Walking out into the arena of Pokémon Black & White 2’s Pokémon World Tournament (PWT) for the first time, I had chills. The lights were dimmed, the crowd was watching, and the commentary was introducing me – my character – as if I were some sort of celebrity. Well, sure, I’d saved Unova and become the Champion of the region. But here, right now, I was facing the best of the best. I couldn’t fall flat on my face here.
My character stepped onto the stage. I took one deep breath and my opponent, Cheren, the first Gym Leader, looked me dead in the eye. This was only the first fight, but I had to win. I had to become the very best. Because what lay in waiting after beating all of Unova’s Gym Leaders again was the chance for ultimate personal glory.
I’m pretty confident in saying that, on the week of Pokémon Black & White 2’s 10th anniversary (it launched in Japan on 23rd June 2012), this Poké pair has one of the best postgames in the entire series. There’s a phenomenal amount of content for you to dig into. The Battle Subway opens up, Black City and White Forest each have battle facilities, you can go and challenge Team Plasma’s Colress to a final duel, and you can go and take on Pokémon pretty boy N. Tons of new areas open up to be explored such as the Nature Preserve (for a lovely little shiny Haxorus). Heck, you don’t even catch the box art legendaries in the main game, so you can go get those too!
I’m only scratching the surface here – there’s so much here that Black & White 2’s postgame can be pretty overwhelming – but what makes it truly special is the game’s twist on the Battle Frontier: the PWT.
I’ve never really been into the extra challenge that the Battle Frontier of generations 3 and 4 offered. New characters and other blank, throwaway NPCs aren’t really enough to tempt me back onto the battlefield, and I’m not really into team-building. Instead, one of my favourite things to do as a kid in Pokémon was to go back around the region and challenge all of the old Gym Leaders and Elite Four members over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve beaten the Hoenn Elite Four and Champion in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. And the Pokégear in Gold & Silver (and the remakes) is one of my favourite parts of that game.
one of my favourite things to do as a kid in Pokémon was to go back around the region and challenge all of the old Gym Leaders and Elite Four members over and over again
But an entire mode dedicated to taking on almost every single past Gym Leader and Champion? I’m in.
After beating the Pokémon League, I headed straight for Driftveil City, to the area where the Cold Storage facility used to be. There was a real sense of grandeur and celebration about it, from the electric atmosphere, the commentators, and that the fights themselves would be filmed for all to see. Black & White 2 (and the originals) are good at making you feel flashy – that New York inspiration 'n' all. But the level of adrenaline and the promise of a rematch against someone you’ve beaten before was an irresistible combination.
Just like the Battle Frontiers that came before it, during most of the PWT matches your Pokémon are all capped at level 50, and you can choose any three of your Pokémon. I burst through the front doors, and ran to the right-side desk, eager to revisit the Leaders of Johto and remind them who the best Pokémon trainer was. Until I found out I had to unlock the right to battle them by re-beating the Unova Leaders first.
Okay, fine, I thought. I’ve just shown the Unova region what I’m made of. So, I selected my trusty trio of favourites for battle – Azure, Cinnamon, and Blaze (that’s Samurott, Krookodile, and Chandelure) – and registered. Probably not the best team I could have picked, but I wanted to win with my favourites, just as I had done with the Pokémon League.
First up was Cheren and, despite memories of him being easy (first Gym Leader and all), I was surprised. With equal levels and EV-optimised Pokémon, I quickly found out that Cheren was no pushover. It was a scrappy match-up, with his bulky Stoutland taking a few too many hits to take down. How I wished I’d brought Mienshao with me! But I soon pushed aside his three Normal-types, and I had to recompose myself.
There was a little surprise in the second round from Black & White’s Ice-type trainer Brycen. No longer a Leader – instead opting to go into acting – Brycen had an unfortunate day up against Chandelure, who melted through most of his party pretty effectively. And while I was beginning to enjoy the grittiness and strategy more than I ever had, Brycen’s appearance was a taste of what I really wanted: an all-star tournament featuring all of my favourite characters. Or powerful characters who I wanted to see kiss the dirt again.
