Review: Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver (Nintendo DS)

PokemonHeartGoldBoxIt's been nearly 10 years since the English version of Pokemon Gold / Silver arrived on the Gameboy Color. Since then we have seen 9 more of the Pokemon adventures on various handhelds and countless spin-off games too. Will HeartGold / SoulSilver live up to the Pokemon name?

To be precise, its actually 14 years since Pokemon first arrived in Japan, a very long time for a video game series to run. Over the course of these years, countless new fans have arrived on the scene, while many have grown out of the franchise. This review will be coming from a lifelong Pokemon fan, who has played through each game first hand, since release.

A short history of ups and downs

Pokemon HeartGold / SoulSilver is a remake/reimagination of the original Pokemon Gold & Silver games that first arrived on the Gameboy Color in late 2000 (1999 for Japan). The Gameboy Color versions are often refered to as the pinnacle of the series, featuring a deep storyline and perfect gameplay that went down a treat worldwide. What most older fans will tell you with the Pokemon series, is Post-Gold & Silver games began to lose the plot. While the late titles are very solid and enjoyable games, the PokeFever was beginning to die out. The phrase 'Gotta catch 'em all' was more a chore than the initial excitement of the first generation Pokemon games and the element of discovery had gone. With a whooping 493 Pokemon to date, do you still want to catch them all?

Let's rewind back to 1998-1999, the year PokeFever hit the US and Europe. Very few people had the internet and for those that did, Pokemon fan webpages were few and far between. Finding out which Pokemon had the highest ATK stat or how many steps an egg took to hatch was not accessible via a Google search. We were still in the era of cheat books and common discussion about video games with our friends. Nintendo were well aware of this and introduced Pokemon to capitalise on that fact. With 151 Pokemon in the first generation (Pokemon Red, Blue & Yellow) and 251 Pokemon in the second generation (Pokemon Gold, Silver & Crystal), there was absolutely no way you could possibly know all their locations and abilities off the top of your head. The unknown made the game so exciting and gave it life beyond many other games released at the same time.

Knowledge is power

catchmewBack to today. Unfortunately the internet is flooded with PokeFreaks, stat calculator websites, hacking applications and a general bad cloud floating wherever you go. Every website has it's own wikipedia, offering every possible fact you would need to know and the games have been torn to pieces.

For example, the first generation games contained a secret Pokemon named Mew, one only obtained via a special Nintendo event. If you missed this event, you missed Mew. SImple as that. Mew was set to then become one of those legendary gaming icons few people had seen or owned. The same Mew is now one you can now catch by taking advantage of a glitch in the game's memory. Then there is Missingno, save game hacking and countless glitches. And don't forget the hacking available via the Gameshark and Game Genie.

While I don't mind these glitches/hacks personally, what bothers me is the small majority of the community worldwide using these tricks to their advantage and breaking the game. Whenever you play online, you can almost guarantee 9 out of 10 players will have exactly the same team with little weaknesses. Sure, it's great to have such a good team, but only if you've earned it.

It got to the point where I no longer played via the Nintendo WiFi connection, the game had returned to a one player game. Having said that though, I am now 23 years old and one of the few (proud) survivors of the original Pokemon fans, so I don't have much of a leg to stand on there. I'm obviously not down with these hacking kids and maybe my outlook is very cynical, but if anything is clear today, it's that the free information online is ruining the fun at times.

Will Pokemon HeartGold / SoulSilver be any better? Well, I can't say because this time round I will most likely ignore the online side to it and pretend I'm in an internet free world.

Back to Johto

HeartGoldTitleScreenThe first thing I noticed while playing Pokemon HeartGold is the gorgeous presentation of the whole package. From the second you open the box, to the moment you're in game, everything is so polished. Featuring the usual introduction to any Pokemon game, you're greeted with a few mashed up battle scenes taking advantage of the capabilities of the DS, with 3D models of Pokemon to lure you into the game.

HeartGold / SoulSilver are the first in the series to really make use of the Nintendo DS's touch screen. While Platinum did feature a touch screen application, the Poke'tch (A Watch with a few different functions), it was never really that applicable to the game. HeartGold / SoulSilver have turned a corner where the bottom screen is concerned and taken a much more user friendly approach.The Main Menu (usually brought up by the start button previously) has been condensed into the bottom screen, with all of it's commands at the ready throughout the game. The bottom screen now also features shortcuts to your running shoes, world map and much more. Nintendo has really shown that it understands what the fans need and how to use that bottom screen efficiently.

Older fans of the series will feel right at home upon the game starting. After running through the inital steps of entering your name and gender, you're thrown into the familiar bedroom scene. Starting out in your room, accompanied by the latest Nintendo console (this time the Nintendo Wii), with your Mother preparing you for adventure once you arrive downstairs. These familiarities for the older fans place us in safe hands for an adventure we will once again love. For the newer fans, this is something they will begin to grown fond of.

