Review by SSpectre

Reviewed: 10/15/10 | Updated: 09/10/14

Polished, nostalgic, and bursting with new content, SoulSilver may be the best game in the franchise.

The Good:
+ Faithfully revisits the best game in the series
+ Incorporates all the gameplay enhancements of recent generations
+ Remarkable amount of new content for a remake
+ Takes full advantage of the DS hardware

The Bad:
- Lackluster audio and visuals inherited from Diamond/Pearl
- A few small issues that constantly plague the series

Say what you will about Nintendo – you’re well within your rights to do so these days – but they know how to do a remake. With SoulSilver, they’ve taken what was already the best game in the series, introduced it to ten years worth of gameplay and hardware advancements, added an unbelievable amount of new content, and ironed out what problems it did have to create what may be the new best game in the series.

Two things before the full breakdown: like most Pokemon fans, I loved Gold and Silver, and unlike most Pokemon fans, I greatly disliked Diamond and Pearl. They were polar opposites; Gold and Silver introduced dozens of gameplay elements and was a fascinating new experience, while Diamond and Pearl stagnated and was content to retread old ground.

SoulSilver, being a remake, doesn’t really have to worry about reinventing the series, but it still ends up feeling fresher and more original than the rest of Generation IV. The gameplay that made the original so addictive and intriguing to begin with is here in full force – catch, train and battle many, many different types of Pokemon as you travel the Johto (and Kanto!) regions collecting Gym Badges. But what the game excels at is patching the problems that those games did have that we didn’t really notice at the time. Presumably because we were so enthralled by the hundred new Pokemon, the thoroughly implemented night/day system, and the “holy ****, that’s Red from the first game!” factor.

If you had a big complaint about Gold/Silver that couldn’t be leveled at the entire series, it probably had to do with the Kanto section being sub-par. Weak gym leaders, no Safari Zone, old dungeons reduced to single rooms, etc. No more. SoulSilver revamps all of these things, balancing the gameplay, and adding things that, admittedly, should’ve been there the first time around. And if a location wasn’t outright redesigned to fit this new mantra, it was stuffed full of recently-introduced items and new methods for catching Pokemon.

There’s a lot of original content to SoulSilver. To name a few: gym leader rematches, the ability to catch most of the 242 Pokemon released since the originals (including some legendaries), the Pokeathlon (a collection of minigames that not only offer good rewards, but are fun too), lots of side quests, and of course, a few special events distributed by Nintendo. I should also mention that the main development made to Diamond and Pearl’s gameplay, online play, also returns, and just as before, there is no game that it suits more. The ability to trade and battle anyone from anywhere in the world is basically the defining philosophy of the Pokemon games, and it really is a strong reason to give the games a look, especially if you care about the competitive scene. Of course, after all this praise, the idea that I’m just waxing nostalgic for a great game from my childhood becomes problematic.

So let me just say that SoulSilver does still have its problems. For starters, one of the major elements that were updated were the graphics, to match the Diamond and Pearl style. This means recreating Diamond and Pearl's half-hearted attempt to slowly transition the series into 3D, keeping characters and small objects as sprites, while buildings and large objects get 3D models, all of which is occasionally distorted by camera movements to give the illusion of full 3D. To put it bluntly, the graphic style doesn’t work. The camera distorts characters in some pretty unnatural ways, and the battles are still made up of still images of the Pokemon with the occasional two-frame animation. They did add a lot more 3D bits, and there’s a nice little aesthetic feature where your lead Pokemon will follow behind you, but it’s not nearly enough to fix such an outdated style.

Speaking of outdated, there’s also the sound. The music is fine; Pokemon music has never really been special (except for the underrated score for Ruby and Sapphire). It’s catchy and pretty iconic, but it’s never really been good. No, when I say outdated sound, I’m referring to the sound effects. I have this complaint with every new Pokemon game, and every time, I get harsher in my criticism of it. Game Freak: update the ****ing older Pokemon sounds. This isn’t like a Mario game, where the sound effects are so timeless that they be placed in any context, even 25 years later, and still work. These are terrible sound effects clearly caused by the limitations of their original console, and there’s no reason not to improve them.

That may sound like overreacting to a small issue, but the developers went out of their way to use the DS hardware well in other aspects, so it’s especially jarring. Specifically, the controls have been put to much better use. One of my many criticisms for Diamond and Pearl was their flat disregard for the touch screen. In SoulSilver, however, the touch screen can be used for everything. Easy menus, easily storing Pokemon, battles, name it, the touch screen does it. I just wish the series would take a single game and make all its necessary transitions at once, rather than stretching out its technical puberty across three games.

Other than that, the only things you could possibly find fault with in SoulSilver are the things you can say about any Pokemon game. There’s a little grinding and a little repetition. The movement controls feel a little restrictive and probably always will. And it’s entirely possible to just train your starting Pokemon and sweep through most obstacles...if you are the most boring human being on the face of the planet.

So my summary is simply going to be a good old-fashioned, “buy it if you like Pokemon games.” Although I may as well say “buy it”, because with all the addictiveness, multiplicity and innovation, how can you not like Pokemon games...that don’t have a relatively colourless gem in their title?

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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