Nintendo has announced the next versions of the ever popular Pokemon franchise on their handheld game system. They are to be, giving them their official names, Pokemon Black Version 2 and Pokemon White Version 2. These two titles will be out in Japan by the summer and in Europe and North America some time in the fall.
This sort of breaks the pattern of Pokemon game releases that have gone before it.
Over the years, a pattern has evolved that Nintedo will release a pair of games, like Diamond and Pearl, each of which has some Pokemon not available on the other. This is to encourage, depending on your level of cynicism, playing and trading with friends, buying both damn versions of the game, or boosting the sales of those cheat add-ons which some no doubt believe Nintendo secretly funds.
Then, in a year or so, Nintendo will launch a single, slightly revised version of the the two games, Pokemon Platinum in this example, which has all of the Pokemon from both Diamond and Pearl, so you can feel like a schnook for playing through both of the original games AND the new one. Pokemon Emerald and Crystal were also examples of this sort of update.
And then Nintendo goes back to remake an older version of the game. HeartGold and SoulSilver were remakes of Gold and Silver. Remakes always get that modifier in the name it seems. FireRed and LeafGreen were further examples of that.
Then, finally, Nintendo gets around to knocking out a new version of the game, which is where new Pokemon get introduced (and I have to think this is the tough part, putting together a batch of 150 new Pokemon that are balanced and useful and don’t seriously offend any cultures that buy a lot of these games) in a new land.
So really, while there have been about 20 Pokemon games (not the spin-offs, the classic Pokemon role playing games), there are only really five settings in which they take place and, honestly, one damn story played out over and over again, a young boy/girl sets out to defeat some oddly dressed bad guys and become the reigning champion in a world obsessed by Pokemon.
And while I sound cynical, the system has worked. I have the games on the shelf to prove it, and the sales numbers do not lie. Any year a classic Pokemon RPG title gets released, it is on the top 20 list for game sales that year, and often the next year as well.
So it is always a bit surprising when a company like Nintendo, which has been living off Mario for 30 years and Pokemon for the last 15, deviates from their traditional path, especially when such deviations often fail. (Compare Mario Party 8 sales to Wii Party… Mario Party with Miis versus Mario… and well, they are not that far apart actually, but Nintendo is still going back to tradition and Mario Party 9 will be the next version.)
I was expecting that single wrap up title to come out, to combine all of the Pokemon in Black and White with a name like… well, Gray isn’t a great plan I guess… maybe Pokemon Checkerboard?
Instead, we are getting two rework games with the continuation of exclusivity of Pokemon between the two and what have to be the worst name choices ever in the main Pokemon game line. Version 2? Really?
And even the main Pokemon in the game, the legendaries that you play through the whole game to catch, are on the lame name bandwagon. Rather that two distinct yet unpronounceable names, we have Black Kyurem and White Kyurem. And they appear to be basically the same Pokemon with just a different color scheme and a slightly different accessory kit.
There is not much out there… at least not in English… about the Black and White Version 2 story or new features that might get introduced, but at a high level it feels like the Pokemon team is running out of ideas.
I know, complaining that the latest two games feel repetitive when the whole series is, quite frankly, the same game retold nearly 20 times is silly, but it is like they aren’t even giving us the fig leaf so that we can pretend that this is something new.
In the end Nintendo will have to do more than merely crank up the repetitive dial another notch in order to keep this from being a best seller. There are a lot of people out there who are mad for Pokemon.
And a new release will mean launch events and special downloads and all sorts of thing that I will no doubt participate in over the spring and summer.
And when fall comes, I am sure we will buy a copy of each game. Because that is the way it works.