics though, they are fine.

  • So Many Pokemen - Did you know there are currently 493 pokemon? Each generation has brought over a hundred new pokemon to the table. Of course a lot of them fulfill the same role (Bulbasaur, Chikorita, Treecko, Turtwig) but the oft stated overall goal of catching them all is so overwhelming that it's hard to know where to begin. Some are only available from other generations, or other versions of the same generation, or only if you attended a pokemon event in Santa Monica in 1999, etc. There's also like male and female versions of them, and all kinds of personality types (My Koffing is Sassy!) and shininess. It's simultaneously baffling and overwhelming.

    This new generation is bound to add another hundred or so pokemons to the mix. In order to be able to sort this issue for me I would love to be guaranteed that I could get all of the pokemon without having to go outside to pokemon games outside of Black and White. They also need to at some point give you some advice on how to get some of the remaining pokemon. Anything to remove the part of playing a pokemon game where I spend tons of time staring at FAQs. My darkest desire is that they chop the total number of pokemon in the game down to a somewhat manageable number, say 250? I know pretty much all of them are bound to be someone's favourite pokemon, but there are so many nearly identical ones would anyone be truly upset if Feebas and Snorunt weren't in the next game?

  • Weak Against Grass Attacks - Can anyone tell me a good reason why Psychic attacks are super effective against Poison pokemon? Or why Rock attacks are ineffective against Fight Pokemon? The 17 sided elemental system is probably the most complicated elemental system ever conceived, and often doesn't follow any particularly logical that would make it memorable. I spend most of my time playing these games with this image open on a computer near me:

    crazy pokemon chart

    Just look at that stupid thing! Anyway, either simplify the system down to the point where it can be somewhat logical, or surface this in the game somewhere. It's not like it's a secret what does damage to what. My solution would be to start the game with a blank grid accessible easily within the combat, and as you witness each type of attack on each type of pokemon it fills in the effectiveness. One this has been filled it, it highlights your attacks effectiveness on the four attack buttons so you can instantly see what the results might be.

  • Other stuff - Everything about the rest of the game needs a bit of a general shot of adrenaline to the arm. How about instead of the slow-ass animation of the poke balls appearing on he machine you get when you heal your pokemon at the pokecentre, it just happens or can be skipped? Why are you wasting my time, game? Connect to "Someone's PC?"? What on earth does that mean? Why is there a giant button that says 'FIGHT' that I have to hit at the start of each turn in a place where the four attack buttons could easily fit? The game virtually never uses the screen space effectively. Though I have in researching this rant noticed that HeartGold makes more effective use of the lower screen by putting lots parts of the menu on it, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

So will they do any of this stuff? It's too soon to say, but I am somewhat hopeful from seeing that they are apparently willing to change some quite fundamental aspects of the game such as the grid base map system. I'll be keeping a close eye on any more info that comes out about this game anyway, and am much more interested in this game than I thought I would be.

James's avatar

As someone who HAS finished every Pokemon game (sometimes more than once) I can't help but feel a little concerned by the extent to which Pokemon Black and White apparently ARE different - visually, at least.

The 4th generation games looked fantastic, and were the ultimate extension of the original art style, all pastel colours and cuteness, with very sparing use of 3D. Pokemon Black and White are risking everything on the DS's frankly terrible ability to render things three-dimensionally, with poor textures and no aliasing. Witness how that Pokemart shimmers and distorts as the DS's meager hardware tries to rotate it. It's not a good look, and I'd take well-drawn 2D over half-assed 3D any day.

As for changes, well, there's no denying that certain aspects of the game design are stuck in an orthodoxy that was formed by the first two generations, when all they had to work with was an original, 8-bit Gameboy. Things have come on since then, and naturally, I've got some suggestions about what I'd change.

  • Combat Speed - As Ian says, this one badly needs an overhaul. It is not necessary for every step to be dictated to you as if you were 6 year old. Yes, some of the players might be, but for those of us that aren't, there's plenty of information that could be made implicit in a more advanced mode. Don't tell us it's raining, just put a rain effect over the battle! Don't tell us the move was dodged, show us it being dodged! There's room for more than one piece of information to be imparted at once.

    Even as a fairly enthusiastic player, I'm guilty of mashing the A-button in an attempt to made sure no battle is a second longer than it needs to be. With two screens available, there's no reason that some information couldn't be deferred to the second one so that details could be delivered in parallel, rather than in series. When grinding is such a major part of Pokemon, it would pay dividends to speed up the battles to the point where every wild Pokemon encounter doesn't make your heart sink.

  • Pokemon Availability - I understand that trading is a major part of Pokemon, and that the WiFi Plaza makes it easier than ever to get hold of rarer Pokemon - but you can only trade for pokemon you've fought or encountered in the wild. Which is fine, until you have a gap in your pokedex that can't be filled because even though you've fought every trainer in the game, there are still some pokemon you simply haven't seen in any evolutionary form.

    My feeling is that you should be able to encounter every pokemon in the Pokedex on a single cartridge. Not necessarily wild versions you can capture, but enough that you can at least try and arrange a trade for one over WiFi. Unlike Ian, though, I don't think there are too many Pokemon at all - after all, they're the appeal of the game, and things like shiny pokemon, natures, genders IVs and EVs only matter if you want them to. And for the record, I think the elemental system is about as perfect as it needs to be - though I'd resist any further complication.

  • Evolution Methods - In a bid to de-emphasise the rather tedious levelling process (there's no sweeter moment than when you get the Exp Share in a Pokemon game) there should be more variety applied to how Pokemon can be made to evolve. I know there are already things like friendship levels, beauty, and the odd location- and time-specific evolution - but let's see even more of that, replacing the insufferable "evolves around level 40" realisation. Evolving and breeding Pokemon is one of the most interesting parts of the franchise, and as we've already discussed, the battling is one of the worst - why not offer the player a little more variety in how they approach the business of evolving pokemon to complete their Pokedex?

  • Trading - Finally, I can't go any further without pointing out that as someone who has played multiple games, I've wasted a lot of time getting Pokemon from game A to game B and beyond. My Mewtwo has helped me win every Pokemon League, for example, meaning I've probably spent a good 20 minutes just taking him between games. I understand that there needs to be some restriction early on to prevent people from unbalancing things early on (although, as a side-effect, that necessitates yet another Magikarp grind...) however, when the time comes, the plot is complete and the National Dex is open, I wish it wasn't so difficult to send the pokemon I want to keep to another game. Trading, in its current form, takes far too long.

    As it stands, transferring 6 pokemon between two 4th generation games can take a good 30 minutes, and longer if you include time to catch 6 pokemon you don't want as trade fodder. The Pal Park made transferring Pokemon from 3rd to 4th generation games into an actually ENTERTAINING process. Let's have some of that attitude applied to the 4th generation Pokemon titles in Black and White, please. Or, at the very least, a "mass transfer" mode that lets you fill up your boxes or swap entire parties. Don't punish me for remaining faithful to the franchise over time!

Obviously, I don't expect anyone involved with Pokemon to give a damn about these changes, but as a wish list, I expect it reflects the majority of pokemon players. And since the graphics suggest that they're deviating from the formula a little, maybe they'll take the opportunity to tighten some other areas up too.

Tags: pokemon