Created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996, Nintendo's Pokémon franchise has become one of the most successful video game franchises in the world, with sales of the games reaching more than two-hundred million copies, in spite of the franchise barely evolving over its decade-and-a-half existence. In 2010, the fifth generation of titles in the franchise, Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version (with this review covering the latter game), saw their Japanese release, and foreign release the following year, providing an experience on par with the rest of the series.
Aside from the introduction of rare three-on-three battles, gameplay in // Pokémon White// is almost exactly the same as in prior generations of Pokémon, with random encounters confined to caves and tall patches of grass (not to mention deep patches of sand in some spots), and certain items able to nullify random encounters with weaker Pokémon. Most battles are one-on-one, with the weaknesses and strengths of different Pokémon type always providing some semblance of strategy throughout the game. Defeating a Pokémon nets all living Pokémon that helped kill it experience, with battles against other trainers resulting in the acquisition of money used to buy items in shops.
As with prior Pokémon games, however, the difficulty is a tad on the schizophrenic side, especially late into the game, and since the player can't rematch against other trainers against whom they've already won, grinding for money becomes somewhat impossible, and the player can't really make liberal use of items until the last few battles. Moreover, switching Pokémon still wastes the player's turn, a step down from the character swapping systems in other RPGs like Final Fantasy X and Breath of Fire IV. Still, the developers did speed up battles a little, although most will likely want to turn off the attack animations to make them even faster, and ultimately, the battle system is decent at best.
Controls are relatively decent, with an easy menu system, shopping, and a good direction on how to advance the main storyline, what with the game's general linear structure, although backtracking to visited areas can still be somewhat tedious until the player acquires the Fly ability. There are also some other annoyances such as the lack of an auto-dash function, but otherwise, interaction doesn't leave too much room for improvement.
As with other Pokémon games, the story takes a backseat to the gameplay, although the goal of Team Plasma to liberate Pokémon from their owners is a nice idea. Still, typical elements of prior games' plots are present here, such as the player's rivals, not to mention an antagonistic group reminiscent of Team Rocket. Ultimately, plot isn't much of a reason to play this game.
The soundtrack is actually pretty good, particularly the catchy town tracks and a few of the battle themes, although their quality leaves something to desire. In an interesting twist, having a Pokémon in battle extremely low on HP triggers an alternative battle theme in addition to the near-death alarm, although said alarm actually beeps in sync with the near-death music. The Pokémon sounds are also solid, and ultimately, the game is easy on the ears.
Like other Nintendo DS Pokémon games, White uses a visual style combining 2-D and 3-D elements, with the environments having a three-dimensional scroll, although Pokémon and character sprites still remain in two dimensions. In a minor improvement from prior games, Pokémon in battle move a little even when doing nothing, although they don't move in sync with attack animations, and the scenery in battle is otherwise lazy, consisting only of circles below the dueling Pokémon. Ultimately, the game could have definitely made better use of the DS's graphical capabilities.
Finally, the game takes about thirty hours to beat, including the bit of grinding necessary to survive the endgame battles (although with a little luck, players can beat it sooner), with the goal of seeing and catching every Pokémon padding out playing time and adding a bit of replayability, in addition to the post-game content.
Ultimately, Pokémon White Version is a typical experience on par with its predecessors, with a somewhat-solid battle system, good control, and a nice soundtrack, although things such as its story and graphics leave decent room for improvement. Those who enjoy the series and don't mind its lack of evolution will likely have a good time, although those who damn it for not evolving and staying the same should look elsewhere.
+Decent Pokémon gameplay.
+Nice replay value.
-Graphics are lazy at times.
The Bottom Line:
Typical Pokémon experience.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours