I think I may have given this away already, but I am a rather big fan of Pokemon. I’ve played every generation several times over, albeit Generation IV with Diamond/Pearl/Platinum somewhat less so. Hence I obviously got myself a copy of Pokemon
Black and White Monochrome, this time with my own DS so I didn’t have to wait for my sister to finish playing the game before I got a go, as was the case with the last generation. I know this isn’t exactly anime and therefore doesn’t really belong on this blog, but I would like to share my impressions on the game anyway.
Note: I’ve covered my discussion of the end of the plot with a spoiler tag, but this tag doesn’t work if you are reading this in a feed reader like google reader.
A big point about Monochrome is the lack of old established Pokemon, which I was originally a bit sceptical/nostalgiafag about. Like, what Pokemon would I catch with my Old Rod now? However I got over this pretty darn quickly, especially at the prospect of not having to face Fishers with 6 Magikarp anymore. These guys instead had Basculins, who offer more a challenge apart from the usual calculating the time gaps you have to hit certain parts of the touch screen with the stylus to get through the battle without having to look at the screen. Plus they give you more experience anyway.
Admittedly there was no one Pokemon that stole my heart the same way Drifloon did in the last generation, but you know the creators have done a good job when I spent my entire time going through the game thinking “I’m so training that guy next time I play”. This is especially the case when my Pokemon OCD comes into effect. I definitely can’t have two Pokemon of the same type on my team. Oh no, then it won’t be balanced! I had caught the generic caterpillar Pokemon, Sewaddle, towards the start of the game, who turned out to be a particularly useful Bug/Grass type and I was rather happy with my choice. That is, until later in the game when I came across a fucking electric spider! But nope, I had a bug Pokemon, can’t train that.
One minor bitch I had was the rather surprising lack of decent Special Attackers. I had a team with 3 Attackers and only 1 Special Attacker (that being Munna, the flowery floating Drowzee). However I hit a point in the game where every blasted Pokemon was either a type I already had or a regular attacker. I only found 1 special attacker, that being Vanillite, and I flat out refuse to train a fucking ice cream pokemon when I had already passed on an electric spider. Also there was an odd lack of a decent water Pokemon. I was holding out until I got Surf to get one, but Surf wasn’t handed to you until right towards the end of the game, and the only two Pokemon I could find was the relatively useless Basculin and some piece of seaweed with the face of a transvestite.
Perhaps I idealise Generation III a bit too much, but Hoenn outclasses every single other generation in this category. Hoenn feels like a genuine land mass instead of a series of towns. If there’s a volcano, the towns around it reflect this surroundings, as does the terrain. If it’s by the sea, it feels like a proper sea town. There was such imagination and personality in every route and town. Generation IV felt like a step down from that, but at least each town had its own personality. Generation V is a step down again. OK, they got one thing right that previous games didn’t in that they made the Big City actually feel big with 3D gimmickry, but everywhere else felt like a collection of important buildings than an actual community or anything. It’s still better than the first two generations though. My big problem lies elsewhere.
Someone in the Pokemon executive committee decided that the gamer had too much freedom. We can’t be having with you naturally discovering the world as you did in Generation III now, could we? No, instead we have to spoon-feed you every bloody step of the way. Everytime you go to a new town, someone has to come and meet you and tell you to go to Mysterious Cave #3. It’s not like I wouldn’t have gone to Mysterious Cave #3 anyway, you thick gym leader. Let me discover this for myself. It’s not like there was anywhere else left to go anyway, the game was so painfully linear. The literally set the towns up in a circle sent you from town to town in such a boring fashion, blocking the paths to the next town with increasingly frustrating ways. By the end I swear they’d given up when a person blocking the path ahead literally said “The bridge is closed for some reason”.
And to think I was impressed when Generation III introduced baddies who were something other than a generic evil organisation. Pokemon Monochrome laughs in the face of every previous generations plot. Don’t read below this spoiler text unless you’ve finished the game. It’s worth waiting for.
Other parts I was impressed by in regards to the plot was the handling of the rival characters. Admittedly N is the real rival, but the childhood friends became part of the overall questioning morality of what one does with Pokemon. Considering your ‘Rival’ in previous generations had been getting shittier an shittier, I like the new twist on that. Less exciting was the games attempt to try get you to care about each of the Gym Leaders. I preferred it when the Gym Leaders stayed in their fancy gyms fixing up new traps instead of directing me towards Spooky Tower #5 that I was going to go explore anyway. Also the Elite Four were rather a let down, beating all 4 of them pretty easily, albeit that was partly down to Pokemon OCD again. In Generation IV, in order to get the National Pokedex, you had to see every Pokemon in the game. Sometimes you would only find this Pokemon by battling Obscure Trainer Facing Wall #14, so I went through the game battling every single trainer possible. Hence most of the major battles were pretty easy for me, apart from the last two.
