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New Pokemon hailed as “best ever”

Plugged In

Easter Eggs

Pokemon Black/White

Platforms: DS

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Gotta catch 'em all!

Love 'em or hate 'em, one thing about Pokemon is undeniable: it's still popular. Second only to Mario as the best-selling video game franchise
of all time, in fact. And if you assumed the craze would die out by the time its original fans hit puberty, you thought wrong. Pokemon Black and White, which hit streets over the weekend on the Nintendo DS, are already the fastest-selling Pokemon games of all time.

Not bad for a craze that's just about old enough to drive -- and judging by the widespread acclaim for Black and White, it's a situation that's not about to change. A number of critics have even dubbed the pair (major Pokemon releases come as a duo of games that differ only slightly) their favorite Pokemon title to date.

It's far from a major reinvention. The turn-based combat that defines the series hasn't seen substantial changes since its 1996 introduction, and Black and White diverge only slightly from the fighting formula. Your Pokedex is all-new, though: for the first time, you won't encounter familiar Pokemon as you play through the story. Black and White introduce 153 new pocket monsters, and you'll be limited to those for the campaign's 40 or so hours. "A lot of these new Pokemon suck," complains IGN, in a gripe that's echoed by many other critics.

The same isn't true of the game's story -- and yes, that's going to be a
bit of a surprise to fans. Black and White introduce an antagonist with
some depth, a Pokemon-rights activist who'd fit in well at PETA, and the
change gets a universal thumbs-up from reviewers.

"Pokemon Black & White's willingness to tackle topics like individual freedom, one's independence, and the potential ethics of forcing cute animals to fight at your personal whims give the game a more somber and more grown-up tone than previous
entries in the series," says The Escapist's John Funk. "It's hardly the deepest treatment on the subject...but it manages to tell a compelling yarn nonetheless."

Bizarre. Last week we had a fighting game -- EA's Fight Night Champion -- with a
critically-acclaimed plot, and now a Pokemon game is lauded for its storytelling. What's next? Will we thrill at the rags-to-riches tale contained within next week's Xbox Live/Windows Phone 7 crossover release Full House Poker? Don't bet against it.

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Also Out Now:

Dragon Age II

Platforms: X360, PS3, PC

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Dragon Age 2 - Bioware

It's hard to imagine two role-playing games more different than Pokemon and Dragon Age. Blood-drenched swords-and-sorcery epic Dragon Age: Origins was heralded as one of 2009's best games, but its sequel is meeting with an oddly varied critical reception: everything from perfect marks to 6s
and 7s. Its stripped-down approach to combat and equipment is among the sticking points, as is its fragmented storyline -- but regardless, it's
the clear choice of the week (and the year so far, for the most part) for
committed RPG fans.


Platforms: PC

Don't roll your eyes just yet -- this isn't another Farmville clone, we promise. Sure, there's a farm in it, but rather than developing it through tedious ploughing, planting, harvesting, and harassing, Farmscapes will have you completing classic-styled match-three
puzzles in order to turn your grandfather's run-down farm into something you (and he) can be proud of.


Platforms: X360

Ever play a little PC game called Diablo? Yeah, you and about five million other people. Its creator, Blizzard, is hard at work on Diablo III, but here's an acclaimed little clone that'll keep you going until it's finally ready. Perhaps. Already a smash hit on the PC, Torchlight hits Xbox Live this week at just $15 -- quite possibly the week's best value.

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Major League Baseball 2K11

Platforms: Wii, X360, PS3, PS2, PSP, DS, PC

RPGs and farms not your bag? This week also sees 2011's 2K baseball sim
hitting just about every platform you care to mention. Among its innovations are a dynamic rating system that'll update the performance of the game's players based on their real-world performance over the last four weeks. But for one lucky gamer, it'll be a life-changing experience: the first person to pitch a perfect game after the league's opening day, April 1, will receive a cool million dollars. Better get practicing.

MLB 11: The Show

Platforms: PS3, PS2, PSP

But if you own a Sony system, you might want to switch hit. The latest game in the company's well-regarded The Show series arrives this week as well, and so far, it's proving a homerun with PS3 critics. New modes, improved control and upgraded graphics put it in perfect position for another run at the baseball game pennant.


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