Review by Tom Clark

"Pokemon? Never heard of it"

It seems that there was a time not to long ago when it was impossible to turn anywhere without seeing some form of (almost always crap) Pokemon merchandise. From lunch boxes to pyjamas to nail polish remover (hey, it's possible!) it seemed that there was nothing that wouldn't get one of the little buggers splashed all over it's packaging. For now, though, it appears that the craze has died away - the lil' children are now all obsessed with Harry Potter or somesuch, and Pokemon has slipped quietly back to being merely a video game franchise.

Pokemon Gold / Silver is, in effect, Pokemon 2, only this time the portable wonder is in full colour on the GBC. Yay! And, unlike many games, the move to colour actually has a bearing on the gameplay as well as the graphics - you see, for every Pokemon out there (there are 251 by the way) there is a 'shiny' version - it's the same creature only with slightly better stats and a different colour scheme. These are much, much rarer (I've clocked well over 100 hours on the game and yet I've never encountered one), which gives the game some extra longevity - if you can be bothered to hunt for them that is. There can't be many people here unfamiliar with the basic concept, but just in case you are (!) you play as a small boy who wants to become the worlds greatest Pokemon trainer (yes, this plot is exactly the same as the first game - not a good start, really). To do this you set off on a quest throughout the lands of Johto and Kanto in order to catch Pokemon by defeating them in battle (you don't fight them yourself - you use your captured Pokemon) before trapping them in a ball and adding them to your collection (basically it's like hunting for creatures to put in a menagerie and then setting them against one another in battles, only in a fluffy and cute Nintendo way). Each time you capture a creature it's data (a couple of sentences about the creature) is added into the Pokedex - a kind of library of the creatures that you have caught. The ultimate aim is to have all 251 entries here. However, not all the creatures are available in either Gold or Silver, so you need to trade using the link cable with a friend who has the other copy. The plot thickens when it turns out that you also have to trade with the Red and Blue editions of the game (AKA Pokemon 1). In addition to that, there are two creatures that aren't in ANY version of the game, so unless you brave the hordes of screaming, runny-nosed brats at a Nintendo Pokemon Convention, you are forced to resort to cheating to complete the game fully.

Gameplay-wise this translates to an RPG game - random battles occur in long grass or in caves, and these are where you encounter and hopefully capture your Pokemon. You can carry six with you at any one time (the rest are stored, bizarrely enough, on a chap called Bill's PC), although only one can be used in battle at a time. Battles are turn-based, and in the single player game are fairly simple - your creature has four attacks, and you can use items to boost it's strength or heal it during the course of the conflict. Although these battles can be very tactical when playing head to head with a friend through link-up, the majority of the battles in the single player game can be won with one or two blasts from your most powerful attack. There is a particularly neat feature whereby the game has an in-built clock, meaning that certain creatures can only be caught at night in real time, and certain events (such as weekly prize-draws or bug catching contests) happen on certain days of the week. As far as I am aware this is a fairly unique feature in portable gaming, and puts Pokemon G / S above many of it's competitors.

The 'story mode' of the game doesn't last too long, in all honesty. It took me only a week from turning the game on for the first time to defeating the final boss (who's identity will be a pleasant surprise for those who have played the first Pokemon game), although attempts have been made to make it longer than the first: every location bar one or two from the original game is featured here (as are all 151 of the original creatures), in addition to a whole new map the size of that from the first game. Instead of needing 8 badges (rewards for beating master trainers in 'gyms' located across the map) you need 16 etc. - this game really is almost twice as big, although it still isn't quite big enough. Luckily once you have finished the story you can keep on playing to try and catch all the creatures, and this will amount to most of the time you spend on the game. There are many rare events and side-quests to keep you interested, including the aforementioned 'shinies', a Pokemon virus that lasts a few days and improves the stats of infected creatures, Pokemon breeding, and three very rare Pokemon that run across the map, and are an absolute nightmare to catch! So despite the short plot, this game will still last, although with the plot finished, the length of time in which the game will continue to hold the player's interests depends on how dedicated the player is.

The presentation of the game is pretty standard GBC fare, in all honesty. The graphical style is similar to that of Zelda DX - an overhead perspective as you move your character around - and the Pokemon themselves, while quite well drawn, barely move in the battle screen, which involves seeing the top of your creature's head from a behind view, and the creature you are facing. The music is really average - you'll tire of it soon enough, although it's passable at first, but the 'battle cries' of your creatures are simply appalling - the digital equivalent of nails being scraped across a blackboard, for the most part. Trust me, you will be turning the sound off for this game before to long!

Pokemon is a fun game, and there is plenty to do, even after the plot has drawn to a close, although it isn't really good enough to justify the manic hype that it generated for a few years (although I doubt any game is good enough for that amount of hype!). It is an immensely addictive game - it must have done battery sales the world of good! - constantly nagging you with the feeling that if you keep playing for just another five minutes then you'll catch that elusive creature you've been tracking for months, and once it reels you in you're hooked for quite a while. Things this addictive normally get you arrested! I would have given this game a perfect score without hesitation, although as I mentioned, the plot is identical to the first game, and even in the first game it was a terrible plot! With the hype dying off and the association by the public between this game and little snot-faced kids fading mercifully away, you no longer need to be too embarrassed at playing this game, and so sit back and enjoy the ride. Ninty have done it again!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/06/01, Updated 01/17/03

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