System: Nintendo DS (Exclusive)
Developer: Game Freak
I’m 20 years old. It’s a late Saturday night, the skies are clear, the air is warm, and adventure can be felt in the air. It’s the first night of the year that could be spent hanging out in a Rally’s drive through, smoking Black & Milds in a grocery store parking lot, or hanging out by a campfire with a harmonica and a Monster Energy Drink.
But I wasn’t doing any of that stuff. No. Instead, I was at my local Wal-Mart Supercenter anxiously awaiting midnight, the hour when Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver would officially go on sale.
Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver is a remake of the classic pair of second generation Pokemon games, Gold and Silver. For many people, those games have long been considered the gold standard (get it?) for the handheld Pokemon RPGs. I personally feel that the original Red/Blue are still the best games in the series, but that could be mostly nostalgia. It has, after all, been almost 10 years since I’ve played the Gold/Silver Pokemon games.
The move to reinvent these two classics and give them a new breath of life, much like what was done with FireRed and LeafGrean, is a very smart move. It’s hard for some of us older Pokemaniacs to even handle the thought, but there are tons of Pokemon fans who weren’t around to experience the original release of Gold and Silver. As painful as that realization is, it makes it a bit easier for me to cope with the fact that my hair is falling out prematurely, because now I feel so old that I should be lucky to have any hair at all.
Regardless of who you are, be it an aged veteran, a returning champ, or a Pokevirgin looking for your first taste of the sweet nectar that is Poket Monsters, it won’t take any time at all to understand the super simple RPG gameplay. You build a team of up to six Pokemon, each of which can learn up to four attacks and hold special items that have different effects, and battle wild Pokemon, other trainers, and super powerful Gym Leaders to gain experience and level up your Monsters until they evolve, or transform, into a more powerful Pokemon.
As easy as it is to stay content with this, it has been well over a decade since the series began, and it’s the exact same thing every time around. Honestly, it’s starting to feel a bit stale and I’m not sure how many more games Game Freak can make before their blatant formula-based strategy starts to wear thin and turns even more gamers off to the series than it already has. I can’t really complain here, because this is a remake of a ten year old game, but if the next Pokemon game is built from the exact same infrastructure as this game, Red/Blue before it, and every game after it, I may need to take a couple of Aleve with a shot of Scotch before each play session.
The story is equally simple. You take control of a young boy/girl who seemingly walks right into an epic quest. First a local Professor asks you to do a favor, and from there everything explodes into a full scale adventure — one that sees our hero leaving home to travel across two regions to collect all of the Pokemon he/she possibly can and defeating 16 gym leaders to collect their badges, and take down the sinister Team Rocket. All of this before puberty. I’m 20 years old and have effectively accomplished nothing. I’ve worked at a grocery store for three years. Dammit, my life sucks.
Visually, the game looks great, though also very simple. It uses a quasi 3D visual style that encompasses two-dimensional sprites navigating 3D architecture and terrain. A lot of the game’s beauty comes from the minimalistic art style, though a lot of the environment you’ll trek through are also very aesthetically pleasing, especially some of the towns that seem to be trapped in Autumn. All of the Pokemon look great (except for Snubbull, but there’s no helping that ugly S.O.B.), and any Pokemon in your party can get out of their Pokeball and follow you around, something that hasn’t been done since Pokemon Yellow, which is just really cool to see.
Something that really needs to change is ultra bland way battles progress. Battle animations are nothing more than sliding, tilting, and stretching of the Pokemon’s 2D sprites, and it gets unbelievably boring to watch exceptionally fast. Put some effort into it, Game Freak. For the next game, I want to actually be impressed by watching my domesticated animals fight to the death.
In the sound department, there’s a lot more to complain about. Sure, the melodies are mostly decent, and once you get to Kanto they are good, but those 8-bit GameBoy-esque screeches and bleeps are, technically speaking, hideous. But we’ve been hearing these sounds for over 10 years, it’s hard to imagine the in-game Pokemon making any other sounds. Trust me, they can make other sounds. Other, more appealing and less-obnoxious sounds. Anyone who disagrees with me here is a fanboy idiot, plain and simple.
Where HeartGold and SoulSilver really shines is in its impressive level of entertainment value. Here there are an astounding 16 badges as opposed to 8, a mind-blowing 493 Pokemon to collect, support for global Wifi battling and trading, and plenty of addicting mini games. Oh wait, I’m forgetting something.
Oh yeah, the Pokewalker! This neat little gadget comes packed in with the game, and gives all you shamefully overweight Pokefreaks out there (myself included) a reason to actually walk around, maybe even go to the gym. You see, this thing may look like little more than a Tomagotchi, but it’s actually a pedometer that tracks how many steps you take. The more you walk, the more “watts” you generate. Watts are used as currency to buy the opportunity to battle and catch wild Pokemon, hunt for rare items, and unlock new trails for your Pokemon to walk along.
Throw in easy leveling of your Pokemon and the ability to interact with other trainers and you’ve got yourself one Hell of a fun little pack-in. Of course, you’re going to look like a pedophile if you really walk around with this thing on your belt. Also, it seems a bit too easy to cheat with this thing. What to stop some greasy, morally deficient teenager from sitting this on top of the dryer or using a rubber band to tie it around his wrist while he beats it?
HeartGold and SoulSilver is an exceptionally well-done remake of the classic Gold and Silver games. You’ve got everything that made the originals such a treat, as well as plenty of extras to make sure there’s as little to complain about as possible. Sure, you could whine and gripe about the lame battle animations, silly dialogue, and inability to teach a Pokemon more than four moves, but global WiFi battles and trading, nearly 500 Pokemon, 16 gyms across 2 regions, and the new Pokewalker are all reasons to love this game, and to keep loving it up until the day when the next Pokemon game finally comes out.
Score: 8.5/10 (Great)