Alas, I write this nostalgic look-back because Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver really warrant two separate reviews: one for the veteran trainers and one from a Pokémon neophyte’s perspective. A reimagining of a game that many consider the zenith of the Pokémon franchise can’t really go wrong. It boasts advanced 3D rendering, Wi-Fi additions, new locations and a Pokéwalker to boot. This is the culmination of fifteen years of Pokémon development and it shows. Really, the true query is “will it be enough to keep the Pokémon veterans enthused?”
Console: Nintendo DS
Release Date: March 14, 2010 for North America
Developer: Game Freak
Players: 1-4 via Wi-Fi and Local Wireless
ESRB Rating: E
So HeartGold and SoulSilver are released ten years later, and while they still haven’t animated the sprites or created a real time battle system, they are the superior pair. Think of HG and SS as the “Greatest Hits” of the Pokémon franchise. Something to hold over the fans until the fifth generation hits. Sure, it doesn’t offer a plethora of innovative features, but instead it seems to compile the best features of all of the four generations (with certain exceptions).
They haven’t changed the battle system since the genesis of the series, and to no surprise they left the system intact once more. Water still is super effective against fire, and dark Pokémon are still inexplicably vulnerable to the bug type. But the presentation system has changed with a menu that now relays the options to your touch screen. Although the menu advancement seems a bit counterproductive when we must forcibly forfeit the PokeGear and all the applications that were an enjoyable addition to the previous generation’s games. Gyms also receive elicit makeovers with new trainers and various challenges relative to the Gym's inherent theme.
The gyms all look great with the DS visual upgrades.
But let’s delve further into the game’s infrastructure. The game features the advanced graphic system from Diamond and Pearl, along with new sprites for all of the Pokémon. Obviously they aren’t winning any awards for vivid 3D imagery or any of the CG work, but this port wouldn’t have the same reminiscent value without the retro vibe. But the graphic style is truly subjective to the individual’s taste. I’m an advocate of a true 3D engine for the next generation, but I truly have come to enjoy the graphical style that the DS games have offered.
Junichi Masuda and the rest of the composers at Game Freak have compiled an impressive list of melodic tunes to bring the game to life. All the songs from the original Game Boy version are vibrantly reworked and quite a few new songs are thrown into the mix. A lot of reviewers have been quick to scold the game for its 8-bit cry sounds from the original game, but it further feeds into the game's overall theme of mixing the old with the new. The true question is why they haven’t axed the piercing cackling of the beeping when a Pokémon is close to fainting.
But Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver do also brandish a few neat little additions such as the ability to have a pokemon trail you for the entirety of the game a la’ Pokémon Yellow. You can converse with your Pokémon and they respond based on environmental relations and their current status problems. It also brings back the Battle Frontier from Pokémon Crystal with a variety of new challenges that are almost overwhelming at first. They do have a great in game explanation staff which elucidates any query you could possibly conjure in the Battle Frontier. Also there is the Pokéathlon where you can participate in some stylus-oriented mini-games for funzies.
I wouldn't recommend bragging to any girls that you currently have a Lugia in your pocket.
They also include the Pokéwalker peripheral which is a simplistic piece of hardware that is definitely akin to its predecessor, the Pokémon Pikachu. It allows you to beam one of the Pokémon from your PC into a tamagotchi-esque device which you can carry around and earn watts from the amount of steps you take. Obviously your "suave" reputation might be damaged if anyone discovers you carry around a pokéball shaped tamagotchi, but it's still pretty nifty. Your carted Pokémon can then use these watts to catch wild Pokémon who are indigenous to the route you are strolling on. You can also use the watts to get items in another mini-game or you can save them to put towards unlocking new routes to stroll on. They aren’t intricate games at any rate, but they are time-filling and are ultimately beneficial to your quest. Granted, the Pokémon can only procure one level per stroll, so it’s not an extremely efficient way to level up, but it is neat to have a Pokémon on your person at all time. All in all the Pokéwalker is an interesting addition, albeit a shallow one.
The most renowned addition to the series since its DS amelioration is its Wi-Fi capabilities. And while HeartGold and SoulSilver don’t do much different from Diamond and Pearl, the Wi-Fi is still alive and strong. There are some minor gripes such as the inability to change your party once you’re on Wi-Fi or having no access to your Pal Pad whilst gyrating around in cyber space. But once you get into battle, it is a straightforward and seamless process but feels ultimately bogged down by its simplicity. However voice chat is a pleasant surprise if you’re into that kind of thing. Nonetheless, the Wi-Fi possibilities add tremendously to the replay value of this game, and everyone has the chance to become the world’s top trainer.
SPOILER ALERT: Team Rocket likes to cause trouble.
That being said, without some overhaul to the battle system and formulaic storyline that these games proliferate, this may be the last time that I dabble in the Pokémon universe. Ultimately Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver fall victim to their proximity in the series. They are the superior versions and if you have been reluctant to join to Pokémon sensation, these are the games to start on. And with a Pokéwalker thrown in to sweeten the deal, they definitely have enough to offer for those who aren’t completely burnt-out on the series already.