Pokemon HeartGold ReviewBy Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Mar 16, 2010
Nintendo has revived the Game Boy Color classics Pokemon Gold and Silver for the DS with Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver. While the biggest changes are cosmetic, the core gameplay withstands the test of time, and delivers a great Pokemon update for today's contemporary handhelds.
- Tons of collectibles and gadgets
- Strong pacing
- Online battling and trading
- Only four attack choices per creature
- Recycled features from Pokemon Platinum
- Silly dialogue
Buoyed by the success of 2007’s Pokemon Platinum, Nintendo has rejuvenated another old pair of Pokemon games with the dual release of HeartGold and SoulSilver. Both are enhanced remakes of 2000's Pokemon Gold and Silver for Game Boy Color. While the cosmetic changes are modest and somewhat gimmicky, the underlying game is still addictive and well designed.
By now, you should know the Pokemon essentials, but, in case you don't, here's a brief refresher: the world of Pokemon features humans and curiously named critters working together, having fun together, and engaging in the ritualistic slaughter of other creatures for mere sport. Okay, maybe that's not quite how it goes, but it isn't too far off the mark.
Back to Basics
Gameplay is not going to be much of a surprise for fans of the series, or, for that matter, fans of Japanese role-playing games from the 8- and 16-bit eras. You move your boy or girl protagonist through an overhead view of various towns, caves, forests, lakes, and other environments. Along the way you'll talk to people, visit shops, and engage in a slew of battles with other Pokemon.
Each turn-based battle features your selected Pokemon in the foreground to the left, with a rival appearing in the background on the right. On each turn, you can choose to fight, switch creatures, use an item, or flee. Selecting "fight" will bring up your selected creature's move list. Since species are grouped by water, fire, electricity, and so forth, they have inherent strengths and weaknesses against other Pokemon. However, battles are influenced more by the level and types of your Pokemon (in relation to its enemies) than actual tactics, since your moves are so limited. Assuming you've hit puberty, you aren't going to break a sweat during the battle phase.
Heart and Soul
So, what exactly is new? The visuals have been updated, keeping the series in line with the vibrant look found in Pokemon Platinum. It won't amaze, as the squatty characters and minimal animations aren't exactly pushing the DS’s visual resources. There are also some 3D effects, but they are sprinkled in at odd places. For example, when you choose a Pokemon to start, you'll touch a 3D Pokeball to see what's inside. Tapping your inventory also displays a 3D backpack on the top screen, with various pockets highlighted to illustrate precisely where you keep the stuff you collect. Yet, the battle sequences are essentially static still pictures. The other "big" change to the visuals is that one of your Pokemon will scamper along behind you as you explore the world. You can even talk to it to see how it's doing. Awww.
The touch-screen interface is also new, at least compared to the original Game Boy Color titles, which makes everything much easier to navigate, since the menu is displayed directly on the bottom screen. Online support is also included, so you are no longer limited to trading or battling your Pokemon with friends at arm’s length. Pokemon Platinum's battle frontier, some Pokemon introduced in later titles, and a few other bonus events, areas, and mini-games have found their way into this update, as well. By and large, though, the core game is exactly the same as the Game Boy Color originals. Think of the new content as optional side quests and diversions.
Pokewalker, Texas Ranger
By far the strangest addition to the series is the Pokewalker accessory. Clearly a nefarious plot to ensure Nintendo's legions are fit enough to walk to nearby stores to purchase Pikachu pillows and Totodile teacups, the Pokewalker is a cross between a pedometer and Tamagotchi. The device allows you to transfer one Pokemon into its memory so you can take it along with you, earning it experience points and building up a "watt" for every 20 steps you (or perhaps an unsuspecting dog, cat, or ferret) take.
Watts can then be used like currency to play one of two mini-games directly on the disc-shaped device, allowing you to earn random prizes or the opportunity to battle, and potentially capture, wild Pokemon to transfer into your game. It's cute and a rather ingenious way to get you involved with the game when you're out and about.
Blast from the Past
The relaxed pace, internal clock, collectibles, socializing aspect, and the addiction associated with finding (or breeding) new Pokemon are the reasons to buy these versions, not the visual enhancements or the deep, strategic battles. There's a considerable amount of content here, and that's not even counting the extra "mileage" you'll get with the Pokewalker. While it would have been nice to see the series expand with completely original releases, HeartGold and SoulSilver will keep enthusiasts in the equivalent of Pokeheaven until the inevitable debut of MucusMagenta, DuodenumDusk, or something oddly similar.
Game Differences: Both HeartGold and SoulSilver feature the same storyline, starting Pokemon, areas, and features. The only difference between versions is the frequency and types of Pokemon you'll encounter while adventuring, which means that trading with owners of the opposite version is encouraged to "catch 'em all."