Nintendo’s putting the heart and soul back into some of the best titles of their time.
Editor's Note: This review features comments from co-editor Steve Schardein as well, who happens to be playing the Gold/Silver entries for the first time via these remakes. His comments are shown in italics. If you're a newcomer, you might appreciate Steve's take on the subjects that Pokéveteran Greg introduces throughout the article.
If you’re a regular reader of DigitalChumps.com, I probably don’t need to convince you of my love for the Pokémon franchise. Ever since the original title, I’ve played every classic RPG Pokémon to date and loved them all. However, for those of you who know of me well enough, you’ll know that Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal are some of my favorite games of all time and that, in my opinion, Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum are the closest in quality to these games that we’ve seen to date. Leave it to Nintendo to revive the classic titles during arguably the strongest generation of Pokémon to date, providing yet another reason for gamers to buy a Pokémon title and tide over longtime fans until the release of the next generation title.
Pokémon HeartGold Edition and SoulSilver Edition are two well overdue remakes to hit the DS this year and packed with them is a new mode of gameplay in the Pokéwalker accessory (yet another item that has been revisited since the previous accessories of the olden days). There would be no doubt in my mind that I would love experiencing these adventures over again but I was curious to see how they would meld the old with the new and whether or not the experience would continue to hold up in this further evolved generation of Pokémon. Finally, could the game meet this gamer’s lofty expectations and provide a play-worthy experience for fans not overcome with the nostalgia so many older Pokémon fans will enjoy?
A Brief History of my Experience with Pokémon
In case you’re unfamiliar with gaming history, Pokémon GSC (Gold, Silver, and Crystal) were extremely successful additions to a library of star-studded classics on Nintendo’s Game Boy Color handheld. Where most gamers wondered if developer Game Freak could significantly improve upon the phenomenon set forth in the original installments to the series (Red, Blue, and Yellow) while maintaining a similar experience, our expectations were blown out of the water by an experience that included playing through an entire new world in Johto and afterword being able to travel to the familiar land of Kanto from the RBY (Red, Blue, and Yellow) generation. Where RBY provided a lengthy, deep experience, GSC more than doubled the content from the original game with twice the story-mode gameplay (and twice the badges), nearly twice the Pokémon, and a whole slew of gameplay additions such as an internal clock with time dependent events as well as the ability to connect with the older generation games.
After playing GSC into the ground, however, there was a small drop off in my excitement towards the series, probably due to the fact that it was impossible to transfer my hundreds of hours of gameplay and incredible set of Pokémon on to the next games in the series. Though I played Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, I wasn’t drawn back to the series until FireRed, and LeafGreen hit the GBA. By then I began EV training my Pokémon (look this up on the internet if you’re unfamiliar) and was back into the series.
However, not until the latest titles of Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum (DPP), did I feel that Pokémon had succeeded in creating a truly respectful sequel to the GSC generation. With the full immersion of internet battling, almost 500 Pokémon to catch (along with a large amount of evolutions from earlier introduced Pokémon), the touch screen masterpiece that was the Poketch, and the fact that we’ll never have to worry about transferring our Pokémon from generation to generation again, DPP were truly the definitive modern Pokémon experience.
Now, with HeartGold, and SoulSilver (HG&SS) on the horizon, there were a few things that I needed the game to fulfill aside from a creating a fully intact replica of the original games: first of all, I expected that Game Freak would do as they did with FireRed and LeafGreen by recreating the original titles while maintaining all of the recent additions and improvements of the current generation; second of all, I was extremely skeptical of the Pokéwalker accessory and was hoping that it would surprise me as an enjoyable addition to the series rather than a gimmick; and finally, I hoped that the game might add a few new features to the mix as well.
Steve's Take: Personally, I lived and died by Yellow, putting together a seriously nasty party of Zapdos, Gengar, and other favorites... but I never really was sucked back into the series until the FireRed/LeafGreen remakes arrived. I suppose that's where the series really began to see its renaissance, as those games really respected their ancestry. If HeartGold/SoulSilver could be half as enjoyable, I'd be happy, I told myself.
