The new menagerie is, as ever, a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the designs are terrific, others are awful and a few are so bizarre they almost defy description. As if pre-empting internet criticism, Game Freak has included a Pokémon which is literally a pile of rubbish.

The final evolution of the grass snake starter is at once elegant and imposing while the fire pig's evo looks a bit like Brian Blessed. There's a fluffy puppy which evolves into a Yorkshire terrier, which in turn transforms into a morbidly obese Yorkshire terrier.

Another looks like the love child of a poodle and a grumpy clown and wields a large metal girder; its evolution tightly grips two large cylindrical stones, as if it was trying to mend the Acropolis but went overboard on the superglue. One Pokémon is – yes, really – an ice cream. With twin and triple-cone forms when you level up.

But then you try drawing 649 monsters and not come up with a few duffers. For the most part, they're interesting, likeable and well-animated, and there are some delightful creative touches - like a snail inside a knight's helmet transforming into a surly slug when its metallic shell is stolen by a bug Pokémon mid- trade.

And their battle cries don't sound so much like broken fax machines any more, which is a definite bonus. Musharna in particular sounds like something from Brian Eno's sample bank.

Outside battles the touch screen is used to access the C-Gear. This device constantly searches for infra-red, local wireless or online wi-fi connections, allowing you to instantly battle or trade with friends.

The process of trading via infra-red in particular is noticeably less laborious than before. Via the wireless feature you can access a place called the Dream World where you're able to sync your game up to a Pokémon Global Link account on your PC.

2
...While Zekrom features in White. Each game has an exclusive area – Black City and White Forest.

The intricacies of this will only become clear with an English-language copy of the game, but it seems you'll be able to encounter Pokémon from other regions which can then be discovered within certain areas of Isshu.

There's also an option for local video chat with friends, though given that all players need to be within range of the wireless signal it'd surely just be quicker to actually talk to them face to face.

Perhaps it's helpful if someone needs the toilet mid-conversation, though I imagine it's a fairly small percentage of gamers who like to chat about Pokémon in groups while one drops the kids off at the pool.

Anyway, with Nintendo vigorously promoting the idea of 3DS as an always-on wireless communication device, the C-Gear effectively acts as its precursor: an ingenious way of using a hugely popular title to get players accustomed to the concept.

A 'pass by' mode which exchanges player data from chance encounters between those who keep their consoles on standby – as in Dragon Quest IX - seals the deal. The saturation of the DS and both games in Japan may mean it's East rather than West which benefits most from these features, but what better game than Pokémon to see such a phenomenon take off on these shores?

Elsewhere, the new Battle Subway – apparently inspired by a Game Freak employee travelling on the Tube after a Millwall game – replaces the Battle Towers of old, offering the option to team up with a friend over wi-fi to take down AI trainers or simply to fight some of the game's toughest encounters alone.

There are plenty of other asides besides, like the thoroughly silly Pokémon musicals, where you can kit out your favourite monster in a top hat and grass skirt before sending it out to wow the audience with its skills at bouncing up and down and rotating on the spot.

The story remains impenetrable in Japanese and it'll take more time before all the hidden complexities become apparent. But the beauty of Pokémon is that it's as simple or as deep as you make it. All I know is, 30 hours in and six gym badges won, I'm still discovering new stuff and having a ball doing so. If Pokémon really is a kids' game, growing up seems hugely overrated.

Pokémon Black & White is slated for a spring 2011 release in Europe.

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Chris Schilling

Chris Schilling

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Chris Schilling writes about video games for a living, and knows an awful lot about Pokémon. Ask him anything. (Though he may have to confer with his son.)

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