Back to the current Unova, and Skyla was the last trainer, but Flying-type again fell foul of my Special loaded-out Chandelure. Blaze, is forever my MVP in Black & White 2, more so than her Black & White counterpart. With that, I’d won the first Specialty tournament, and unlocked a whole lot more.
If there’s another thrill on top of taking on famous in-game trainers in fairly tough competitive battles, it’s seeing their personalities shine. Pokémon Black & White’s sprites were far more animated than in previous series entries, and that carried through to Black & White 2’s own, including the characters.
I’d already seen this reflected in Johto and Kanto’s leaders in HeartGold & SoulSilver’s animations, but the small tweaks made in the PWT added an extra air of power to them. Jasmine clasps her hands up rather than down as if she’s praying for strength, and Lt. Surge no longer crosses his arms. Pokémon Platinum’s leaders also have a few variations; Fantina’s dress flows as she moves, and Maylene’s animation is completely reversed from her previous appearance.
I was addicted to scraping through tough matches, and feeling incredible when taking down opponents with ease. The thrill of matching up against the best of the best was pure serotonin
But the Hoenn Leaders – and Champions – hadn’t seen animations up to this point. Flannery’s cheery, fiery personality is on display more, and Wallace’s cape flick captures his regal-yet-flamboyant air perfectly. It’s these little touches that are the icing on the Old Gateau and made me want to come back for more.
Beating all four new sets of Gym Leaders unlocks the World Leaders round, which throws every single Gym Leader into the mix. And winning that ten times unlocks the Alcremie of the crop – the Champions round. Red, Blue, Lance, Steven, Wallace, Cynthia, and Alder, all potential adversaries I could come up against, all with pretty dangerous teams – especially Cynthia.
The bug had long bitten me by this point. I was addicted to scraping through tough matches, and feeling incredible when taking down opponents with ease. So the thrill of matching up against the best of the best in the Pokémon world was pure serotonin. Even if, admittedly, I had to try a few times to squeak past them. Cynthia still holds on to her crown as the most difficult Champion now, and this rematch was a fierce reminder that she’ll probably never lose it.
But after all of the blood, sweat, and tears, what do I get for it? Bragging rights. Or an upgraded Trainer Card to show off to all of my friends. So a visual aid for bragging rights, then!
These Leaders and Champions returning was a chance for me to see how I’d changed as a Pokémon player over the years, and revisit characters who I’d loved growing up
Not that I had that many friends who played Pokémon at this time in my life, so it was all for glory. Or maybe because I enjoyed fighting against characters who I’d grown up with all my life, who I spent hours training to beat over and over again in previous games. These Leaders and Champions returning was a chance for me to see how I’d changed as a Pokémon player over the years, and revisit characters who I’d loved growing up, even if some of them didn’t get much screen time. Misty, Sabrina, Blue, Morty, Jasmine, Clair, Flannery, Winona, Wallace, Steven, Gardenia, Volkner, Cynthia – alongside new favourites like Elesa, Drayden, and Marlon.
So why oh why hasn’t the PWT come back since? Three Pokémon generations have gone by, and we’ve got another on the way pretty soon with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. An open-world Pokémon game would be the perfect time to bring back this celebration of Pokémon’s past and give those who love competitive Pokémon and EV training something extra to sink their teeth into once they beat the main story.
Me? I just want another chance to prove to some video game characters how much I’ve grown over the years. Mostly because it’s fun, but because it reminds me of some of the best times I’ve had with the series and gaming in general – fighting these trainers, getting Gym badges, becoming the Champion, and besting some tough Pokémon. Pokémon Black & White 2 encapsulates the show’s lyrics more than any other game, and that goes a long way toward why I love generation 5 so much.
I really do wanna be the very best.