Pokémon fans just got 156 new imaginary friends to add to their collections. With the release of “Pokémon: Black Version” and “White Version,” Nintendo has entered the fifth generation of Pokémon games. Even though the series has been successful — and with good reason — for a quite long stretch, the developers decided it was time for the franchise to get a new beginning. And Unova — the region to be explored and conquered in the new releases — provides just that.

Pokémon: Black Version and Pokémon: White Version

Nintendo DS

As trainers venture off into Unova, they won’t just find lots of new Pokémon — they’ll find only new Pokémon. Before completing the game’s main plot, just the Pokémon introduced in these new versions can be found in the world or in other trainers’ teams. This turns out to be a very good thing. Everything is exciting and new, and it forces players to make the most of an unfamiliar world instead of falling back on their familiar team and strategy. And with all kinds of new type combinations and moves abilities, there are even more strategies to pursue while dominating the Pokémon league.

The narrative also feels more adult, as the villain is far from a “bad guy” caricature. Pokémon games have always had cheesy messages, but “Black” and “White” manage to show in a mature way that no issue actually is black and white. It’s kind of clever.

Another much-needed revamp comes with the graphics update. The game looks much better than any in the series has before. It almost makes the other games seem lazy and thrown together. With 3-D worlds to explore and dynamic (if overdramatic) cut-scenes, “Black” and “White” finally feel like “Pokémon” games more the modern mobile gamer.

But while the game looks better, some of the new Pokémon didn’t fare so well. With over 600 Pokémon now part of the franchise, it’s understandable that some of the concepts are wacky, and that’s OK. But some of the designs are too rooted in man-made concepts, like the ghost Pokémon that’s a sarcophagus with arms, or the steel Pokémon made of gears. They just don’t feel consistent with the lovable, animal-based creatures of the franchise’s past.

Overall, though, the new generation is an improvement over what was already one of the best formulas in gaming. It weeded out the unnecessary features, streamlined and expanded the multiplayer options and made everything we know and love about the franchise feel sleek and new. Is there really that much separating this game from all the others? Not really. But the several, subtle changes implemented in “Black” and “White” — on top of the anything-but-subtle graphics boost — make these games contenders for best in the franchise.

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