Seamless mix between old and new (for the most part)
Obviously, HG&SS succeeded in recreating the original games and I feel like the overall length of the quests helps to convince fans of the series to pick up the game, despite having added no new Pokémon to the equation. Using the same graphical engine from the DPP games, the original adventure looks as good as the most recent DS titles and still holds up really well. In terms of sound, the music is good as usual but the sound effects are as always a little too raw in terms of blips and bleeps (the Pokémon noises are still the original chirpy ones).
However, divulging from an analysis of replication, I feel like the newer elements were not implemented as flawlessly. Overall, the games include most of the great additions to DPP but skimped on a few key elements that were breakthroughs in the series. First of all, I was floored that Game Freak decided to regress by not including the Poketch within HG&SS. Basically, if you’re unfamiliar, the Poketch was a true current generation breakthrough for Pokémon that fully utilized the DS’s touch screen for customization outside of battles. Players could cycle through a number of different applications that suited their current situation.
For instance, if players were trying to keep track of whether their Pokémon had randomly picked up an item (very useful if you abuse the “pickup” ability of some Pokémon), then you could change the bottom screen to show a view of your Pokémon’s statuses. If you need to jot down a note or use a counter (handy for EV training), you can make it a notepad or a counter, respectively. If you’re busy breeding your Pokémon, you can display a view of the Pokémon left at the day care, which also shows if they’ve produced an egg or not. The list goes on and on, including a link searcher that displays whether there are players in wireless play in your vicinity, and an app to determine the mood of your Pokémon.
Not only did the Poketch serve as simple conveniences such as these, it also doubled as a shortcut for certain items. The dowsing application served as a quick item finder where tapping the screen would send back a sonar-like response, letting you know if there is a hidden item within the vicinity. If you’re still trying to get a feel of your location, make the touch screen a map which can even show you the status of the berries you’ve planted. Finally, the Poketch had many other applications that could be used for pure pleasure, such as the ability to create a 24x20 grid picture, change the colors of your display, and even flip an old fashioned coin.
In short, the exclusion of the Poketch in HG&SS is a big disappointment in my opinion as I felt the Poketch was a beautifully intuitive evolution to the game’s format to fully utilize the touch screen and allow for user-based preference. Instead, what we’re left with is a touch screen that features only a visual of the menu, as well as up to two shortcuts to registered items.
In terms of menu functionality, the game is hit or miss as well. An example of a downgrade comes during box operation. I found the box to have reverted back to the bulkiness of earlier generations of Pokémon as rather than mix all operations together in one mode, players must move back out to the main computer menu before changing between item and Pokémon movement. Also, when choosing “move Pokémon”, you can’t pick up a Pokémon and then open a box while holding it (like you can in DPP). Instead, you’ll have to grab a Pokémon from one box and deposit it into another, then repeat the operation for the Pokémon you’d like to move back into the previous one’s spot (seems confusing but easily will get on your nerves if you played older games.
One area where I felt they did a great job improving, however, was the Pokédex. Rather than list the Pokémon in a large list like they’ve done in every previous game, the game actually lists them in a tile view with pictures of 5 Pokémon listed from left to right and multiple rows. This way players need to scroll through less rows of Pokémon to find the one they’re looking for.
Steve's Take: I, too, was quite disappointed to find the Poketch missing from the game. While I can appreciate the attempts to keep the experience as pure and true to the original as possible, I don't feel like this sort of thing detracts from the nostalgic value of the package. Instead, it's merely a suitable adaptation of the DS's dual-screen technology--something which seems perfectly logical given the sheer convenience of, say, a bottom-screen map. I also agree with Greg about the general menu interface, including the affiliated sound effects. This is something I actually brought up to him while he was writing the review, and I was surprised to find he'd already planned to write about it. The "ding" noises that accompany each and every press of A along with the somewhat clunky menu system really age the presentation, even while the visuals and music are happily adequate.
