Developer: Game Freak / Publisher: Nintendo / ESRB: Everyone (Mild Cartoon Violence) / Played on: DS / Price: $39.99
Grab some Pokeballs, say goodbye to your free time, and get ready to catch ‘em all as the newest version of the extremely popular Pokémon series has finally arrived on the Nintendo DS. An updated version of the first set of sequels in the series, Gold and Silver, these new versions offer a lot of new content to series veterans as well as the same charm that lured you in years ago. With updated graphics, connectivity to the Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum versions to really allow you to catch them all, and a bevy of multiplayer options, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver will hook you in faster than you can say Pikachu. Gesundheit.
HeartGold and SoulSilver are graphically what a remake should be; larger, more detailed sprites; sharper images and environments beaming with lush colors; and improvements that take advantage of the system’s capabilities. Enhancements cover the design and look of the Pokémon and the layout of the various towns and maps. Whichever Pokemon is first in your lineup will follow behind you outside of battle, a trait reminiscent of Pokemon Yellow back on the original Game Boy. A lot of elements from the newer games in the series have found their way into these remakes, however, such as “Vs.” screens appearing when facing gym leaders and Pokemon trainers, and 2-on-2 Pokemon battles. Each of the 493 Pokémon have a distinct appearance that fits the anime-style aesthetic well, oftentimes capturing both cute and badass features. The game even rolls out a few full 3D moments including the intro videos and several segments while adventuring on rooftops and mountains. While this is by no means a giant visual leap for the series, HeartGold and SoulSilver look great on the DS.
If you have played one Pokémon game then you’ve basically played ‘em all. Your main objective is to find and collect Pokémon, pocket-sized creatures that you capture and use to battle other Pokémon. Like the other games in the series you strive to be the very best, which means defeating the greatest Pokémon trainers from all over the land. You move from town to town and to engage rival Pokémon trainers in battle, catching wild Pokémon along the way. Your tiny buddies level up by gaining experience in battle, improving their stats, and learning new and devastating attacks to pummel their enemies, as well as abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas. It’s the classic simple premise revealing immense depth.
Outside battles you’re eventually able to breed two of your Pokémon together to produce a genetically similar Pokémon. Collecting Apricorns and scales net you special items like stat boosters and pokeballs. After successfully completing the main portion of the game you’ll actually be able to go to the continent explored in the original Red and Blue games and visit all of those towns and capture even more Pokemon, which essentially doubles your total play time. Some new features exclusive to HeartGold and SoulSilver take advantage of the DS’ touch screen. You will be able to enter your Pokémon into the Pokeathlon, a mini-game triathlon that utilizes the touch screen to interact with your Pokémon. The touch controls are sometimes a bit unresponsive but a normal input method is also available to issue commands and move around.
Local wireless multiplayer is very fluid with games linking together in a matter of seconds and trades taking less than a minute to complete. An option only available at the end of the game allows connection with Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum to import the Pokémon collected in those games, so you can bring along old buddies for the ride. If you would rather show your buddies who’s the strongest then take your team into battle against your friends wirelessly. You can also link to Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection service and battle opponents from all across the globe, showing off your skills for the entire world to see. I found some of the Wi-Fi Connection speeds to be a bit laggy, and opponents were not always available, but it’s still a nice option. The number of multiplayer options is simply fantastic and generates an overflowing sense of replay value.
Featuring remixed tracks from the original game plus some totally new tunes, HeartGold and SoulSilver deliver in the sound department. Each town and the routes between them have catchy tunes that accent the gameplay well. Every Pokémon has an individual cry they echo each time they enter a battle, and these sounds have remained largely unchanged from past entries. While it does sound a little odd hearing a rather primitive set of bleeps when you encounter a Pokémon, this actually adds to the game’s appeal. Seeing a Charmander again after so long and hearing that it still has the same voice adds a great deal of charm for each Pokémon.
Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are immensely enjoyable RPGs. The sheer amount of replayability makes for a game that you won’t want to put down, even after the 30+ hours it takes to beat the main storyline. If you have never played a Pokémon game before or took a well-earned break from the series, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. While not crammed with true innovation, HeartGold and SoulSilver are fun games that anyone from the most die-hard player to the most casual will enjoy.