Pokémon Black and White Deserve a Rest, not a Remake

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By Abram Buehner on December 6th, 2021


I’m not sure how much more Pokémon discourse my heart can handle. The lead up to each new title takes years off my life, as this already galvanized fanbase takes up arms against each other, and I find myself choosing a side. The Switch era has been particularly tenuous. Let’s Go, Sword and Shield, now Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl – these games have all been some shade of incredibly contentious. The imminent Pokémon Legends might be a point of unity, but frankly I doubt that, given the state of things. But, I’m not here to look seven weeks into the future to that game – I’m here to look far past Arceus to the generation five remakes that people are already chattering about online. Oh boy. Pokémon Black and White do not need a remake.

This is tough to say, as I have a lot of fond memories with these titles, White 1 in particular. While I started with generation 4, I really sunk my teeth into Pokémon with generation five. I distinctly remember my mom buying White for me at Target around Thanksgiving one year, and I played the game to death. It was at this same time that I became heavily invested in the TCG (both mentally and financially) also, and so this era of the series means a lot to me. I’d talk about Pokémon all day at school with my best friend, then I’d come home, hop on Pokémon White, boot up GTS Negotiations, and try to trade for some new creatures. This would continue until my mom told me to put down the DS, and then I’d either open up my binder of trading cards, or simply sneak to another room and keep playing White.

nintendo ds excellence

If it isn’t obvious already, these games mean a lot to me and I’d like to revisit Unova. And, my desire extends beyond nostalgia. This is such an interesting chapter in Pokémon‘s history. Generation five was something of a soft-reboot; Black and White didn’t make any non-Unova Pokémon available until their post-games. That decision was largely controversial, and such conversations about the Pokédex largely overshadowed the actual content of BW. I’d say that the tenor around generation five is much more positive in retrospect, but the generation overall is not talked about enough. While a remake could be a great opportunity to reevaluate where the strengths of BW really lie, I just don’t believe that the premise is worthwhile.

I’d be hard pressed to find a reason to remake any Pokémon games post-generation four, frankly. Even generation four itself arguably didn’t need to be remade either. Sure, Diamond and Pearl were notoriously flawed, but Platinum alongside HeartGold and SoulSilver are largely considered to be perhaps the apex of the franchise still. While the series has grown iteratively since then, it hasn’t foundationally changed much. Generation four implemented the modern physical/special attack split, which is the last fundamental addition to the franchise outside of arguably Fairy typing. The best generation four games and all of generation five’s games are both airtight and decidedly modern.

Ho-oh from HeartGold

Black and White in particular took Diamond and Pearl’s ball and ran with it. The pixel art is so much more expressive, and Unova’s locales are grander. The Pokédex imbalances of generation four are largely fixed, and the narrative is so much stronger. The point is, these games are rock-solid. They represent the culmination of lessons learned and development experience gained up to that point. Nonetheless, these titles pale in comparison to what came after in terms of scope and visual fidelity, to be fair. They lack modern gameplay additions and quality of life changes too.

Overworld encounters are certainly the biggest feature that Black and White are missing. However, I struggle to justify a remake solely on the basis of adding in this mechanic. Ultimately, overworld Pokémon are a great quality of life element, but they don’t fundamentally change the series. Pokémon are still spawned according to a mathematical formula, you battle them the same way, and you capture them the same way too. Don’t get me wrong, I love overworld encounters. Not only does this facet of post-Alola Pokémon deepen immersion, but it also streamlines the gameplay loop. However, that simply isn’t grounds for a redo. The DS era physical-special split seismically altered how Pokémon stats are calculated, totally recontextualzing each Pokémon’s utility in battle. This was a change as major as generation two adding gender. In my eyes, post-DP Pokémon would need something that massive to mandate yet another generational remake.

realities of a remake

At a certain point, we have to acknowledge that modern Pokémon remakes will become continually less vital with each new generation tackled. Diminishing returns, and all that. By contrast, the first three sets of remakes felt genuinely necessary. Not only were generations one, two, and three rudimentary visually compared to the generations they were remade into, but they were also mechanically outdated. On the most intrinsic design level, there are huge differences between generation one and three (Red to FireRed), two and four (Gold to HeartGold), or three and six (Ruby to Omega Ruby). The same cannot be said for the differences between five and eight.

