Pokemon games are like flavours of crisp; everybody has a favourite and least favourite, there’s absolutely no consensus on which is best or worst, and debates on the subject get more heated than a McDonald’s Apple Pie on the surface of the sun. Unlike crisps however, where everybody who chooses cheese and onion over anything else is clearly on hallucinogens and requires an intervention from their friends and family, there’s at least some wiggle room for appreciating every Pokemon game on their own merits. Whether it’s liking the design of specific Pokemon, or a game’s story, or (in most cases) nostalgic goggles so thick they legally classify you as blind, there’s a case to be made for every last game. That said, I’ve been playing Pokemon since I was 5 years of age, and I believe my “research” has finally led me to an empirical conclusion on what is undeniably the worst Pokemon game – and it’s Pokemon Black 2 and White 2. Mic dropped.
For reference, I’m only talking about the “main-series” Pokemon games here. Obviously games like “Hey You, Pikachu!” for the Nintendo 64, which largely involved screaming at a disinterested yellow rat through a plastic microphone that didn’t work, are worse than any “proper” Pokemon game. Of course “Pokemon Dash” for the Nintendo DS, which features such engaging gameplay elements as “scratching the living daylights out of your touchscreen like a thousand angry kittens on a new leather sofa” and “exactly the same but now you’re a Mudkip” doesn’t compete with the tried-and-tested catch-’em-all formula. I feel like this could’ve been a given, but I include it for the same reason Mr. Tickle is banned from Major League Baseball; I like to cover all bases.
So let’s get down the brass tacks. The purpose of a “3rd entry” in a particular Pokemon “generation” prior to Black 2 and White 2 – Crystal, Emerald and Platinum for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations respectively – was to provide an updated and “complete” experience a year or so after the release of the first two games. Black 2 and White 2 not only disregard this entirely (as Game Freak sensed an opportunity to print some more money), but B2W2 (as I’m calling them from now on), but in fact u-turn like a Tory government and betray a lot of the ideas of the original games. For instance, a major selling point to older Pokemon fans, sick of slogging through caves full of Geodude and Zubat over and over again, is that Black and White’s substantial main plot features exclusively new Pokemon. B2W2 completely disregards this and, despite the fact that new Pokemon such as Patrat, Woobat and Roggenrola were designed specifically to replace old ‘mons, haphazardly throws them all back in anyway.
Furthermore, B2W2 completely gut the more nuanced and interesting story of BW and turn it into a Baby’s First RPG plot. Gone are the conflicted ideals of Team Plasma, friends of Pokemon but concerned for their well-being, and gone is N, the green-haired weeb-bait that exemplified these traits (except until the very end where he turns up out of nowhere to rescue the player, because of course he does). In their place is a Team Plasma sliced in half; one faction essentially being EPA from The Simpsons Movie cranked up to max voltage, and the other being your bog-standard playbook villains who want to rule the world for non-descript reasons. Probably so they can abolish yoghurt and make love illegal or something. To this end you have new characters Hugh, who runs into you every so often to remind to remind you the bad guys are bad, and Colress, who swans about being aloof and generally doing a whole lot of not a lot. The two main achievements of BW get torn to shreds by B2W2 like a Pidgey in a sink full of Carvanha.
Then you have the added features of B2W2, which feel underdeveloped, under-designed, or both. The Pokemon World Tournament is probably the best of these, but still feels hollow – seeing the familiar faces of returning Gym Leaders and Elite 4 members is nice, but there’s no interaction between them and the reward is more rubbish than Trubbish – it’s just wearing the skin of something fondly remembered to try and score nostalgia points. Pokestar Studios is similar, in that it’s a brief bit of fun but doesn’t go anywhere – the films are neat little puzzle battles, but compared to contests in generation 3, which allowed every Pokemon and every move, and had a fairly involved system of progression, it just feels undercooked. The “medals” system, a knock-off achievement system attempting to cash in on everyone loving getting virtual trophies to wave around in 2012, are genuinely awful and I had forgotten they existed until I replayed B2W2 for this piece – as is Join Avenue, which outside of Japan, where everybody and their dog owns Pokemon, is literally a waste of time. The new starting area for this game compared to BW is nice but is far too backtrack-heavy and just becomes a slog, and equally the game incorporates a lot of previously post-game areas into the main story, making the post-game feel gutted.
Finally, while some of the main issues of BW do get addressed in part – the early-game biodiversity does get upgraded from “rats and pigeons and occasionally a cat,” like it was a Pokemon region based on central Manchester – many are left untouched; the “sprite-stretching” due to having a somewhat dynamic camera looks absolutely awful and results in some of the worst sprite-work seen in a game from this century, and the C-gear, where all the communication with other players is handled, is still a poorly-organised, cumbersome mess.
Ultimately, it would be almost impossible to make a universally-agreed-on “bad” game using the Pokemon formula – it’s been polished to such a high sheen the glare is almost blinding at this point. But B2W2 were clearly an experimental, trepidatious step, and suffer from gimmicky side-activities, poor design choices, and a hole ripped in the narrative so large you could get a Wailord through it as a result. While experimentation must be praised, the experiments that worked from Black & White are mostly undone here, and it’s largely that frustration of keeping Pokemon safe, by-the-books and obsessed with the past that leads me to the conclusion that Black 2 and White 2 are the worst Pokemon games.
Do you have your worse pokémon game?