Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver Review
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Nintendo unleashed Pocket Monsters upon an unsuspecting public. The franchise’s phenomenal success surprised everyone, including Nintendo themselves, but there were still some critics that saw it as just another childish fad. While interest may have cooled a bit in the west, the franchise remains as popular as ever in Japan, pulling in sales figures in the millions. The series’ high point is undoubtedly the first set of sequels, released on the Game Boy Color in 2000/2001. There were more new features in these than the rest of the later sequels put together. Pokemon breeding, dual battles, day/night cycles and extensive ‘post-credits’ quests were all features established in the second generation, and have been present in every iteration since.
Nintendo has now refitted the second set of Pokemon titles for release on the DS. Though while they may seem like a cynical cash-in, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When the first set of games were re-released on the Game Boy Advance as Fire Red and Leaf Green, Nintendo gave them a bit of a lick of paint and added a few extra features. Heart Gold and Soul Silver have themselves been spruced up a bit graphically, but Nintendo have included far more extra content than they did in FR & LG. For starters, some of the features from the later two generations have been slotted into HG & SS, like the Battle Frontier and Pal Park. But perhaps the biggest and most significant additions are the all-new Pokeathlon (a series of ‘Pokemon Olympic’ events, controlled via the stylus), and the surprisingly fun little freebie, the Pokewalker.
It’s essentially just a simple pedometer, but its application in the world of Pokemon adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Pokemon can be transferred to the Pokewalker and then carried around with you as you go about your daily business. Every step in the real world equates to one experience point for your chosen partner; for every twenty you’ll build up watts, a special in-game currency. Watts can then be used to unlock new locations to walk in, or for two simple mini-games included on the Pokewalker, which allow you to find items or Pokemon along the way. Presumably the device is meant to encourage fat ten-year olds to get out of the house and get some exercise, but it’s still an addictive little distraction nonetheless.
So the new features fit in well, but what about the original stuff? Does it remain as addictive as our sepia-toned memories might suggest? Well, this could be down to personal opinion but the simple answer is this is Pokemon as it’s always been: complex, engaging and full of charm. The nostalgia factor is definitely there for those who have travelled the length and breadth of the Johto world already, and newcomers can look forward to the biggest and best Pokemon adventure yet. HG & SS represent Pokemon in its purest form, before the world was filled with hundreds of insignificant monsters, dozens of ‘legendaries’ and pointless side games (like the beauty pageants).
There are a few minor flaws lingering in the series that Nintendo seem averse to correcting. Pokemon are still represented by simple sprite art, which, as charming as it might be, could really do with being a bit more dynamic. The over-world graphics, while functional, are far from pushing the DS hardware much. Finally, the game structure is beginning to feel a little tired now and could do with a shake up. Nintendo will certainly need to look into rebooting some aspects of the series in any future editions if they want to hold gamers’ interest.
These issues can’t take the shine off what is an epic and enthralling return to the series’ glory days. The core gameplay is still as addictive as it ever was, with hundreds of golden gaming hours to be had, marking this as yet another essential DS title. Perhaps the next editions will take the series in a new direction, but for now these titles stand as a fond celebration of the world of Pokemon at its best.