Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver
Recycling is a good thing. Taking the old and molding it into the new is just the kind of progressive thinking that the world needs in the face of the consumer apocalypse. But what of stories? What stories are so good that they deserve to be repeated over and over in a slightly different way? Before long people start to crave something a little edgier, something with a little more “bang!” Let’s be honest, if we were to tell the story of Pokémon we’d all be masters at this point, because any and every Pokémon game that’s been released has been stalked by a doppelganger predecessor. Red and Blue had Yellow, Fire Red, Leaf Green and some other set of titles named after the combination of a shade of red and a word for suffering. Gold and Silver and all the rest would naturally follow, while Nintendo works feverishly in their secret HQ on an actual new game.
With that idea in mind, Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver are born, with a fancy holographic box and a secret agenda to keep us occupied while real games are made. Yes, recycling can be a good thing, and Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver are far from lacking in the good times department, boasting some very pretty pixilated graphics, a lengthy adventure, and a solid playing experience all around. It’s just unfortunate that the crowd finding themselves wishing for a hint of something revolutionary to the Pokémon experience will come up empty handed, as little of that was to be found here beyond the realm of a cheeky Tamagotchi friend to interrupt your everyday life.
Yes, Nintendo has done it again. With a new(ish) Pokémon title released, the folks in charge of relatively mundane changes to the series have marketed Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver with some minor visual updates, touch-screen menu controls for the DS, and a virtual pet that you can transfer your Pokémon to, allowing you to accumulate experience points while you walk. Don’t get me wrong, Pokémon has faithfully maintained its reputation as an adventure that keeps the good times coming, but I couldn’t help but feel that the newly introduced “Pokéwalker” was a tad overkill. Turning the game on to experience the world of Pokémon is more than enough for most gamers, and the small niche crowd that applauds Nintendo’s recent innovation can’t come close to compensating for the overwhelming feeling that Nintendo is trying just a little too hard to keep these refurbished titles afloat. With that said, don’t let the Pokéwalker distract you from the fact that these two titles boast some lovely eye candy and a large roster of Pokémon, and are an enjoyable addition to the series while the world waits for Pokémon Black and White – Nintendo’s more substantial Pokémon innovation slated to hit shelves some time this year.
Until then, we have Heart Gold and Soul Silver to occupy our free time, and although once again we’ve been provided with something of a clone of past titles, these games work hard to make sure you feel like you’re getting a satisfying package. Many of the foundational Pokémon elements have received cosmetic updates, most notably being the explosion of colours you’ll be greeted with when you begin your quest to be a Pokémon master. Of all the series’ titles in the past, these two new games do away with much of the flat, dry colouring that plagued previous installments, and is instead riddled with gusts of wind, falling autumn leaves, and a very rich sense of seasonal beauty depending on where your venture leads you. Even the Pokémon sprites seemed rich and crisp by comparison. Aside from the flashy cosmetic coat, both Heart Gold and Soul Silver won’t do much to surprise you – droning background tracks, 8-bit Pokémon roars, and an endless supply of very short people looking to take you on. If you know Pokémon, you know what to expect.
Pretty colour palettes and Tamagotchis aside, Pokémon has come a long way and expects a lot from such a long-standing fan base to offer only subtle visual pleasantries and a toy you can bring to the office to be ridiculed for. Obviously, Nintendo recognized this. Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver host your standard “get a Pokémon from a professor, collect eight gym badges, battle a soul-searching rival, and ascend to the top of the Pokémon league” storyline, but it’s the minor bits of extras here and there that make these games so worth playing. Aside from an additional 8 badges to collect after you’ve become champion – which upon reflection is in fact very far from “minor” – there are also a bevy of hidden treats for Pokémon enthusiasts to pursue that set these two colour clone titles apart from their past brethren.
Amongst these treats is the ability for one of your six party Pokémon to follow behind you, very much akin to the mechanic in Pokémon Yellow, whereas your partner will express love or distaste, collect items on the ground, and make you look and feel flashy. This walking hand-in-hand idea may very well be what drives the Pokéwalker concept, but walking with Pokémon in-game is more than enough, and virtual pets aside, is a step in the right direction for the Pokémon franchise. Battling the silent protagonist from past installments, an expanded roster of monsters to catch, a bevy of side-quests pursuing legendary Pokémon, customizable safari zone, and a stronger elite-four all wait to greet you after you’ve reached the top, making the replay value of these titles nearly endless. By the time you feel content with your achievements, you may very well have caught every Pokémon in the process.
Expect to see the traditional Wi-Fi spots that allow for players to trade Pokémon wirelessly over the internet, wireless trading and battling capabilities for local players, daily events in-game based on your DS’ calendar, and even a set of uninspired mini-games designed to turn your partners into athletes. Frankly, we’ve seen all of these aspects of Pokémon in the past, and they’ve become more of an expectation by this point than a sales pitch. Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver don’t really do anything to truly dust off the series, but fans and newcomers alike will all recognize that these titles are very rich in content and are aesthetically satisfying while we wait for a true release.
The absurd number of things to do after the main quest has been completed almost makes the adventure feel like a side-mission to a much grander story that unfolds as you dig deeper into the goodies that lie buried after the first 8 badges. It goes without saying that these games will have you busy long after you open the box, and are an easy recommendation for Pokémon fans, newcomers, or the stray gamer looking to kill some time on Nintendo’s DS. And hell, if you do find yourself with a free moment between catching Pokémon and battling, you can always take your Pokéwalker out for a spin to show the neighbors just how nerdy you really are.