Review: Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver (DS)

Nintendo used "Spare Time Eater"!

(Pokémon history lesson appeared!) A few years after the huge success of Red and Blue, along came Silver and Gold, offering a brand new region and dozens more freaky monsters to catch. Predictably the games were just as successful and even now are fondly remembered by many Pokémon fans – this one included – as their favourite quest to become the ultimate trainer. Here we are, nearly ten years on, revisiting the Johto region on DS, and with the benefit of new technology the games shine brighter than ever. (Pokémon history lesson fled!)

In fact, seeing the region revitalised for modern consoles is a joy in itself, and although it’s not true to say the game maximises the DS’s graphical grunt it still brings the map to life. Each Pokémon now animates on entry into battle, and although the special effects on their moves are nothing to write home about battles are still as enjoyable and engrossing as ever. It’s not a huge leap over previous titles, but the graphics are still above what you’d call functional. Musically, however, functional best describes it: there’s your usual jaunty town tunes and monster cries, but nothing that stands out over standard DS fare.

If you’ve played any of the previous generations of Pokémon, you’ll be immediately familiar with the format: starting out in a leafy village, you discover your destiny is to be a mighty Pokémon trainer and explore the world, capturing monsters left, right and centre whilst accumulating gym badges and generally sweeping all before you. The structure hasn’t changed much over the past ten years for good reason: it’s brilliantly laid-out, with enough freedom to allow you to explore and constantly capture new monsters, but also the right amount of direction to prevent you getting stuck and losing interest.

In fact, that’s arguably the series’ greatest achievement: always keeping you hanging on for the next little event, be it a gym badge, a HM or a new creature to catch. It’s unassailably addictive and when you hit your stride it’s doubtful any DS game will prise it from the slot for weeks.

Silver and Gold veterans will likely be asking about what new features have been added, and the answer both pleases and disappoints. The online battling and trading first introduced in Diamond and Pearl returns, making it moderately easier to catch ‘em all, but the addition of the Pokéathlon adds little to the game. A new touch-screen Pokédex makes things a little easier to navigate, though the rest of the interface still struggles to remove itself from its button-based origins: using the PC boxes is still laborious when it should use drag-and-drop simplicity, and the Pokégear fails to use the DS’s features in the same way as the Pokétch from Diamond and Pearl.

In terms of true series-first features, there’s very little to speak of, although one obvious one comes bundled in the box: the Pokéwalker. Dedicated Pokémasters will see the similarity to a previous Pikachu walker, but this is much more versatile: connecting to the DS cartridge via infra-red (isn’t technology grand?) you can take your Pokémon on walks to generate Watts, which you use to find items and catch Pokémon. It’s a never-ending cycle that keeps you connected to your little monsters even when your DS is out of reach, and although it’s hardly an essential feature it’s a bit of fun and worth trying out, though its long-term appeal isn’t high.

A mixed bag of features then, but the ones you’re likely to use most work well: the Global Trade Station is still an ingenious idea, and the Poképlaza – a gathering place for Pokémon trainers – is a lot of fun, with surveys, toys, minigames and a rudimentary chat function. There are no all-new features you could say are truly essential, but simply bringing Gold and Silver into the DS age will likely be enough for most gamers.

Conclusion

The original Gold and Silver games are fondly remembered by Pokémon fans all over the world, and with good reason: they introduced features that genuinely evolved the games. With breeding and an in-game clock – both since series staples – not to mention many fan-favourite monsters, these remakes were always going to be well received. Although they fail to push the series forward with any true innovations, they excel at retooling now almost obsolete titles into must-haves for fans.

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