We all love a bit of Pokémon here at Nintendojo. Many of us were right there when Pokémon Red and Blue were first released back in 1998, and since then we’ve all been well and truly caught by the Pokémaniac bug. We may all have permanent rashes on our knees from walking around in all that long grass, but all those countless hours spent training, catching, and purging the land of corruption were a total blast(oise). Our love really knows no bounds– we love the runts, the powerhouse legendaries, and everything else in between.
But I have something of a confession to make. It pains me to say it, but I didn’t play Pokémon Black or White, and nor is it likely that I’ll ever play them in the future either. I stopped my quest to catch ‘em all at Platinum, quite content that my Pokédex read 493 captured and 493 seen. I’m suffering, dear readers, from generation fatigue.
But help is at hand, because our own Kevin Knezevic has taken it upon himself to try and remedy my errant ways and put me back on the straight and narrow. Will he succeed in persuading me why three-on-three battling completely revolutionises this decade old franchise and why all these new Pokémon really are the Beedrill’s-knees and not just a bunch of Trubbish? Read on to find out (and maybe make your own arguments in the comments below to help him out)!
A Wild Katharine appeared!
There used to be nothing I wouldn’t do to complete my Pokédex. Over the years, I’ve stood in line for Mew, Deoxys, and Shaymin, raising the average age of event attendees by approximately ten years each time singlehandedly, and I even bought Pokémon Channel for the sole purpose of obtaining my own Jirachi. I (accidentally) resorted to buying a pirate copy of Pokémon LeafGreen when I realised no other game at the time would let me trade a Magmar or a Vulpix over to my (official) copy of FireRed, and before the days of HeartGold I endured the long climb to the top of Pokémon Colosseum’s Mt. Battle for Ho-oh. I waited patiently through each Pokémon Ranger game for my Darkrai and Manaphy egg, and I dragged my parents to far-flung shopping malls to get an Eon Ticket.
All this I did for the sole purpose of filling in those elusive gaps in my Pokédex. I did it without shame and without embarrassment, and with every new generation I would diligently catch about ten metric tonnes of Magikarp in order to trade over every last monster to my new game. I completed Pokédex after Pokédex without even batting an eyelid, but there came a point just after Black and White were announced when I thought, “You know what? I’ve had enough.”
A lot of this came down to Black and White’s monster design. I disliked every single one that gradually escaped into the clutches of the internet, and for the first time in my Pokémon Master career, I couldn’t pick out an entire team I really wanted to train. Hydreigon, Haxorus and Gigalith were tempting, but I just couldn’t get excited about any of the others. Stoutland was trying a blatantly inferior impersonation of Arcanine, Unfezant looked like a poor man’s Pidgeot, Seismitoad was Poliwrath with extra warts, and Throh and Sawk were Hitomchan and Hitmonlee’s reject designs. Whimsicott was masquerading as Jumpluff’s long lost brother, Axew was Larvitar’s cuter but less kickass-looking cousin, Beartic looked like an Arctic Ursaring, and Stunfisk was this generation’s Dunsparce. I also couldn’t understand why Bouffalant and Alomomola weren’t the evolutions of Taurus and Luvdisc.
What are all of these? I have no idea!
To top it off, I couldn’t get past the awful, awful English names. To be honest, I hadn’t liked many of the names from the fourth generation either– I was so disappointed with the name Luxray that I immediately nicknamed my newly-caught Sphinx “Rentoraa” after Luxray’s Japanese name, and promptly forgot its official moniker ever existed.
Another part of my frustration came at the heralding of yet another Fire-Fighting starter. I’m a big Fire type fan, and have always chosen Fire starters when beginning a new adventure (they’re clearly the most superior typing, after all). But not only was Black and White’s Fire starter a Fire-Fighting pig, it was also a Fire-Fighting pig with pretty average-to-awful stats. I loved Blaziken, I tolerated Infernape, but Emboar was just one blazing kick too far.
I also despaired at the continued absence of any new decent Fire types in the rest of the new line-up too. The fourth generation introduced a positive plethora of new Water types, most of which were completely useless, and while the fifth generation wasn’t quite so excessive in its Water type allocation, Fire types were still poorly represented overall. And there was no way I was about to train a ridiculous-looking chandelier either.
“What’s happened?” I thought despondently. Where did it all go wrong? Why were there Pokémon based off ice creams and rubbish bags? Had Ken Sugimori run out of ideas? Where were the good old days of formidable demon hounds and giant steel dinosaurs that sounded like trains?
Level grinding had also taken its toll. I used to be so eager, so determined, so full of hope… so much so that I cried the day my Gold cartridge wiped out my army of 20-odd Lv.100s. I’ll never know whether it was because I tried to use it with Pokémon Stadium instead of Pokémon Stadium 2 or whether I had just saved my game one too many times, but when I was greeted with the sole option of “New Game” the next time I booted it up, there were many, many tears.
Not so long ago I had resolved to rebuild my entire Lv.100 empire and get back all those lost hours and hard work, but to this day I still haven’t quite achieved my goal, at least not in rebuilding my original teams. I may have 19 Lv.100s at my disposal across three generations, and several more at Lv.80+, but in the end, what’s the point? None of my friends have Pokémon levelled up that high, so I can’t use them in battle against them, and I’ve exhausted everything to do in Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness. I also can’t use them in either of my Pokémon Stadium games because there’s no way I can jam my Pearl cartridge into my N64 Transfer Pak. There’s nothing left to do with them, so why go through all the toil and trouble of levelling them up that high when they’re just going to be languish in a PC box for the rest of their days?
It’s not that I’ll never play a Pokémon game again– I’ll happily replay all my old games (Gold and HeartGold are my favourites) and build squad after squad of monsters because, you know, FireRed and Ruby were awesome. But I just can’t muster any excitement for these new installments, especially Pokémon Black and White 2.