Back in Generation III they introduced double battles. It was a fun alternative to a regular battle but was never meant to be a main feature. But they at least incorporated it into the game at one point with the 7th gym double battle. However that was about it. I’m not a competitive Pokemon battler in the slightest, but I gathered that double battles never really caught hold in the competitive scene. Since then, Pokemon does seem to have been pushing double battle tactics a bit more, but you won’t capture peoples imagination with this type of battle if you don’t incorporate it into the actual game itself. The thicker grass that you can meet 2 wild Pokemon in was a great step but it wasn’t used enough. Neither do double battles feature prominently in almost any of the game itself. Even though every gym leader in this game had to come and say hi to you before battling them, I’ll remember Tate and Liza for a hell of a lot longer than any of those idiots.
This version introduced even more crazy types of battles, such as triple battles and that strange clockwork battle where your main guys spin about on a crank. But the same old problems exist that they don’t incorporate this into the game enough. I swear the number of actually important double battles go down each time. Triple battles are even rarer and there was only one clockwork battle in the entire bloody game. That all said, I prefer that these types of battles exist rather than not. As much as I lament the games lack of incorporating these battles properly into the game, I prefer that you can at least have something other than your standard 1-on-1 Pokemon battle. Also how about this for a revolutionary concept: When you meet a two wild Pokemon at once, you can only catch one, right? How about 2 legendaries who you can only fight together so you’re only allowed to catch one. That’s one way of incorporating it into the game.
While not exactly ‘alternative battles’, I’d like to talk about those special other events you can do with your Pokemon. You know, stuff like Musicals and Fashion shows and other nonsense like that. Again, Generation III did this best. The Pokemon Contests felt like something you should look forward to in each town. You got the reveal that such things existed early on but you couldn’t take part. Then the later towns held Contest Tents that you could actually participate in. Training your Pokemon to do well in these contests required effort and a lot of berry watering. Plus the contests themselves required skill and tactics. Meanwhile, in Pokemon Monochrome, you have the Pokemon Musical, where you give your Pokemon a hat and watch him jiggle about on a stage for roughly 5 hours. I know nobody cares about these events, but bull-fucking-shit Pokemon, put some effort in.
A big plus I like is how the Pokemon are constantly shuffling about in the battle. My particular favourite is watching Scraggy pulling up his dungarees before getting hit my charging fire pig. That said, it does only serve to make the dumb Pokemon look even dumber. In particular that sarcophagus Pokemon, who hides inside his tomb for a bit before pulling his arms out and waving about like a madman for the next 10 seconds. I know because I trained one and I had to watch the back of him throughout the game. In general, the increased quality of in-game animation was cool. The 3D gimmickry was indeed nothing but gimmickry, but that moment when the camera rolled all over the place as I crossed that massive bridge was kinda cool. They didn’t really use it for anything worthwhile though, apart from increasing the awesomeness of the final scene. That is something I will never hold against the game.
Here’s a part that probably won’t get as much notice but deserves quite a bit of credit for having the balls to do this sort of stuff. The parts of the older games this version did away with. Sometimes it was simple things, like making TM’s not run out after one use. When playing the game I’d often not teach a Pokemon a TM in case I had to use it later on. Not that I taught my Pokemon very many TM’s this time either, but I still appreciate the idea. Also doing away with the rods until after the game was over was cool too. It’s not like they ever added much to the game and I was long since sick of fishing after going through the blasted Hunt For A Fucking Feebas. Another aspect I liked was the lack of need for HM’s. It was always a bit of a pain to have to lug about one Pokemon stuck with Cut, Rock Smash and Flash. Thing is, instead of having natural stuff blocking the path ahead, now we had guys saying “the bridge is shut for some reason we don’t feel like making up now”, which is not an acceptable alternative. Don’t do away with HM reliance in exchange for not having anymore exploring.
The painfully linear nature of the game got to me quite a bit, killing the exploration nature of Pokemon because apparently your average Pokemon player has too little attention span and walks off bored if it’s not immediately obvious where to go next. However the classy plot and (apart from that stupid ice cream cone) awesome new Pokemon do make up for that somewhat. I do feel more like these Pokemon will look more awesome down the line in better created worlds than this one, but that would then undo the good work that this one had in not having any older Pokemon in it.