The benefits of a Black and White remake, especially one that lands in the imminent years, would be largely negligible. The original cartridges are more than modern enough as is, and DS hardware is still rather accessible. What we’d be gaining would largely be visual, and ultimately that might not be worth the development heft. That’s doubly true if ILCA entertainment was given lead on the project. It’s really this notion that has me hesitant about a BW remake. A fully-realized generation five revisit in Game Freak’s hands could be ambitious and interesting in a way that truly justifies its existence. Although, there are troubles with that notion too, that we’ll discuss in due time.

official art for bdsp

However, I doubt that Game Freak’s hands would be on this project. It’s clear to me that ILCA’s involvement in the franchise is tantalizing to The Pokémon Company from a financial perspective. Compared to funding and developing in-house remakes, I’m sure that giving ILCA Diamond and Pearl was a cost-effective move. Not only did the decision save money, but it paid obvious dividends too, as BDSP are absolutely sprinting up the 2021 sales charts with one of the year’s biggest openings. For a company as profit-driven as TPCi, that’s the sort of lighting that they’d want to re-bottle with generation five remakes.

But, a BDSP analog for fifth gen is certainly not what I want. As I gain distance from the Sinnoh remakes, I feel more and more vindicated in my decidedly critical review. These remakes felt nostalgically exploitative, doing little to advance the series. I don’t want the same thing to happen with Black and White, especially since a BDSP-style remake just does even less to BW. Diamond and Pearl’s engine was slow, for instance, and BDSP fixed that. Black and White weren’t nearly as slow, nor did these games have other, similar development issues. Game Freak really understood the DS hardware by the time that generation five rolled out, and that showed.

an inevitable future

Ultimately though, my reasoning here is undoubtedly going to fall on deaf ears at TPCi. These remakes are coming. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if generation five remakes have already been greenlit. Like I established, Pokémon is nothing if not an incredibly well-oiled money-making machine. Generation five remakes are certainly part of that calculus because nostalgia sells, and people my age have jobs and nostalgia for these games. Not only is that benefit apparent, but near-annualization has been the series’ MO, and safe, outsourced remakes keep that release strategy feasible.

Oshawott and Tepig

Assuming that this project is (begrudgingly) coming, I almost want ILCA to be at the helm. This is such a contradictory statement to what I just laid out, but this is arguably the favorable outcome with respect to the larger series. Game Freak would develop a better, more ambitious remake than ILCA undoubtedly. But, I’d much rather Game Freak just develop a new, innovative, and incredibly ambitious Pokémon title in the first place than retread familiar ground. Assignments like these are what keep this franchise stuck in place. Game Freak is under immense pressure from TPCi to produce and produce and produce. So many of the issues with games like Sword and Shield come from lacking development time. The studio’s teams have to constantly be rotating between near-yearly releases. This leads to slight iteration and slightly underbaked games.

The Sinnoh remakes being outsourced to ILCA probably freed up the resources necessary for comparatively daring ideas like Legends: Arceus to exist. If ILCA wasn’t in the picture, I’d bet my bottom dollar that a Game Freak DP remake would’ve hit this year instead. That would’ve likely been better than what we got with BDSP. But, that hypothetical Game Freak remake’s merits are half that of Legends Arceus‘ merits – it’s a game that is radically advancing the series. That’s worth much more than even the best rehash of an already-solid adventure. If continued Arceus-scale ambition from Game Freak requires remakes being punted elsewhere, even at the cost of their quality, I’ll welcome it. I’m tired of Pokémon looking back all the time.

Abram is a part-time student and a full-time dork from the East Coast of the United States. He spends much of his time discussing video games, film, and comics... that is, when Abram isn't playing games, watching film, or reading comics. When Abram's not doing that, he is probably busy with college, dual-majoring in English and Film & New Media Studies.


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