Both the standard and new battle modes have received a visual makeover. The largely static Pokemon animations have been improved, so your Pokemon now sport a lively jiggle when waiting in battle. The visual improvements extend to the world at large as well, with charming 2D sprites blending effortlessly with 3D buildings and objects. Even the camera angles are more adventurous; at times, the camera will sweep across the environment to show off tall buildings or vast bridges that connect towns rather than display things from a fixed viewpoint. Sadly, the audio hasn't received the same treatment. While the chirpy music is well composed and sounds great, the sound effects during battles are as lackluster as ever, featuring uninspiring blips and screeches that lack the oomph to make a battle come to life.
Several new modes have been added to the online functions, now called C-Gear communications. The C-Gear is displayed on the bottom screen at all times when not in a battle, allowing for quick access. You can connect to other players via infrared or a Wi-Fi Connection to the Internet, allowing you to battle, trade, and use a new feature called Feeling Check. Battling and trading your Pokemon with others is great fun, and unless you buy both the Black and White versions of the game, it's the only way to collect all of the different types. Unfortunately, you still have to deal with the dreaded friend codes to battle people you know, but thankfully, random battles and local battles are code free. If you prefer something more sedate, you can play the Feeling Check minigame while linked with another player locally, which tests the compatibility of your Pokemon with others via a rhythm game where you try to tap in time to onscreen markers. It's not the most exciting of experiences, consisting of nothing more than a few blinking lights and some beeps, but you're rewarded with bonus items to use in the single-player if you're in sync with your friend.
Pokemon Black has more fun with its camera angles than previous iterations.
Another online feature is Pass By, which keeps the DS's wireless connection on to exchange information with passing Pokemon players, even when your DS is closed. Statistics, such as which starter Pokemon they chose and how far they've progressed through the game, are logged, which is neat if you want to see how other people are training their Pokemon. Even if you never touch the online features, there's still a ton of content to enjoy once the main storyline is complete--legendary Pokemon to catch, side quests, and three new towns. Thanks to a new seasonality system that freezes parts of the world in winter, previously inaccessible areas are opened up, allowing for more exploration and additional quests to discover.
The small tweaks in Pokemon Black, such as the improved visuals, new battle modes, and enhanced online features, go some way toward making it feel like a new experience, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that this is the same game that's been released countless times before. And yet, underneath the formulaic narrative lies a deep and engaging RPG. The quality of the battle system and that undying urge to catch 'em all means you're still sucked into its world, eager to explore its extremities just to get that one Pokemon no one else has captured yet. If you've never seen the appeal of the series, then the lack of innovation in Pokemon Black will do little to change your mind. Fans, however, should snap it up straight away.