Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver represent the definitive Pokémon experience.
Game Freak is one of the few developers out there that can consistently improve upon something that works, with excellent results. Their agenda is simple:
- Make 2 games
- Update said 2 games a year later, providing the definitive version for those who missed it, or those who want to give them more money
- Revamp games from two console generations ago, adding features from the current generation and more
- Rinse and repeat
It just happens to work. Just when you’re tired of grinding and catching Pokémon, you’re given over 100 more Pokémon and 8 more badges to collect. Pokémon was predicted to be a short-lived fad of the late 1990’s and nothing more. 10 years later, the franchise is still going strong. Diamond and Pearl Version have sold over 17 million units to date. The anime is approaching its 14th season next year, and even the trading card game remains popular. Pokémon has essentially become one of those bywords used by outsiders to describe video games in general. All those naysayers proclaiming “FAD!” were very wrong. Will their predictions remain incorrect in 10 more years?
No one knows, so let’s talk about the game. And holy crap, is it good.
Pokémon is, and has always been electronic crack. You are a young boy (or girl) who sets out on an adventure to catch a ton of pokémon and ascend to the rank of Pokémon League Champion. Along the way, you must fight your rival/friend, thwart the evil organization’s plans, catch the legendary pokémon, and gain 8 gym badges from gym leaders in every city. After that, you can go for one of the most daunting challenges in any videogame: catching ‘em all. This is all supported by the easy-to-use menus, limited controls, and (for the most part) simple battle system. The simple interface is a testament to the game’s overwhelming popularity. The game really only requires basic decision-making skills and literacy. Almost anyone can play it.
Those expecting any significant change to gameplay will be disappointed, but probably not surprised. For those grounded in reality, this is the same game you have been playing for 15 years, with some new additions. One of these new additions to the game is the Pokéwalker.
The Pokéwalker is, for what it’s worth, a Pokémon Pikachu that can be used to find items and catch pokémon. The device allows you to import a pokémon from your save file so you can walk with it (and subsequently gain EXP) while you’re not playing. There are 27 individual “areas” with different items and pokémon available to find. Walking earns you watts; currency that is spent on using the item finder and catching wild pokémon. It’s a welcome addition to an already excellent game, but it feels very primitive, even compared to the original Game Boy games. Also, it’s very useful to know that your pokémon only levels up once no matter how much you walk with it, which almost defeats the purpose of using the Pokéwalker in the first place. It feels like a novelty collector’s item, and the game certainly isn’t better or worse without it.
The same could be said for the Pokéathlon, the second newest addition to the Pokémon series. The Pokéathlon is very similar to the contests of the previous games. There are five different courses you can enter three of your pokémon in, and participate in three out of ten possible events. Winning these events earns you points that you can spend on useful items in the game. So, unless you’re looking for a King’s Rock and can’t find it anywhere else, the Pokéathlon is just a little mini-game that might catch your attention for twenty minutes.
Basic mechanics and worthless additions aside; the game itself is very faithful to its source material. Almost everything you remember from Gold and Silver is here, and more. Nearly every single sound from the original games has been remixed and revamped, and some of them arguably sound better than their 10-year-old counterparts. The layout of the cities of Johto and Kanto remain almost unchanged, and look very impressive and colorful thanks to the pseudo-3D visuals from Game Freak’s Diamond and Pearl engine. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver improve everything without really having to improve anything. Even a straight port of the original game would sell millions, so long as it was playable on a DS. Game Freak worked many hundreds of hours to update the game to today’s standards, and, in that respect, would make this an A+
Is it, though? Nearly everything mentioned above has no stake in the gameplay. Yes, having your pokémon follow you is an awesome return of the Yellow Version feature and possibly re-incites dreams of interacting with these creatures in the real world, but did it help me defeat the Pokémon Champion? All of these “changes” to this game from the original are purely aesthetic, and mostly pertain to the overworld and in-game menus. Sure; if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it; and that’s what I’ve been preaching above, but there are some things that undeniably need updating. The animations in battle are still very minimalistic and are usually nothing that couldn’t be done in 5 seconds with motion tweening in Flash. The pokémon cries are still painfully generic and limited by what sounds like 8-bit sound technology. The battle system itself could use something new to freshen things up, and I don’t mean triple-battling either.
There’s really so much to be said about Pokémon, and so little that hasn’t already been said before. Using any more than 2-3 paragraphs to elaborate on a single Pokémon game just isn’t necessary.
Bottom line; this game is undoubtedly everything that is Pokémon and everything that will become obsolete by the next game. I’m okay with that.