About seven years ago, I stored my Gameboy Advance with Pokemon Emerald in the card slot and told my young cousins that I was “retiring” from Pokemon. It wasn’t because I thought grown men should no longer be playing Pokemon. I mean, people who know about its competitive metagame also know that Pokemon isn’t the kids’ game that it's typically marketed as. Instead, I was at a point in my life where I was getting more busy with work and I just didn’t have time anymore to invest in video games, especially one that required me to spend hours upon hours catching, breeding and EV training just so I can have my perfect team of cute little Pokemon butt whoopers to use against other players.
For the next year and a half, I managed to stay retired. In fact, it proved to be the least prolific video gaming years of my life as I barely touched any games. Even the successor to my GBA, an original Arctic Blue DS, rarely saw any action. By the time Pokemon Diamond and Pearl came out, my DS was gathering dust and I had no plans whatsoever to get the game. Then my three cousins paid me a visit. Keep in mind that before “retiring” I never lost a Pokemon match to anyone.
“I challenge you!” one cousin said.
“Sorry guys, I’m done with Pokemon,” I answered back.
“Ha!” said another cousin who was now in high school. “Are you afraid? I betcha’ I can beat you now. I’m older!”
As the “adult” in this group, the grownup thing to do was just laugh the whole thing off. Naturally, I decided to go to the nearest game store and bought Pokemon Pearl instead.
“Give me two weeks,” I said.
Both cousins giggled and gave each other a high five.
“We did it, hahaha! Time for revenge!” they said.
Little did they know what they just got themselves into... By the time the appointed day arrived, I had a solid stable of Pokemon that included the likes of Ludicolo, Skarmory, Blissey, Heracross, Milotic, Crobat, Starmie and Gengar (I was more familiar with older-generation Pokemon and builds at this point). I still remember the look of derision in their faces the first time I threw out Ludicolo against their stacked team of legendaries. When one of them started the match by bringing out Kyogre and his instant rain, I couldn’t help but smile. Minutes later, his whole team got leech seeded, poisoned, protect walled and surfed out of their misery by Ludicolo. Another team got spiked, roared and walled to oblivion by Skarmory and Blissey. Just when they got false hope against a near-fainting Heracross, little did they know that I just set them up for an Endure/Reversal combo.
This kind of strategic gameplay is exactly the reason why the Pokemon games have managed to preserve a loyal following to this day despite being a “kiddie” game. Once you learn the intricacies of its metagame, it turns into a new form of chess that requires careful planning, plenty of thought, and a whole heaping of strategy. As a gamer, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as beating a stranger using a team of legendaries online with a team of Raticates featuring different builds and having said guy post at a popular online forum about you and how you just beat him with some scruffy rats. It is a tradition that continues with Pokemon Black Version 2 and Pokemon White Version 2. Like Pokemon Emerald and Platinum before it, PBW2 expand on their predecessors, except these go the extra mile by kicking off a new story, starting you out in a new town and adding new areas. The game also adds other new extras such as the ability to catch older Pokemon in the wild, a new Pokestar Studios feature for turning your Pokemon into “movie stars,” and even the Pokemon World Tournament, which features trainers from past Pokemon games.
At the heart of Pokemon, however is the metagame, and PBW2 do not disappoint in this case. The changes in potential builds and strategies alone is sure to pique the interest of competitive players. As for casual fans, the new additions and extra polish also make this game a treat.
Admittedly, the basic system behind Pokemon has essentially remained the same through the years and even PBW2 aren’t exactly revolutionary as far as gameplay goes. Still, that’s a testament to how much the game has managed to stand the test of time. On that note, PBW2 are the most polished rendition of the series to date and a good segway to, hopefully, the first 3DS Pokemon game, which honestly is long overdue.
As for my cousins, one of them now tries to emulate my tricky play style. The older cousin? Unfortunately, he decided to quit Pokemon after our last match and continues to hate Ludicolo with a passion today.
In the meantime, I’ve had a few more challenges from their friends after hearing about my “super annoying and unbeatable team of Pokemon misfits.” Needless to say, I don’t get as many requests for rematches for Pokemon. Instead, they now like to challenge me in fighting games and first-person shooters. What can I say? My reflexes ain’t as fast as they used to be.