Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver Reader Review
Often described as the ‘Golden Age’ of Pokémon (aptly dubbed, considering this is the Gold and Silver versions of the game in question), the second generation of the Pocket Monster adventure was released on the 6th April 2001 in Europe. It’s the 13th April 2001 and I can barely contain my excitement. Not only have I just turned nine years old, today is the day I’ve been promised I’ll be taken into town and bought the latest Pokémon game. Following on from its predecessor, Pokémon Gold and Silver updated the franchise, adding extra content and visual improvements. Now, nine years on from the games’ release, Gold and Silver have received a glorious reboot, stripped from its original format and dressed even more beautifully than before, ready to serve a new generation of Pokémon fans.
There’s a certain unique charm to Pokémon that, through five generations of games and numerous spin-offs, has never left. Referring back to my escapade, the nine year old me may as well have been clutching the most precious gem in the world when I got my hands on Pokémon Silver. The shiny packaging, neatly boxed and presented made the whole experience all the worthwhile, and I had this ridiculous look on my face, as though the game should be handled with the utmost care, like some sort of precious artifact. Lord knows what my dad was thinking – he could never really understand why I could get so worked up over a video game.
Just as Pokémon Silver was permanently glued into the cartridge slot of my Game Boy Color, the 2010 reworking has been slotted into my DS since release. Playing Pokémon SoulSilver was like stepping back in time. Although that may seem like an incredibly clichéd thing to say, I don’t think any other modern remake of a video game as evoked as much nostalgia as this. It’s funny to think a large share of the consumers of HeartGold and SoulSilver will be much older than the average Pokéfan. We were the original gamers, the ones with first-hand experience at the initial title. Years later and we’re ready to traverse Johto again, our trusted critters (literally) by our sides.
The formula for Pokémon has remained the same throughout its fifteen year run. The addictive and challenging gameplay has captured gamers around the world and is continuing to gratify the young and old(er) generation of players. As well as the unique and (increasingly) vast quantity of characters, Pokémon offers a personal experience to those who wish to lose themselves in the immense world they are presented with. With a choice of a starter Pokémon (a feature that hasn’t changed since Pokémon Red and Blue) to aid you with your quest to “catch ‘em all”, the bond formed with your preliminary critter is a relationship a lot of games cannot match. Every player’s journey and experience of the game is inimitable and, with the new feature in HeartGold/SoulSilver in which the first Pokémon in your party literally follows you at your side, rarely does a game offer an intimate experience like Pokémon.
As with all of them, the collecting facet of the game only serves as one part of the adventure. Training your monsters to the height of their ability is a tough yet exhilarating challenge, and you’ll find yourself growing and bonding with your Pokémon as you progress. Your creatures evolve, changing form, becoming more powerful and this ability to create a strong, versatile team heightens the thrill for the more competitive gamer. Unchanged, the battling system stays exactly has it has done forever – the turn based combat has never felt slow in the history of Pokémon and manages to keep a fast, sharp pace in those tense moments where you’re ‘mon are on their last legs, fighting for survival.
The extensive amount of content included in Gold and Silver was a feature that wowed fans from the previous game and Pokémon newcomers alike. With the inclusion of over 150 new Pokémon and a whole extra continent to explore, HeartGold and SoulSilver retain all these aspects, with both Johto and Kanto regions fully traversable. Both zones have been given a graphical overhaul, updated to suit the Nintendo DS’ hardware and never has a Pokémon game looked more sublime. HeartGold and SoulSilver also utilise the more three-dimensional capabilities of the DS, with 360 panning of environments, as well as meticulously crafted set pieces for more of the legendary battles.
You’ll take your time with HeartGold and SoulSilver. The rich and expansive universe has a lot to offer any gamer. At the base, one may consider the franchise to have become out-dated and archaic. The repeated formula of catch, train, fight may seem like a chore to someone who has never experienced a Pokémon game themselves, but it’s the minutiae of the world that gives HeartGold and SoulSilver that edge that even some of its predecessors cannot surmount. The day and night cycle, the stimulating involvement in Pokémon breeding. Receiving items that seemingly have no use until their true meaning and importance unravels. The contests, a new feature and location specifically for these remade titles, take you and your Pokémon to the Pokédome, where by in which you can compete in Olympic style competitions. Not quite as brutal or strenuous as fighting other Pokémon trainers, but it serves as an amusing and enjoyable distraction from the main portion of the game.
Focusing on the game from the point of view of the hardware, HeartGold and SoulSilver utilise the DS practically and intuitively. The touchscreen offers clean, easy to navigate menus – the top screen used solely for visual purposes. With the sheer amount of information that accompanies Pokémon, the touchscreen is put to good use, portioning your Pokédex, item bag and other assets to your arsenal in easy to manage screens. This method of menu navigation convoys the external buttons used to control the player, making gameplay streamline and easily accessible. You can even control everything using the D-Pad if you feel constantly switching schemes is chore.
It’s hard to find fault with the games’ – annoyances rather than errors infrequently crop up within HeartGold and SoulSilver. The immediate one that springs to mind is the phone calls. Although the Pokégear (essentially a smart phone, which appeared in the original Gold and Silver games, pre-dating the real life counterpart) is extremely useful, when you’re being rung several times a day because Joey’s Ratatta just became stronger, or Mary wants to show you how cute her Pokémon are, you almost wish you could turn the thing off. And yet there’s something rather immersive about having the ability to ring up trainers you’ve met throughout your adventure and arrange battles with them. Almost a way of boasting how far you’ve come since the last time you met them, or how much your Pokémon have evolved beyond theirs.
Something that never graced our hands with the original games was the Pokéwalker, a real life gadget which lets you download you’re Pokémon into a Tamagotchi like pedometer and take them around with you in real time. Walking will increase the number of ‘volts’ (the currency inside the ‘walker) which can be used on mini-games as well as levelling up your chosen Pokémon (only by one level). It does seem slightly gimmicky, but serves more purpose than some of the other peripherals bundled with games nowadays, though it hardly should be seen as a reason to buy the game.
HeartGold and SoulSilver showcase Pokémon at its best. They are neither old games, nor new games. Updating a classic can sometimes end in disaster – more often than not, companies have tried to reinvent old titles by shoehorning new technology into them, making them more a nuisance than an enjoyment. HeartGold and SoulSilver do not suffer from any of these things. Keeping the longstanding and timeless aspects from the classic Pokémon titles and updating the game to blend with current generation technology has created a perfect balance of traditional and modern gameplay. The first time I played Gold and Silver I was overcome with excitement and energy. Today, playing their respective reboots, I share the same passion for the Pokémon universe as I did nine years ago, and I hope the younger, more recent generation of Pokémon fanatics find solace in the two games that are considered the pinnacle of Pokémon success.