Pokéwalker Accessory=Well Implemented Success
Probably the first order of business for me when I received HG&SS was to find out when and how I would use the Pokéwalker. Thus, immediately after I received my first Pokéballs, I had already caught a Pokémon and sent it to the Pokéwalker. Now, If you’re an older gamer, you probably remember the old Pocket Pikachu accessories they sold around the same time as the RBY series of Pokémon titles. Similar to a Tamagotchi (which were big at the time), players would take care of their Pikachu but unique to the market of virtual pets was that had to be more interactive with their pet: the built in pedometer gained Watts that could be used to play the different minigames.
Now, this virtual pet was a fun toy for its time but really served no purpose when it came to the actual RPG played on the Game Boy as they were two entirely separate from one another. What’s great about the more recent Pokéwalker accessory is that it has very helpful impact on your DS gaming experience. Not only are players able to bring any Pokémon they desire over to the Pokéwalker via the built-in infrared port in the DS, but they’re also given the option to do a number of things that will help them out on their DS adventure without actually playing the DS (or in parallel to their DS gaming experience).
First of all, the setup for the Pokéwalker is similar to that of the original Pocket Pikachu where a pedometer determines the amount of Watts a player has earned. This time around, however, players can participate in a few different mini-games to discover things that can be sent back to the DS. The first mini-game, dowsing, allows gamers to spend 3 watts to be able to have a chance at finding an item. The gamer then has two moves to find an item within a group of six bushes. After making his/her first guess, if the item is not found, it will let you know whether or not the item is adjacent to the chosen bush or not (thus allowing for anywhere from a 1/4-1/6 chance of finding an item.
The second game, Poké Radar, allows gamers to spend 10 watts to run into a battle with a Pokémon. They must then participate in a battle that reminded me of a more sophisticated version of the Safari Zone battles. You are given the option to either attack, evade, or throw a Pokéball. Attacking will lower the enemy’s hit points as long as the enemy has chosen to attack as well but will never allow the Pokémon to run away. Evading, on the other hand will dodge an enemy attack and attack back but gives the enemy a chance to run away.
Players can keep up to three items and three Pokémon on the walker at any time and must send them back over to the DS if they want to catch/find more Pokémon/items. Finally, players are initially given one area for their Pokémon to explore but can unlock over eighteen different areas, each with different Pokémon and items to find (increasing in rarity as you unlock the new areas). To unlock an area, players must transfer enough unused Watts back to the DS.
Now, I must say that I was extremely impressed with the implementation of the Pokéwalker, in spite of the overall simplicity behind the device. Though I don’t particularly get any pleasure about being able to have any of my Pokémon travel at my side, I’m sure a younger audience would be thrilled by this. However, nonetheless, I found the Pokéwalker to be an extremely enjoyable addition to my experience with the game. By taking it wherever I went, or even just wearing it while playing the game, I could add extra impact on my DS game at any time of the day. This allowed me to easily get my hands on a Wobbuffet early on as well as a Dratini after only a few badges in (normally something you’d need to win at the game center). The attainable items are also very helpful, starting with potions and antidotes and moving all the way up to TMs, Ultra Balls, and battle items. All in all, I found the Pokéwalker accessory to be a strong addition to the game’s overall gameplay (especially for Pokémon fans).
Steve's Take: You know, I have to admit, I didn't even know I could use this thing yet. I played for nearly ten hours without ever actually powering on the device to check it out specifically because the box informs you that you cannot use the device until a particular stage in the game. I was surprised to find, per Greg, that this isn't necessarily true--but the game sure doesn't make it very obvious that you can begin using it. See if you agree when you pick up your copy.
Unique Additions to the Game
As any of you probably know, Pokémon RPGs for the DS come in three different forms: true sequels (entirely new games such as Gold & Silver, Ruby & Sapphire, Diamond & Pearl), director’s cut games (Extended editions of previously released games, such as Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum), and remakes (FireRed, Leafgreen, HeartGold, SoulSilver). The only games where major differences are added to the formula are true sequels as these are generally the versions of the games add new Pokémon, large amounts of new gameplay features, and further refinements to the formula; director’s cut games and remakes only provide extra polished versions of already released titles. Thus, in order to make the game worthwhile for a purchase, it is necessary that Game Freak add in some noteworthy extras to make the experience that much more enjoyable (and with director’s cut versions, this is precisely what they do such as selective breeding moves in Crystal along with added story elements, the introduction of the battle tower in Emerald, and the opportunities to catch new forms and/or entirely new Pokémon in Platinum).
