It's hard to believe that the Pokémon franchise has been around for 14 years, as it seems like just yesterday we were getting our first taste of fighting wild Bulbasaurs and Charizards in the hopes of adding them to our ever-expanding roster of fighting pocket monsters. The franchise steadily improved over the years, and many believe that perhaps the best games in the entire series were Pokémon Goldand Silver, released at the dawn of the new millennium in the year 2000. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of those titles, Nintendo presents the Pokémon HeartGoldand SoulSilver remakes, and the new features included only improve on an already fantastic pair of games.
The basic tenets of Pokémon have stayed basically the same since the dawn of the franchise. Players set out as an unknown Pokémon trainer in the hopes of eventually being named champion. Along the way, players must capture wild Pokémon to add to their rosters, battle rival trainers and gym leaders to earn badges and new skills, and foil the plans of the nefarious Team Rocket at every turn. Essentially every game in the series follows this formula, but it still works, so why mess with success? Just as how Mario and Zelda games can basically keep telling the same story over and over again so long as they deliver a fun and memorable experience, Pokémon has earned a pass on its repetitive story line based on the fact that the games are so fun you really don't need a reason to go out there and catch 'em all.
Catching Pokémon is the name of the game, and HeartGold boasts a roster of over 200 different species to snare. Snagging a new creature is simple in theory but tricky in execution because of all the variables that go into the process. The basic idea is to battle wild Pokémon, weaken them substantially and then throw out a Pokeball to snare the exhausted animal. Spring the trap too soon, and the critter will break out of your trap, but if you exhaust its HP, the Pokémon will faint and you'll be unable to capture it. Thus, there is a fine line that must be walked in order to catch new fighters. This tightrope experience leads to some tense battles as players try to carefully whittle down the power of rare Pokémon and the hold their breath as they wait for the telltale click that confirms the prize is theirs. All these years later, it's still one of the most exhilarating experiences in gaming.
Of course, all Pokémon games are also deeply focused on trading and thanks to the power of DS Wi-Fi, swapping beasts with other trainers is easier than ever. At any time, players can hop online and shop for the very creatures needed to round out their Pokedex. Friends can trade directly through friend codes, but the market is now also open so that total strangers on opposite sides of the globe can exchange rare monsters. While opening new avenues of trade may upset purists who prefer haggling over trades with friends, it makes the entire process much easier for all trainers. Even better, HeartGold supports all previous DS and GBA Pokémon games, so players can import their rosters and get a head start on filling up their rosters and possibly gaining an edge in online battles with other trainers. When it comes to gathering, collecting and trading Pokémon, there's really nothing to complain about.
Perhaps the most enticing feature about HeartGold is the new PokeWalker accessory packed in with the game. The device is a digital pedometer with which players can import Pokémon from the game and take them out on "walks." As the device measures your steps, your imported creature walks along one of the game's routes so they can earn Watts. Players can then use these Watts to play a couple of basic minigames wherein they might be able to find a special item or catch a rare Pokémon right there on the PokeWalker. What makes the device more than a simple gimmick is the fact that the rewards are substantial enough that players will actually want to utilize the device early and often. Many of the Pokémon hidden along the routes are of the rarer and more powerful variety, so those players who diligently walk their miniature companions may be able to snag some very special new additions way before they're made available in the game. Furthermore, most of the items players can find are also very powerful and expensive in the main game, so frugal gamers will be pleased indeed to find them fairly easy to snag on the PokeWalker. Overall, the device is a wonderful way to encourage players to get some exercise while developing their existing Pokémon and tracking down new ones. It's a total win-win situation.
Game Freak also updated HeartGold's visuals to take advantage of the DS, but unfortunately, this is the one area where the game falls a bit short. On the plus side, the added details in the characters and towns are appreciated, and it's absolutely adorable to see your lead Pokémon out of its ball and trailing you around the world. The problem lies in battle animations, which are still stuck in the late '90s and show no signs of moving forward. Attacks are still through Pokémon shaking violently for a moment or some simple, quick animation, normally accompanied by an ear-splitting sound effect that really has no place in modern gaming. While this was all well and good back in the Game Boy days when memory space was limited, the whole battle experience is long overdue for an upgrade. While we can hope it's updated for the upcoming Pokémon Black and White, the underwhelming battles are still a real chink in the franchise's armor.
These minor gripes aside, Pokémon HeartGold still stands up as one of the best games in the series, even if it is a remake. Those who missed out on Pokémon Gold the first time around absolutely need to give this game a try, and even those who have already played through this adventure a decade ago should check out the upgrades and new features in this edition. The PokeWalker alone makes this a worthwhile experience and a game well worth playing. If you've ever had the slightest urge to hit the road and snag some Pokémon, then this is the perfect game for you.
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