Thinking of a suitable way to start this review is proving to be difficult. Launching in with ‘I feel like I’ve played this one before’ has, itself, been played out before.
Indeed it has, as Heart Gold is the second duo in a line of Pokemon titles revamped from the classics of yesteryear. The first such venture into rehash-land was the excellent Fire Red/Leaf Green, which this reviewer devoured amongst the pimples and voice squeaks of adolescence. Some balked at the cheap trick Nintendo and Gamefreak played by re-releasing an old wolf in shiny sheep’s garb, but it felt new and had advanced features thrown in.
In comparison, 2008’s Diamond/Pearl didn’t hit the spot for many people, feeling too limited considering the saga’s new home on the powerful DS. Heart Gold [HG/SS] pushes further into the DS’s feature set and brings with it a familiar and engrossing story.
Based on the 1999 generation of the Pokemon dynasty Silver and Gold, HG/SS is set in the region of Johto. Starting in New Bark Town, the player heads out across the world, catching and colleting Pocket Monsters to his (or her) heart’s content.
The games this version is based on are many Pokemaniac favourites, including over 150 new Pokemon, a new game world and increased complexity with aplomb.
The question fans will need to ask themselves is whether a new version of a game they’ve already played is worth the asking price. Newcomers to the series will certainly find more to become hooked on than ever before, but old hands may need to see the advancements in style and presentation to feel compelled to do it all over again.
From the first glimpse of the gameworld, you can tell that an extra special effort has been made. The game engine has been redesigned to take advantage of the Nintendo DS’s capabilities, giving everything a shimmering pseudo 3D feel. For longtime fans of the series, seeing 3D buildings and structures dotted around the familiar map is a real treat. Character animations feel smoother and livelier, as do updated environmental effects (puddles splash, sandy shores get covered in footprints) that made their debut in the original Gold and Silver versions.
Audio has been a divisive issue for Pokemaniancs since the beginning; the tinny tunes and rudimentary 8-bit sound effects drove many to play the game mute. Not so in HG/SS: The music is the best a Gamefreak title has had. The Pokemon voices are still a bit pokey, but hearing a Mankey cry ‘CREEECREEKEL’ adds to the charm of the title.
The core of the game (battling) is essentially the same mechanical process of picking a Pokemon, picking a move and attacking – as it has ever been. While there is nothing wholly new about the HG/SS incarnation of the battle scene, it is by far the most sleek and intuitive of any Pokemon title to date. A visual indicator of how many usable Pokemon your enemy has left is a nice touch and makes the longer and more challenging battles a little fairer. Battle animations have also been given a buff and moves like “surf” have a more visually appealing finish.
One thing veterans of the game will know is that battling is addictive, if perhaps a little too easy. HG/SS has 16 gyms for you to conquer, some of the battles requiring a touch more strategy and preparation than the naïve might at first assume (including one particular ‘boss’ battle which took this reviewer by surprise, spurring an intensive block of training to get past).
Adding a touch of novelty to the game is the inclusion of the ‘Pokewalker’ pedometer and minigame. When you crack open the packaging for HG/SS, you’ll notice a tiny Pokeball-styled Tamagotchi clone comes rolling out with the cartridge. The purpose of this device is to add a real world element to the game, allowing you to charge up ‘watts’ by walking around, which can be exchanged for rare Pokemon and useful items. Within a couple of minutes I had bagged a Khangaskahn and some potions – just what I needed to bash through the first gym. The minigames on the Pokewalker provide enough entertainment to tide you over while you re-charge you DS to get back to the real action. A gimmick, sure, but a worthy addition very much in line with the addictive nature of Pokemon.
As it’s 2010, most gamers out there expect multiplayer action. It’s something that’s been ingrained in Pokemon from day one under the sales tagline “gotta catch ‘em all!”, but was never fully realized until the advent of wifi capable consoles. Online battling and trading are here in full force and both genuinely enhance the notion that a world of Pokemon trainers is out there, waiting to be fought. Ad-hoc battles are often the most fun – if you can grab a copy for a friend you’re in for hours of extra fun.
HG/SS has everything their predecessors had and the additional flourishes of animation, detail and polish, making this package the best Pokemon release to date. The games are filled with tiny nuggets of surprise for old masters of the series and a wondorous plethora of discovery for newcomers. Don’t let the cutesy characters and polite storyline fool you, Pokemon Heart Gold/Soul Silver is a worthy and engrossing pseudo-RPG for the DS.
While it’s not really anything new, it provides a chunky stop-gap in lieu of a real new Pokemon title. Playing it, you’ll get the sense that Gamefreak are rehashing the classics to get their crosshairs tuned for the next generation of Pokemon. The game engine feels more mature than it did in Diamond, opening doors for a future stunner on the DS. I for one cannot wait to try and catch ‘em all (all over again).