Splendorous déjà vu is the name of the game in Pokémon White Version 2, the first direct sequel to a mainline Pokémon title in, well, ever. Rather than merely recycling and ornamenting the generally excellent original tale into a giftwrapped expansion (potentially titled Pokémon Grey, as some fans had surmised), Nintendo and the restless developers at Game Freak have wisely chosen to continue the story that began, and ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, in last year’s seminal Pokémon White Version. With its fresh-faced lead protagonists, separate, infinitely explorable locations, a broader geographical scope, and a combination of different, though not necessarily brand-spanking-new, species of Pocket Monsters to catch at varying junctures in the adventure (nearly all are available from the start), Pokémon White Version 2, by any normal standard, is a decidedly perfect sequel. However, the fact that canon Pokémon installments are still solely being manufactured for the soon-to-be antiquated DS with the graphically powerful 3DS making the rounds for well over a year now (not to mention a second version of the system, the much-improved 3DS XL, also having been released), borders on categorically ridiculous. Purely by the strengths of its unrelenting formula expertise and undying addictive qualities, Pokémon White Version 2 alleviates the frustration of not having a wholly 3D handheld Pokémon experience available in 2012.
Taking place two years after its predecessor, Pokémon White Version 2 is still set in the region of Unova, yet spans a number of previously untraveled townships and routes that feature nearly every topographical variety possible (grasslands, mountainsides, beaches, you name it). The basic goals of the game are the same as always: catch Pokémon, train Pokémon, win battles, earn gym badges, make your way to the Elite Four, become the Pokémon League Champion, and then it’s on to various post-game activities like filling out the remainder of your Pokédex. Simple, yes, but much easier said than done. With a set of objectives that essentially regenerate upon completion, each and every Pokémon adventure can literally be played forever in the truest sense of the word. Quite frankly, across all fronts, Pokémon White Version 2 is the most fully realized, graphically sound, and skillfully assembled core Pokémon title to see the light of day. Anything you could ever want to do in a Pokémon game lies within, and the dutiful developers at GameFreak would love nothing more than for you to take complete advantage of these options. All the classic Pokémon mechanics are totally intact, revamped, and fine-tuned in a seamless fashion, and with the addition of a multitude of contemporary modes and side quests, as it stands, Pokémon White Version 2 can be called, without very much hesitation, the definitive Pokémon excursion.
Fundamental scenarios such as progressing through gyms (some unvisited and others familiar yet exclusively remodeled for this unlikely follow-up) and catching wild Pokémon in the field (made slightly less stressful here with the Pokédex’s nifty enhanced ability to record the habitats of all the creatures you encounter) aren’t likely to disappoint, as they’re as enjoyable and habit-forming as ever, perhaps better. On the other hand, some skepticism regarding any novel method of play is bound to surface, so prepare yourself, because Pokémon White Version 2 has a gang of them. The game introduces yet another key item to amass in the form of medals that are awarded when specific conditions are met; this is a lengthy extra set of missions and isn’t likely to be accomplished in any sort of a timely or organized manner (fear not, for hints are provided along the way by the NPC who divvies out the loot). The exciting and nostalgic Pokémon World Tournament brings back iconic fan-favorite trainers from past generations in order to enhance your skills in battle and shake out the contents of your memory banks, innumerable childhood highlights flooding the screen.
There’s also the partly kitschy, partly masurbatory Pokéstar Studios segments, wherein you can record short films of yourself and a supporting cast of Pocket Monsters following scripted commands that demonstrate your knowledge of Pokémon type advantages. Fun Fest Missions are fetch quests that actually provide incentive, and, believe it or not, make a difference in how well you perform in other areas of the game such as battling and trading. Speaking of person-to-person interactions, the Infrared, WiFi, and proprietary Nintendo WFC connectivity—all function flawlessly. Join Avenue serves as a tidy, easy to navigate interactive hub for players you’ve added to your friend list. For those who still have their copy of the first game, the Memory Link feature unlocks special bonus scenes that enhance Pokémon White Version 2’s dual-arc mythos. This being a mainline Pokémon chapter, as you can imagine, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all there is to do. Pokémon Grottoes are cleverly hidden spaces that supply rare items and Pokémon alike. The innovatory key system, which grants you particular difficulty-changing keys as you become a stronger trainer, works to deepen the already sturdy choose-your-own-path nature of the meta-game.
I wasn’t a huge admirer of the original game’s politically incorrect, cult-based storyline that concluded with a bizarre cliffhanger of sorts, but Pokémon White Version 2 takes a different approach, a more straightforward one, harkening back to the more carefree days of Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal. Team Plasma is at it again, attempting to convince people that trainers are basically slave-drivers that use their Pokémon as tools, treating them like employees as opposed to friends and loyal companions as they so believe. Plasma’s ultimate desire is, of course, to steal the Pokémon for themselves and take over the planet or something along those lines. While these shenanigans are going on, you, the young fledgling Pokémon trainer who’s only trying to make Mom proud by getting off the couch and starting a new hobby, gets entangled in the corruption of the surrounding world. Characters from the initial yarn pop up here and there (Bianca is Professor Juniper’s errand girl and your preliminary guide, Cheren is a gym leader, and late in the game N returns as your ally instead of your adversary), but the male/female trainers at the center are native to Pokémon White Version 2, as is your rival, who may be the most interesting partial antagonist since the inaugural Blue (a.k.a. Gary Oak). There’s a bit of tale-rehashing here and there, as is to be expected, but the inclusion of so many new locales and the redesigned editions of old ones causes the overall feel of Pokémon White Version 2 to be absolutely refreshing.
Pokémon White Version 2 plays great, has the best graphics of the series to date, and is one of the better immediate sequels I’ve played in the last decade, yet it still falls short of spotless-masterpiece status. As substantial as it is, Game Freak and Nintendo clearly aren’t giving us all they’ve got. The people of Earth require mainline Pokémon action on the 3DS and need that fix pronto. It’s 2012. Hell, it’s almost 2013. The DS is eight years old, and its Pokémon games are still, somehow, wowing us with their incremental improvements. Imagine the possibilities, then, when Pokémon Rainbow 3D hits the market. Of course, that’s purely speculation, but at this point that’s all anyone can do.