Review by Crispin Giles

"A sublime sequel that improves upon the original games"

Pokemon Gold, one of the sequels to the original batch of games that set the world alight and spawned a whole new craze, is an easy game, much like it's predecessors. At the same time, it's also an impossibly complex game, which will stretch your imagination and encourage you to adopt and create Machiavellian strategies in order to dominate your opponent on the battlefield. Again, much like its predecessors.

The main mode of the game is your basic tree-hugging, rival-beating storyline RPG. Most puzzles are easily solved, and are usually little more than variation on the tried and tested “trawl through a dungeon to get to the other side/find a key” formula. Of course, the storyline only exists to give the game direction and slowly unfold the complexities of the battle system and Pokemon handling to newcomers. The real meat of the game is not to be found in completing the storyline, but in the things you take in whilst advancing it. In the dark forests, lonely caves and high-tech labs can be found wondrous Pokemon to capture and cunning trainers to beat in battle. It is in the areas of fighting and rearing Pokemon where the game possesses true depth. Sadly the player is never forced by the game to scratch the superficial surface and reveal the glorious challenge underneath, since the age-old practice of over-levelling your team can win the day. However, much more satisfying is beating a same-level Pokemon through cunning, strategy and logical reasoning.

Inevitably, we must turn to a discussion of the game's visual appearance. Gold holds its own well against most other Game Boy Colour games, and the main over-world is aesthetically pleasing enough. The quality of character design for the new entries to the pokedex is high, and Game Freak show no signs of the creative exhaustion that will plague their later work. Another joy for veteran fans of the series is the ability to import monsters from Red, Blue and Yellow and see their favourite Pokemon line-up rendered in glorious multi-colour, with enhanced artwork.

The core user interface, something of a bugbear in the originals has been spruced up. Now different items are stored in different compartments in your bag, meaning that the player can quickly find the desired item. It also simplifies the storyline mode all players find themselves in. Key quest items are stored on their own, so a player will now no longer think a Nugget is an important item that will aid their passage through the game.

Other welcome updates include the addition of hold items, which as the name suggests, one of the furry little critters can hold in battle to power up their abilities or use to heal themselves or cure status effects. Picking the right hold item for the right Pokemon before entering battle can mean the difference between defeat and victory, especially against certain gym leaders and trainer types. In a nod towards the arrival of the digital telecommunications era, each trainer is issued with a mobile phone. You can use this to ring important people in the game, and be contracted by other trainers who will ring you for a rematch after levelling up their Pokemon. This really does keep the experience fresh, once the main storyline has been completed and allows the player to spot weaknesses in their squad if they make any fundamental changes to their line-up after beating the Elite 4. Not that it ends there, once the Elite 4 in Johto have been defeated, the Kanto region opens up. Now all the gym leaders from the original games can be challenged. And this time, they're no pushover, some of them fielding well balanced squads.

Arguably the most important revolution in Gold is the addition of Pokemon breeding. Leaving two compatible Pokemon with the old couple at the day-care will eventually produce an egg. In time this hatches into a low-level Pokemon, often with new and interesting move sets. The massive changes this means for trainers interested in creating a ‘super squad' of crack Pokemon is beyond the scope of this review and could fill a whole book. Which indeed it does. To obtain the most out of Gold, it is necessary for the player to purchase a strategy guide detailing stats, Pokemon move lists and important breeding information. A person not familiar with the series might perceive this to be a cynical and unnecessary attempt on Nintendo's part to increase revenue through the age-old practice of secondary selling. However, a strategy guide turns a player's journey through the complex world of Pokemon from a random mish-mash where success is often due to luck and a high boredom threshold, into a cerebral affair where he or she can decide where his time and energy would be best placed in order to achieve his or her goal. As the player's familiarity with the game and guide increases, so does their realisation of the wonderful intricacies embedded into levelling up, breeding and battling.

The battle system has been overhauled significantly since the originals, with the inclusion of two new types and a whole array of new moves to counter the glut of players that relied solely on psychic type Pokemon to win the day. Existing types and moves have been overhauled too, to produce the most balanced system to date. It would be foolish to deny that flaws do not exist, but in most cases, the player will no longer find themselves swearing due to a hugely apparent lack of balance in move sets and type match-ups. Levelling up, with the addition of a strategy guide, remains a satisfying affair.

Pokemon Stadium 2 on the N64 should definitely be mentioned. Whilst it is a fine game in its own right, and deserves a review of its own, the symbiotic link-up between Stadium 2 and Pokemon Gold should definitely be mentioned. Stadium 2 contains many different tournaments, each with exquisite rules and regulations. Any player who wishes to succeed on the harder difficulty levels must bring along their own squads of Pokemon. Here, the player cannot win through over-levelling, and the player has to finally make sensible choices about which Pokemon to use. The level restrictions imposed by many of the cups means a Pokemon fielded might not have access to a move the player is normally so reliant on. The player is forced to breed Pokemon from eggs and take advantage of this extensive feature in Gold. Whilst a strategy guide helps the player plan and layout his strategy for winning, it is Stadium 2 where those strategies are put to the test and proven. It should be mentioned then, that any player interested in purchasing Gold, should also purchase Pokemon Stadium 2 for the N64, in order to derive full satisfaction from all those hours spent pouring over the strategy guide.

As cliche as it is, it would be possible to go on all day and well into the night detailing the subtle complexities and intricacies that make Pokemon Gold one of the most intellectually stimulating and fun games in years. However, why read about the world of Johto, when you can experience it for yourself. It's not as if you used your GameCube in a while, and the Game Boy player sitting snugly underneath it is just crying out to be used.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 05/24/05

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