Kevin, is there any hope for me at all?
Kevin uses Persuade!
You’re not beyond redemption yet, Katharine!
I’ll certainly admit that not every new creature is a paragon of visual design, but the same can be said for any generation of Pokémon (yes, including the first one). People seem to forget that many of the early monsters cribbed from the Rare school of character design: Grimer and Muk are nothing more than anthropomorphic gloops of sludge; Voltorb and Electrode are sentient Poké Balls; Tangela looks identical to Shellder save for the fact that its face is obscured by a mess of vines rather than a shell (and has an inexplicable pair of red shoes protruding from its head); and the less said about Mr. Mime, the better. I can guarantee that, had any of these species been introduced in Black and White, they’d be just as reviled as the new Pokémon, but their association with Red and Blue, which for many fans were their introduction to the series, excuses them from criticism purely on the grounds of nostalgia.
You’re also not the only one who’s lamented the state of Pokémon; I’ve experienced a similar lapse in interest in the series myself, only mine coincided with the release of Ruby and Sapphire. Up until then, I was a voracious Pokémaniac: I spent countless hours playing my copy of Pokémon Silver (which to this day remains my favorite entry in the series); I watched every episode of the animated show despite how formulaic it became; and I eagerly spent my allowance on imported figurines from the local comic book shop. I was excited by the prospect of a new generation, but the more I learned of Ruby and Sapphire, the less they appealed to me. Everything about the pair seemed like a step backwards: not only was the day-and-night cycle from Gold and Silver gone, but I was generally repulsed by the new Pokémon. There was a noticeable shift in aesthetics that turned me off of the creatures. Sure, certain ones like Aggron and Armaldo benefited from the new approach to character design, but others like Cacnea, Lotad, Numel, Makuhita, and a host more, were simply goofy-looking and, worst of all, forgettable. It’s true that every generation prior and since has had its share of goofy monsters, but the ones in Ruby and Sapphire lacked the charm of their forbears (or, indeed, many of their successors), which made them, in my mind, the worst group of Pokémon yet (an opinion which I still hold to this day).
Don’t get me started on these three.
The difference between us, it seems, is our perception of the series. While you may think Pokémon is in a perpetual state of decline with each successive generation, I think the franchise has already hit its nadir and is slowly returning to its former glory. Diamond and Pearl righted many of the wrongs committed by Ruby and Sapphire (particularly by offering up a stronger selection of Pokémon to catch, not to mention reintroducing the day-and-night system from Gold and Silver), and Black and White only improved on their amendments.
It helps that I think Black and White contain the most consistent batch of new Pokémon since Gold and Silver. It’s not quite fair to call out Stoutland, Unfezant, and Seismetoad as uninspired when Ruby and Sapphire had their share of visual retreads, especially when theirs more closely corresponded to the original ones (Beautifly and Walrein, for instance, could be viewed as nothing more than redesigns of Butterfree and Dewgong, while the oafish Slaking was just a new-generation Snorlax). And Trubbish is hardly the most offensive creature in the series; I’ve already mentioned Grimer and Muk as equally-ridiculous monsters, but both families are clearly born out of a larger ecological concern that has reared its head in numerous other works of Japanese entertainment. You can find similar examples almost anywhere you look– the stink spirit from Studio Ghibli’s classic film, Spirited Away, for instance, is actually a river god corrupted by human pollution, while Hedorah, a noxious space monster created from toxic waste, shares many of its characteristics (particularly its origins) with the two poison Pokémon. There’s a cultural precedent behind Grimer and Trubbish that helps explain their origins, which makes them seem a lot less silly in the grander scheme of the games.
And I haven’t even begun to mention all of the great new Pokémon that Black and White introduced. The pair revitalized many types that had long been underutilized: Galvantula, Escavalier, Accelgor, Scolipede, and Volcarona are among the best Bug Pokémon (both competitively and aesthetically) in the entire series; Conkeldurr, Terrakion, and (my personal favorite) Mienshao restored the Fighting-type to its former prominence; Krookodile and Excadrill are as formidable as they are intimidating; Jellicent, Cofagrigus, and Chandelure (which I’d argue is actually a very clever representation of a will-o’-the-wisp) are all excellent additions to the Ghost-type; and so on. I could list a number of other creatures that stand out as highlights, but the point I’m trying to make is that Black and White contain the highest ratio of great Pokémon since the Game Boy titles.
This leads me to believe that your lack of interest in the series stems not from the new batch of Pokémon, but rather from your approach to the games. I’ve never once attempted to “catch ’em all,” nor have I had any interest to; since my foray into the series, I’ve only taken it upon myself to collect and raise the creatures that appealed to me most. Likewise, with the advent of Wi-Fi multiplayer, there’s no need to raise your Pokémon beyond level 50; each one is automatically reduced to that level for an online battle. It’s easy to see why you’ve burnt yourself out on the series considering how obsessively you’ve played it, and I can guarantee you’d enjoy the games more if you put less stock in collecting every monster and just took the adventures for what they were.
So yes, I firmly believe that the Pokémon series is just as strong as it’s ever been, and I’d definitely recommend giving Black and White a try. There’s something about the Unova region that fills me with the same sense of adventure that Silver did all those years ago, and I think you’d genuinely enjoy the games if you gave them a fair chance. That said, I do agree that Game Freak cannot sustain the series much longer by introducing 100+ Pokémon with each new installment. It’s getting hard just to remember them all, let alone catch ’em.
So what do you think, readers? Should I give Black and White a try? Maybe you’re a bit like me and have had caught just one Pokémon too many over the years. Either way, let us know in the comments! You never know, I might just change my mind after all!