Review by AK_the_Twilight

Reviewed: 04/12/10

Easily one of the best RPG's you'll find this generation.

If you were a kid in 1998, there’s a really good chance that you were playing Pokemon. Seriously, a REALLY GOOD chance. While Pokemon Red and Blue kicked off the monster-capturing juggernaut that we’ve all grown to love, Pokemon’s biggest achievements in game design, depth, and overall RPG improvements were Gold and Silver on the Game Boy. Using a real-time clock, 100 new Pokemon, and plenty of new additions to battling and raising your monsters of choice, Gold and Silver did the impossible and made the already addictive Pokemon RPG system even more difficult to put down. Gold and Silver were massive successes, easily becoming two of the best handheld RPG’s ever, and no one knows that more than Nintendo. Why else would they decide to remake two of the greatest RPG games of all time for the DS? Under the names HeartGold and SoulSilver, the incredible monster-catching Johto adventure returns. Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver may seem like typical remakes, but age hasn’t changed the addictive, deep, and simply superb design of the original Johto journeys.

For those who’ve yet to play a Pokemon game, you really should check it out, considering that the Pokemon RPG’s remain as some of the deepest and most addictive video games ever made. Thanks to a versatile and highly customizable party system and an easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master weakness and resistance setup, Pokemon lets the player use the types of Pokemon that they want, while also rewarding good battling with experience, new moves, and even Pokemon evolution. The ease and simplicity in catching Pokemon is great, but raising them to your liking with the moveset, stats, and abilities that you want remains Pokemon’s most addictive property, and for some unknown reason, it still works just as well today as it did more than a decade ago.

One of the best aspects of Gold and Silver was the real-time clock, an inclusion that was sadly removed from later installments. Fortunately, HeartGold and SoulSilver bring back the real-time clock. That means that certain Pokemon will only appear during the day or night, with some even appearing based on the actual day of the week. This amount of depth offered a remarkable amount of commitment, but the rewards were always worthwhile. It may sound silly getting up early to catch a rare Pokemon, but trust me: it’s an experience that made Gold and Silver fantastic, and bringing back the real-time clock in HeartGold and SoulSilver was probably the best thing that Nintendo could’ve done in the remaking process.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are remakes of Pokemon Gold and Silver for the Game Boy, retaining the same story, gameplay, and events seen in the original handheld hits. You play as an up-and-coming Pokemon trainer who’s out to defeat the eight Johto gym leaders, challenge the Elite Four, and catch every one of the critters that exists throughout the Pokemon universe. Along the way, you encounter a rather criminal rival, the return of Team Rocket, and many other unique (though familiar) events. Taking on the eight Johto gym leaders is still a rough challenge, and the incredible inclusion of a second Kanto quest extends the lifespan of the game considerably. While the games are remakes and possess very much of the same layout and map design as the original Gold and Silver, revisiting Johto just feels comfortably nostalgic in the best kind of way.

The minute changes in HeartGold and SoulSilver are welcome additions, but don’t make many tremendous enhancements to the design. In addition to the massive online trading and battling capabilities, players can also check out the Battle Frontier, new Safari Zone, and some stylus-based minigames that are actually pretty fun. If you have a DS with a GBA slot, you can still transfer your GBA Poke-crew to HeartGold or SoulSilver. A more apparent difference is that the lead Pokemon in your party will follow you around (unless they’ve fainted, of course), a cool homage to Pokemon Yellow. These inclusions are unquestionably familiar, especially for those who’ve played Diamond and Pearl, but the consistently packed-in content offers a massive amount of replay value. Whether you’re a competitive trainer looking for a challenge from online opponents or someone who’s just after every single type of Pokemon in existence, the amount of content in HeartGold and SoulSilver is staggering.

One of the biggest nuances found in HeartGold and SoulSilver is the Pokewalker. Similar to the Pokemon Pikachu device released during the Game Boy days, by walking around with the Pokewalker on hand, the device counts steps, which can then be spent on opportunities to earn currency, items, and even Pokemon. The Pokewalker is bundled with every copy of HeartGold and SoulSilver, so anyone looking for a new way to catch or level up their Pokemon will find the Pokewalker to be worthwhile. However, it’s really hard to get excited about the Pokewalker, with it being so similar to Nintendo’s Pokemon Pikachu device. Also, you can only level up a Pokemon for one level at a time, and the minigames built into the Pokewalker are pretty low-tech and depend a lot on chance. It’s a good improvement over Nintendo’s older Tamagotchi-esque efforts, but it still feels gimmicky and ultimately unneeded.

Sadly, Nintendo and Game Freak didn’t do much to update the presentation of Gold and Silver. While the graphics are definitely improved from their Game Boy counterparts, HeartGold and SoulSilver still retain the trappings of a 16-bit SNES game. The subtle 3D effects are nice (like the spinning sign near the PokeMarts) and the different attack animations are very well done, the rest of the game feels trapped in the past. The best example of this issue is the sound effects. Hearing the Game Boy-era cries of the Pokemon after each battle entrance is annoying, and considering how many Pokemon are in the game, you’re bound to start hearing them blend together. The soundtrack, however, has all of the great themes and music from Gold and Silver, strongly remade with superb effect. The presentation, on the whole, is a good step up from the Game Boy, but Pokemon has made a habit out of avoiding serious change, and the presentation is what suffers the most from that.

+ Pokemon gameplay remains incredibly accessible and addictive
+ Real-time events are especially deep
+ Two lengthy quests, massive online features, and hundreds of Pokemon to collect result in huge replay value

- Pokewalker feels a bit under-implemented
- Presentation still feels dated

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, like Gold and Silver before them, are some of the best RPG’s you can find on any system, handheld or otherwise. The Pokemon standards of mass party customization and solid weakness-resistance systems remain in full effect, and while not much has changed, it still all works brilliantly. The implementation of online functionality and the already massive two-quest storyline will keep you addicted over the course of the 40+ hour game. The presentation may seem dated and the Pokewalker may seem gimmicky, but HeartGold and SoulSilver retain every piece of great game design that the already impressive originals possessed. It can be firmly stated that HeartGold and SoulSilver are some of the best remakes to come from Nintendo in years. If you own a DS, you simply must play HeartGold and SoulSilver. But clear your calendar, because you won’t be leaving Johto for a long while.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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