For remakes, the formula is simpler in that the experience is entirely new for younger gamers that didn’t experience the originals (so there is no need to reinvent the wheel) but it is necessary to add a few extras along with updating to the more modern features of current generations. As mentioned before, I felt the updating was incomplete in that the Poketch was not included in the game but as for everything else, the game maintains most of the recent additions to the series (Battle Frontier; all the new multiplayer additions from Diamond, Pearl, and even Platinum; the Global Trade Center; the ability to migrate Pokémon from the GBA games). In terms of extras, however, I was surprised to find even more noteworthy additions to the series, including a few mini-games as well as some refinements to the game’s multiplayer.
Most of the new mini-game features will be experienced as soon as you reach the third gym-housing town in the game, Goldenrod City. This town was infamously known for the casino in previous games but this time around they changed things up (at first I thought would be a disappointment but ended up being a big plus). To not promote gambling, I presume, Nintendo ditched the old slot machines from the originals and added a new Voltorb-Flip minigame. Though a little similar to minesweeper, the game has a more strategic feel to it, in my opinion, than the aforementioned PC game.
Basically, players must flip over multiplier tiles without finding a Voltorb on a five by five grid. On the side of each row or column exists two numbers, indicating the total number of points on a row or column and the total number of Voltorbs in that same row or column. By counting the total number of points added up in a row, players can strategically determine the location of multipliers, though later levels add more guessing to the picture. With up to 7 levels, each of which can only be played in succession after finishing previous levels, this game is actually quite addictive. However, though I found myself loving the game, I could see it being a more difficult game to master for younger kids and thus more difficult to earn the prizes at the game corner than in previous games.
Secondly, you’ll be able to participate in the Pokéathlon, a series of 10 different events that you can enter your Pokémon into. You can then earn medals for each event as well as “athlete points” to trade for items. Add this to the already successful Battle Frontier and you’ve got yourself a ton of extra things to commit your time to aside from the main quest and aside from multiplayer battling.
Finally, the other notable addition to the game is a tweak to the game’s Safari Zone. This time around, rather than only exploring the zone, you’re actually able to customize your own Safari Zone. You can place items you earn throughout your adventure within the different parts of Safari Zone to create different environments and thus affect the types of Pokémon you’ll run into, as well as trade Safari Zones with your friends.
My dreams of playing a current generation version of Gold, Silver, & Crystal were finally fulfilled with HeartGold & SoulSilver. In the vein of previous remakes in the series, these titles provide updates to the formula (aside from a few things left out) as well as some strong additions to the overall experience. The inclusion of the Pokéwalker accessory is a well implemented bonus that further adds to the depth of this already incredibly lengthy game (probably the longest of any of the series still to date). Thus, if you still enjoy you some Pokémon, HeartGold & SoulSilver are incredibly apt additions to the series that will more than tide you over until the next generation of Pokémon titles hits the shelves. If you’ve never played the original game, this is worth your investment, whereas those who enjoyed the original will not find the second time through any less thrilling. Highly recommended.
Steve's Take: I must say, preliminarily, I'm quite taken with HeartGold/SoulSilver. The game feels inspired and is well-paced, and the infectious "Gotta catch 'em all" attitude is thoroughly prominent. While I'm hardly far enough to judge the game myself (just around ten hours in personally; not nearly as far as Greg), I'd have to say that it certainly seems to be worth the asking price. Now if only I were as good at wiggling my leg as Greg, I might win a Wi-Fi battle once in a while (all right, I admit, it's not entirely thanks to the lack of Pokéwalker use that I get massacred by my fellow editor and brother... maybe). Newcomers: if you're on the fence about a purchase, I say dive in. The price is right, the adventure is deep and enjoyable, and the personality is strong. It's an inspired package even today if you can appreciate a little hardcore turn-based RPG action once in a while.