The Pokémon series has been a favorite of mine since the the craze first hit the U.S. in the late 90’s, but my first chance to actually play one of the games came in 2001, when I acquired the original Gold Version for the Game Boy Color. Almost fifteen years later, I still consider the Gold/Silver/Crystal era of the Pokémon games (or “Generation II,” for those of you less informed) to be among the absolute best of the series. Red and Blue/Green Versions introduced the series and did a superb job of it, but the games of Generation II refined and added to it in a way that, frankly, has yet to be paralleled in any of the later games.
Could the 2010 releases of HeartGold and SoulSilver (henceforth referred to as HGSS) innovate the series in the same way? The short answer is…no. Generation II introduced several features that have since become core elements of the series, such as day/night cycles, Pokémon breeding, and berries. HGSS simply couldn’t hope to replicate such a dramatic shift in gameplay. That said, HGSS has several never-before-seen tricks of its own that work quite well for what they do.
The most notable of these by far is available right out of the box, literally. Every release of HGSS came packaged with a “Pokéwalker,” which is a pedometer that turns mileage into experience points. It features an infrared port that allows trainers to beam one of their virtual creatures into the pedometer to not only make use of these experience points but play fun little games as well. These mini-games reward players with items and new Pokémon that can then be transferred back to the main game. The pedometer itself is also pretty accurate.
In keeping with the theme of exercising with virtual pets, HGSS include a feature touched on in Pokémon Yellow Version: a Pokémon walking behind you as you travel across the land. While it doesn’t really impact gameplay, it is really neat to have any one of the 493 critters strolling along behind you. HGSS also includes the “Pokéathlon” which consists of several Olympics-esque mini-games that any of your Pokémon can compete in. As far as extraneous Pokémon events go, the Pokéathlon is actually pretty fun and an easy way to collect some valuable items.
One of my favorite aspects of HGSS was the menu interface, of all things. Previous entries on the DS (Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum Versions) never really took advantage of the system’s second screen, and navigating their menus could be a clunky chore. The menus of HGSS work like a dream. They take full advantage of the DS touchscreen and make navigation incredibly smooth. The general touchscreen menu features 7 large menu shortcuts, 2 key item shortcuts (1 of which can also be accessed by pressing the Y button) and an auto-run switch that can be toggled on or off at will. What confuses me is the fact that this incredibly convenient auto-run feature hasn’t appeared in any subsequent titles!
Other bells and whistles include 4 portable berry pots, which while potentially limiting one’s harvest also allows for easy access. After completing a significant portion of the game, players are given the “GB Sounds” item, which reverts all background music to the chiptunes from the original game and even includes new chiptunes for the two new routes and Safari Zone, a feature that was omitted from the original games. The locations on the Town Map can be marked up with icons and phrases to help you remember key events or other things about the area. Gym Leaders can be called for rematches on certain days of the week, which is certainly nice but a little obtuse to carry out effectively.
At the heart of the matter, HGSS are still Pokémon games, and remakes of previous games at that. As with almost every game in the series, you’ll start your journey with 1 of 3 little monsters, encounter a lifelong rival, battle Gym Leaders, disband a villainous team, and vanquish the Elite Four. You’ll collect more monsters, level them up, breed them, and pit them against one another for glory and riches. It’s a tried-and-true formula bolstered by old and new features. The Generation II games are the only ones thus far to include access to a completely new region with 8 additional leaders and a secret final boss, and HGSS retain this sadly underused feature. HGSS also includes the series’ re-categorization of battle moves that first appeared in Diamond and Pearl Versions. All in all, HGSS may not be particularly groundbreaking, but considering what they do, there’s nothing really wrong with that unless you’re tiring of the same thing over and over again.
I consider HGSS to be the high point of the DS line of Pokémon games. Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum were admirable starts on the series, but HGSS took what they began and innovated in ways that made gameplay more streamlined and enjoyable. Sadly, most of these features were dropped in the 2011 releases of Pokémon Black and White, and that definitely hurt the experience of those games. But that’s a review for another day. If you can find a copy of HeartGold or SoulSilver and don’t have one of them already, grab it and enjoy! Even if you don’t have a Nintendo DS, they can still be played on the 3DS, 2DS, and New 3DS systems.