Despite being well over the age of the target demographic of the Pokémon games, I still unabashedly glean an enjoyment from the games that borders on unhealthy – some around me have already determined my obsession with each game thus. But what do they know? They’re not Pokémon masters. When I found that the newest entry in the series included a pedometer that raised my Pokémon while I walked around with it, my glee became a nearly kinetic force. The fact that it was included within the package containing remakes of what are widely regarded as the best installments in the franchise made my delight all the more tangible.
What is it about the Pokémon games that make them so addicting, in spite of the fact that Nintendo’s made only incremental improvements to the basic formula in a decade’s worth of new installments? Is it the hundreds of Pokémon that can be caught, trained, and let loose in vicious virtual cock fights, potentially pitting savage beasts against small woodland creatures? Is it the fact that forming an effective six Pokémon team requires equal amounts persistent training and careful strategic planning to counter another team of six é which can be a combination of any of the 493 Pokémon that currently exist? Or is it the result of some diabolical deal with the devil that makes each game as addicting as the last?
Whatever the reason, the latest entry in the “battle Pokémon, get badges” storyline doesn’t really change the status quo; you still battle Pokémon, and you still get badges. Of course, there is also an evil organization (in this case, the remnants of Team Rocket) causing trouble and having their cunning and diabolical plot stymied by a ten year-old child. Everything you expect from a Pokémon story is out in full force in this game. It’s about one step above the president being kidnapped and asking if you’re a bad enough dude to rescue him, but serving as motivation to spur the player to continue playing, it does the job. The surprise from the end of the original Gold and Silver games is still in here, and even knowing about it beforehand, it’s still a nice experience; one that I wish had been included in the Sinnoh and Hoenn games.
Much like Fire Red and Leaf Green utilized the same engine from the Ruby and Sapphire games, Heart Gold and Soul Silver both use the same graphical and battle engine from the Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum games. As a result, the graphics and effects are wholly unchanged from the previous iterations; expected, yes, but still mildly disappointing. The battle backgrounds could have really benefited from more detail, seeing as how the game’s myriad of environments provide various different locales in terms of battlegrounds. The same solid color backgrounds we’ve had for nearly two decades just don’t cut it anymore. Similarly, it would help if the Pokémon themselves were a bit more animated aside from the animation that happens when they enter battle. Pretending my Quilava was Superman when its flamethrower shot forth from its eyes was prime hilarity the first time, but eventually it just fortified my desire for better animation in regards to battle; maybe in the next game, now that the 3DS has been announced?
Oh, who am I kidding. Let’s move on.
Sound quality is the same as always. The DS sound capabilities are competent enough and the game features numerous remixes of the music from the original Gold and Silver games, but many of them didn’t quite survive the transition unscathed. They’re not terrible, or even bad, but the composition leaves something to be desired. It feels as if in their attempt to update the music to utilize the full sound capabilities of the DS, something in the music was lost in the translation. Fortunately, there exists an item within the game that can restore its music to the glorious 8-bit Game Boy Color music. What can I say, I like my bleeps and bloops.
Conversely, the Pokémon calls are getting embarrassing. I know that there are nearly 500 Pokémon, but when multiple language settings for the Pokédex can be fit in, I’m sure actual Pokémon calls instead of these 8-bit artifacts can be put into the game. I realize the possible double standard this may represent given the statements I made above in terms of the music, but considering some of the stellar voicework that can be found in certain DS games, I don’t think having actual Pokémon calls is an impossibility. Another thing to hope for in the next iteration? Make it happen, Nintendo!
Fortunately, aesthetics have always been more of a means to an end in Pokémon games. The real meat has always been in the gameplay.
Battling remains the same as it’s always been, one-on-one (in some cases two-on-two) turn-based battles utilizing a complex rock-paper-scissor mechanism in regards to Pokémon type. There aren’t any new bells or whistles in these entries, as the physical-special move split has been firmly established as the major overhaul for this generation of Pokémon games. The addition of various extra out-of-battle activities, such as berry growing, Pokéball making, and a new contest-like event called the Pokéthalon provides hours of gameplay outside of battling.