Let's walk together

The first few steps around the village instantly remind you how slow the walking pace of the games really are. The Running Shoes, an upgrade present later on (and found in other later games) isn't awarded till further in. While this isn't game breaking, it does display how impatient our gaming requirements have become. Another new feature added to the exploration side of the game, is the Pokemon you have in the first slot following you outside its Poke Ball (similar to Pikachu in Pokemon Yellow). While I am yet to see any differences this makes to gameplay, it's a nice touch visually.

Aside from the visual touches and the cleaning up of the menus, the gameplay remains almost identical to previous games. While many could find fault in this, stating the series is now stale and tiresome, I would have to disagree. Pokemon is one of the few games that has had the gameplay mechanics right since the early days, with very little needing to change. If anything, Nintendo is well aware of this and continues to built ontop of it's strong structure. Every Pokemon game to date has had some form of connectivity with another games console or device, a gimmick Nintendo is very fond of. This time round, it's the Pokewalker.

PokemonPokewalkerThe Pokewalker is a small LCD handheld device with three buttons, shaped like a PokeBall. The Pokewalker could be described as Nintendo's latest effort to get the overweight kids they couldn't target with Wii Fit to exercise.

The main feature of the Pokewalker, is being able to transfer one of your Pokemon from the game into this device. Inside the DS Game Card is a hidden infrared card that exclusively communicates with the Pokewalker. Once transfered, the player can begin to catch Pokemon exclusive to a mini game on the Pokewalker and also accumilate secret items.

Fitted with a pedometer, the Pokewalker is ready for you to take a Pokemon walking. Every step you take is recorded by the Pokewalker and transfered to your Pokemon as experience points. To discuss this feature, I decided to test it out first hand and see what happened. Being Car Boot Sunday, I proudly (by proud, I mean hid) placed my Pokewalker in my pocket and set out hunting for more retro games. Upon returning home, I had walked approximately 2700 steps, my Bayleef had grown a level from the experience gather by walking and I was given three items.

PocketPikachu2Not bad, a nice touch from Nintendo, but not the first time they've tried it. The original Pokemon Gold/Silver was compatible with the Pocket Pikachu, another handheld game fitted with a Pedometer. The points raised by walking (or shaking the device) could be exchanged in game for items. Those familiar with the Pocket Pikachu will notice that both this and the Pokewalker use the same currency/points known as watts.

While the Pokewalker is a lovely touch, I can honestly say its useage might be limited to a few times. The Pokemon you wish to walk with must be deposited in the Storage PC in game, then transfered to the Pokewalker when needed and vice versa upon return. Unless you do alot of walking, this feature might be a one time novelty. I can see the device being successful Japan, however the shy and ashamed European gamers would rather save themselves from the physical and verbal beatings if seen wearing one of these.

A Pokemon worth catching?

If anything Pokemon HeartGold / SoulSilver is nothing other than a celebration of the series as a whole. Coming close to it's fifteenth annivesary, this game can quite easily live up to that celebration and entertain the Pokefans. For the non-Pokefans and average gamers, I won't lie, Pokemon HeartGold / SoulSilver hasn't got much more to offer than it's last outing, Platinum.

But to be fair, Nintendo needs to be commended for not straying off the path. Despite more powerful home consoles being available throughout the series, Nintendo have refused to give in to the urge of 3D console graphics and button heavy controls. Instead, they have presented a tried and tested formula of addictive gaming which is portable, yet engaging.

Personally, I'd rate this game very highly and clearly say it's the most refined Pokemon game yet. But to enjoy it, all comes down to how much interest you have left in the series and how much more you can take of it. Being the Twelve and Thirteenth games in series, do you still want to catch them all?

I know I do...

9 / 10 for Pokefans, 7 / 10 for the rest

Last Updated ( 28 March 2010 )  


Better known as Adam offline, Cauterize is one of RetroCollect's final bosses with an unhealthy addiction to pixels. When he's not out searching the web for the latest retro gaming news or creating content for RetroCollect, he'll will most likely be found working on his Sensible Soccer skills.

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(Link to this comment) TwoHeadedBoy 2010-03-29 14:07
My Pokefandom only extends to the Red/Blue/Yellow games, everything to do with the Pokemon Mini, and the first few series' of the cartoon.

Correction time! It's been MORE than ten years since Pokemon made its European debut - Red and Blue were both out in 1999!

Nice big review, well done.
(Link to this comment) Cauterize 2010-03-29 18:52
Yup yup, Pokemonm Red and Blue were released over 10 years ago, but Gold and Silver are only just approaching the 10 year anniversary (at least in Europe).
(Link to this comment) TwoHeadedBoy 2010-03-29 21:47
Sorry, I must've misread that. My bad.

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