Review by SuperPhillip

"Gotta Catch 'Em All Over Again"

Pokemon. Some called it a fad, but sales and popularity dictates exactly the opposite. While not as mega-popular as it was when it premiered, it still sells games and systems for Nintendo. The series' mantra of gotta catch 'em all is as addicting as it ever was in 1998. Now Nintendo and developer Game Freak have opted to remake the second generation of Pokemon games in Gold and Silver. The end result? Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver. Now with new locations, new Pokemon, and new surprises to be had, is this duo of Pokemon games as worthwhile as a Mew or Arceus?

You live in a world dominated by Pokemon. Pokemon are everywhere in the daily lives of the citizens of Johto. You play an up and coming Pokemon trainer starting his journey to the become the greatest Pokemon trainer there ever was. It won't be an easy journey, however. There's eight gym badges to collect through defeating the eight gym leaders each with different types of Pokemon. Then after all eight badges are gathered, it's time to take on the Elite Four in a final showdown to become the ultimate Pokemon trainer.

The path to the Pokemon League is perilous, but like any good trainer you have your Pokemon friends to help you. The formula of the game is simple. You travel from town to town along routes, capturing new Pokemon, training them through battle, and facing off against both gym leaders and regular Pokemon trainers. Beating gym leaders unlocks new Pokemon moves for your captured friends allowing you to access previously unreachable towns and areas. Of course, there's more to do than just go after the eight badges. A sinister group of Pokemon thieves named Team Rocket is back in business, and they're causing trouble throughout the land of Johto.

In all, the main quest of either version of Pokemon will last at least forty hours. Not only is there the land of Johto to explore, but the second land, Kanto, which Pokemon veterans will know to be the land of the first two Pokemon games, will open up for exploration. That's eight more gym badges to collect, and this time it's in any order. Add in the Pokemon from all previous generations to collect, trade, and discover, and you have a game that will last players one-hundred hours easily.

The main draw of the Pokemon series is catching them all, and this optional sidequest is the main meat and potatoes of the game as there are nearly 500 different critters to capture. How do you capture these beasts? Meet the Poke Ball. It is designed to capture wild Pokemon (other trainers' Pokemon are off-limits). Of course, you can't just toss a Poke Ball and hope for the best. A wild Pokemon must be weakened first or even put to sleep or paralyzed. It's a Pokemon-eat-Pokemon world here, after all! Then there's evolution, something to make the religious right go nuts about. There's different types of evolution. Some Pokemon only evolve when they reach a certain experience level, others evolve through trading, while some need to have a stone used on them to evolve. Most Pokemon evolve at least once, with some evolving twice in total. For instance, a small caterpillar named Caterpie can evolve all the way to beautiful butterfly named Butterfree.

Pokemon battles are usually one-on-one contests, but occasionally (and not often enough in my opinion) you'll face off in doubles action. You can only have six Pokemon in your party at a time, and this along with each Pokemon only being able to learn four moves total before having to forget some add to the strategy of the series. What moves should I teach my Pokemon to give them the best advantage in battle? Should I use an HM slave (one that is only to use hidden moves outside of battle)? The trick is to choose six Pokemon that can tackle any sort of challenge or any other Pokemon type. You see, each Pokemon is a different type. There are seventeen types in all ranging from fire, water, electric, bug, dragon, and the two newest ones, steel and dark. Each type is strong and weak against other types, so it's a rock-paper-scissors type setup. Some Pokemon are dual types such as water/dragon, ice/flying, or grass/psychic. Each move a Pokemon has in its arsenal also is relegated to having a type. Rock is weak against water, water is weak against electric, electric is weak against ground, and so forth.

There are two varieties of battles in Pokemon-- wild Pokemon and trainer battles. Wild Pokemon battles are random encounters initiated by running through tall grass or inside a cavern while trainer battles are against human opponents and their Pokemon. They'll usually make eye-contact with you and demand a Pokemon battle without any input from you. Whereas trainer battles give out more experience as well as currency to buy items, wild Pokemon battles are the only way you can capture these cautious creatures.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver don't differ too much in content. You'll virtually have the same journey to the Elite Four, it's just that some of the Pokemon available to capture are only in HeartGold and vice versa. This is where trading comes in. You can trade Pokemon locally between two DSes or you can hop online and trade. Going online you have two options of trading either with the GTS where you trade with anonymous strangers or trade with friends via friend codes. It's a pretty streamlined process that gets the job done though GTS isn't without its problems. You'll constantly see off-kilter trade guidelines such as a level 3 Rattata for a level 99 Celebi. Good luck with that. Outside of trading, players can also battle each other over Wi-Fi, chat in the online hub, and share Pokemon tips with one another.

Both versions of the Gold and Silver remakes come with something called the Pokewalker. This peripheral is used to store a Pokemon inside it, and while you walk and take steps, it grows stronger, perhaps finds new items and meets new Pokemon to befriend. It's perfect for placing in a pocket as you go for a jog or just wear everyday as you walk around. There's also a day care in the game where up to two Pokemon at a time can be raised without your influence. Throw in the Pokegear that lets you keep in touch with defeated trainers, listen to the in-game radio for clues on Pokemon whereabouts, and there's a lot of extra content provided in such a small game cartridge!

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver keep with the graphical prowess of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Both games feature lush visuals, a 2D viewpoint with 3D buildings that leap out at the player, and a very catchy soundtrack with remixed tunes from both Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver. One bothersome aspect are the Pokemon cries that are as grating as ever to listen to. They're still the 8-bit sound effects you know and (don't) love. Would it really be so difficult to have the Pokemon voiced like in the anime cartoon? Other than that minor caveat, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver run very smooth, look nice, and musically sound great.

As someone who skipped out on the original Gold and Silver, I can't imagine the nostalgia one must feel replaying these games all over again with the new bells and whistles. As for me, these games are without a doubt some of the best I've seen from the series. There just needs to be more innovation the next time around or else this series will risk feeling samey. Overall, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are fantastic titles worth picking up for anyone who needs yet another Pokemon fix.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.25/10]


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/29/10

Game Release: Pokemon SoulSilver Version (US, 03/14/10)


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