The Pokégear makes its return in this game, replacing the Pokétch from Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. One has to wonder why Nintendo couldn’t find some way to include an amalgam of both devices in the game, since many apps in the Pokétch were actually quite useful, and the removal relegates the same functions to NPCs you have to find within towns. This was likely to free up the touch screen for menu-based actions, such as Pokémon box operations and the actual menu screen, which, admittedly is rather useful é the touch based menu is much more accessible and fluid than the clunky button system used before. In exchange for the apps found in the Pokétch though, the Pokégear allows the player to record the phone numbers of the trainers he or she fights so they can ask for rematches, give items, or sometimes just offer advice.
While the ability to call certain trainers to demand a rematch is an incredibly useful feature, beware of whom you put into your in-game contact list, for almost every trainer will contact you for the most mundane of reasons. Did Todd just fight a Rattata and knock it out? Your phone will be ringing. Does Cliff think his Hoothoot is better than every other Hoothoot? He’ll call you just to say that. Does Lilly think her Jigglypuff is the cutest of them all? Guess who she’ll call? I’m surprised that Dylan doesn’t call me to tell me the color of his Pikachu’s stool.
This rapid-fire barrage of phone calls is infuriating when you’re just trying to go somewhere and your phone keeps ringing; I’ve yet to find any option to keep the phone on silent or to delete contacts from the phone, which is unfortunate, because I don’t think I can stand having someone call me to tell me that, in fact, using a fire Pokémon against a water Pokémon is a poor tactical decision. Thanks, I didn’t know that; I thought my Charmander fainted on its own.
Nintendo has had a history of locking out certain Pokémon from being caught in past games, but in my opinion they’ve gone a bit too far in this entry. Having Pokémon that certain people don’t have access to is something I can accept, albeit begrudgingly; however, in this game they’ve locked out entire story sequences for people that don’t attend their absurd Pokémon events. Never mind the fact that some individuals lack the ability to actually attend these events, but something about locking out entire story sequences doesn’t sit well with me. Hopefully in the future they’ll reconsider this strategy, because having something only a handful of people can eventually access after attending their events is not something I find enjoyable. Even a Wi Fi solution would be preferable.
Speaking of Wi Fi, the architecture for Nintendo’s online hasn’t changed since the last game, and the lag is still rather noticable. The cumbersome friend code system aside, online battles still have a noticeable amount of lag, which thankfully doesn’t affect battling outside of rather long waits during move selection. Still, an improvement to their online system would go a long way to increasing the playability of Nintendo’s online capable games, Pokémon included.
Worth mentioning is the inclusion of the Pokéwalker, a pedometer that allows players to transfer a Pokémon from their game into the small device and bring them on their person. The Pokémon in the Pokéwalker can gain levels (only one per transfer), find items, and battle other Pokémon. As the player walks, the Pokéwalker accumulates Watts, which can then be used in the aforementioned activities or transferred into the game to unlock more routes for the Pokéwalker. All of the items or Pokémon found in the Pokéwalker can be transferred directly into the game as well.
The Pokéwalker is possibly the most diabolically genius invention Nintendo has created for their Pokémon games. As a standalone device, it is inadequate. However, as an add-on enhancement to the game itself, it is an addicting piece of hardware. Now, every time I leave my apartment, I have my Pokéwalker strapped to my belt; I have started running for an hour each day since obtaining this item. Nintendo’s evil scheme for dominating the world by making people exercise seems to be coming along rather well.
It’s amazing that I am able to find more amusement in handheld Pokémon games than many full fledged console RPGs. Whether that is telling of console RPGs or the Pokémon games is something I leave up to the reader, but I ended up going back to Pokémon again and again, whereas I had to force myself to finish certain console RPGs released this month. If you’ve never been impressed with Pokémon games the newest entries will likely not change your mind, but if you enjoy visiting the world time and again and wouldn’t mind revisiting the land of Johto, you can’t go wrong with Heart Gold and Soul Silver.