Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 04/23/10

Who says you can't go back?

You’ve got to wonder about the other children. They leave home on their tenth birthday, fulfilling a rite of passage unlike any other. The kids are allowed to roam freely around the realm of Johto, determined to achieve the ultimate goal: becoming a Pokemon Master. Some define their lives by it. Traveling across the land, searching far and wide. Pursuing that distant, seemingly unreachable dream, discovering some greater sense of purpose amidst impossible odds. When does the hard truth finally set in? When do they realize that they have been abandoned, cold and lost in a wilderness brimming with death? That they will not succeed, let alone survive the shameful journey back home? How can they face their families and peers with the knowledge that they, despite their cherished dreams and ambitions, have failed? These are the burdens of the children of Johto.

But you’re different. Giving up isn’t an option. You’ve been given the job of tracking down as many Pokemon - fantastic and monstrous creatures that live in the wilderness - as you possibly can, all for the sake of science. The first Pokemon is a freebie; one could assume that it‘s nothing more than a strange little pet. But once you get it out into the tall grass outside of town, you’ll understand its true purpose: combat. It’s supposed to fight other monsters for you. If it survives enough battles, it’ll eventually level up and gain new powers and abilities. Depending on how badly you’ve hurt the wild Pokemon, you’ll be able to capture it in a tiny ball and carry it around for the rest of the journey. Do it again a few hundred more times, and you’ll have enslaved enough creatures to amass an army. With so much power under your control, you can roam the lands, mercilessly slaughtering rival trainers (shattering the dreams of countless Johto youths along the way), and clawing your way up the ranks until you become the greatest Pokemon Master the world has ever known.

Getting that far is a simple, but time-consuming process. You’ll spend the majority of the main game (which averages around 40-50 hours) doing nothing but leveling up your Pokemon against wild enemies and eventually challenging the nearest Gym Leader/Boss to progress the plot. The sheer amount of random battles required to get your team powered up is staggering; you’ll be in for a ridiculous amount of running through tall grass and other Pokemon-infested areas. The turn-based battles can wear you down, too. You’re given the option of having your leading monster attack, switch it out for something more effective, use items to support them, or attempt to capture the enemy. It’s a basic, straightforward system. It’s also mind-numbingly boring and tedious for the majority of the time. Its simplicity is understandable; the designers wanted to make sure people could play the game regardless of their skill level.

Don’t be fooled, though. Underneath the archaic layout and options lies one of the strategic and complex combat mechanics you’ll find in a handheld RPG. Each monsters has their own elemental power (sometimes two), which are either strong or weak against others. Fire Pokemon can roast everything but Rock and Water types. Dragons, despite their awesomeness, can be taken down with a well-placed Ice attack. Since you can only carry six Pokemon at once, you’re going to have to seek out different kinds to help balance things out. It gets complicated when they start learning stuff that isn’t their type; you could end up with a creature that can fly, summon a sandstorm, and poison anything it touches. Each Pokemon can only have four attacks at once, which means you’ll have to figure out which moves complement each other. Not to mention underlying complexities that go with your Pokemon’s varying personalities, inherent abilities, breeding, items…the list goes on and on and on.

But in case that’s not for you (and it certainly isn’t for me), you can spend more time on the other half of the game: collecting. There are nearly 500 different Pokemon to catch and train, many of which aren’t even available in this game. You’ve got to either transfer them from the older games or trade with your friends. The process is made far easier thanks to the Global Trade Station, the online multiplayer introduced in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl. If you’ve got Wifi, you can battle and trade with gamers around the world. You can also view trainer rankings, view recorded battles, upload box data, and try out a few other features. Given how much the concept has revolutionized the multiplayer mechanics of the Pokemon franchise, it’s definitely a much-needed addition in this remake…Even if it is a nothing more than a copy of the one from Platinum.

The game tries to make up for it with the addition of the Pokewalker. You can download a Pokemon into this little gadget and interact with it Tamagatchi style. As you carry it around, the machine keeps track of how many steps you’ve taken. The further you walk, the more experience points the Pokemon will obtain. You’ll also earn bonus points, which can be used to acquire hidden items, find certain species you wouldn’t normally find in the regular game, and unlock different areas to explore. It’s certainly a different approach to the usual methods, and it can be rewarding when you come across something rare. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s just a fancy pedometer disguised as a gaming device. It’s just a way to get gamers off their asses, even if it is pretty gimmicky. Will it be enough to convince Platinum-weary veterans for another round? Probably not.

If anything, SoulSilver thrives on nostalgia. It reigns supreme in this series. This is a DS remake of Silver, combining its old designs with the features from later games. While hardcore strategists will be happy to rediscover the Battle Frontier and Pal Park, longtime fans will be far more excited with the post-story features. Keeping true to Silver’s content, beating the game unlocks a whole new region to explore: Kanto, from the original Pokemon Red/Blue. Everything’s there, from Pallet Town to the legendaries to a certain infamous battle. Visiting old haunts like Viridian Forest and Cerulean City rendered in DS graphics is amazing. The retro music, the updated sprites, and all the little references and glorified cameos make this a love letter to the diehard fans.

Despite the tidal wave of nostalgia you’ll get, however, this section is one of the most underwhelming and inconsistent in the game. All of the enemy trainers (the Gym Leaders especially) all have Pokemon that are leveled up to stay competitive with your finely-tuned team. The problem is a lack of challenge; if you’ve played Platinum or any of the other recent titles, you’re going to notice that these retro battles are riddled with poor strategies and weaknesses. It’s entirely possible for you to sweep all eight of the original Leaders without so much as breaking a sweat. Not to mention the wild Pokemon; they’ve retained their original power levels, which means you’ll be facing Level 2 Rattatas all over again. Not exactly ideal when you’re trying to level up for the more challenging battles later on.

That doesn’t make SoulSilver a bad game, though. Far from it. In terms of content, this is arguably the best version seen yet. It represents the culmination of what the series has established and developed over the last decade. The combat mechanics essentially the same, but far more complex and strategic than those of the original versions. The online multiplayer, Battle Frontier, and all of the extra features are present and accounted for. It even takes gamers back to where it all began, portraying an old game with updated graphics. It’s a good reminder of what’s been achieved. More importantly, it underscores the need for something new. Nostalgia is great, but let’s hope the next game is something different. Now that the series has taken one final glance back, it’s about time for it to look forward.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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