When the original Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver games were released in 2000, I was just coming down from my Pokémon craze. I had finished Red and Blue, dabbled in Yellow, and I even spent a year with the popular physical card game. Gold and Silver passed me by until much later in life, around when the Game Boy Advance SP hit store shelves. I clearly remember the hype surrounding the two titles' release, and I figured that with some new hardware, it would be a fun time to check out the games. I gravitated to Pokémon Silver, and I found myself really enjoying the game. While I didn't go so far as to finish Gold along with it, I really enjoyed the new mechanics that the titles introduced to the series. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of those games, the remakes have been released on the DS as Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver. It's finally time for me to jump back into the world of Pokémon and see how well these remakes hold up to my memories of the original titles.
For this review, I'm strictly looking at SoulSilver, but you can check out the HeartGold review if you're interested in that specific title. Keep in mind that the overall plot and gameplay for the two titles is nearly identical, and while the games feature different Pokémon species to collect, they don't offer any game-specific features or gameplay changes.
Just like the original, SoulSilver starts your Pokémon trainer (boy or girl) in the region of Johto, a fictional Japanese location that was new to the series when the games originally launched. Johto has seen a pretty big facelift with this title, with the game incorporating the visual style of the DS Pokémon games that have preceded it, such as Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. The revamped art style is still 2-D sprite-based stuff, but it looks really nice, and it's pretty cool to see the familiar setting of Johto represented far better than it's ever looked.
Johto isn't the only region you'll get to explore. Assuming you make it through the eight gyms and collect their badges in addition to taking the Elite Four and the Champion, you'll be able to move to Kanto, an entirely different region, which longtime players will remember from the original Red and Blue titles that kick-started the series. There are a lot of hours that can be put into this game, but that can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how much you enjoy the typical Pokémon formula.
SoulSilver doesn't deviate from the style that's made the Pokémon series such a success over the past decade. When you begin the game, you're given a choice between three Pokémon, which are the same three that were packed into the original Silver game. From there, you'll take your single Pokémon and explore the Johto region, where you'll learn about the other Pokémon types — Fire, Plant, Psychic, etc. — and attempt to capture or win them in various battles with random wild Pokémon encounters. The game contains a number of Legendary Pokémon, which are hard-to-find encounters with increasingly rare species. Your experience with Legendary Pokémon usually spans a number of encounters before you can capture one. There are also a number of random encounters with other trainers in the field, and if they spot you, they'll approach you and lock you into a battle. These encounters usually net some in-game currency to spend on the different supplies you'll need, including Pokeballs, which are used to capture Pokémon in the wild, and potions or other healing supplies.
One thing that Silver and Gold introduced was the Pokegear accessory, which functioned as a watch, telephone and all-around, general purpose device. Basically, it's a new menu option that lets you connect whenever you want with other characters whose numbers you've collected, and it'll often give you clues on the location or ways to capture other Pokémon, including some of the rare types. Another feature introduced with Gold and Silver that's still present here is the Shiny variation of Pokémon, which sport a different color and skill set than your normal Pokémon, and they can often produce more powerful evolutions. Finally, you can still breed Pokémon as you did in the original games, so when you combine two Pokémon, you can have the type inherited from the mother and the skill set inherited from the father.
A pretty big addition to the games actually exists outside of the cartridge, and that's the inclusion of a new device called the Pokewalker, which is a Pokémon-branded pedometer that's included with every copy of SoulSilver and HeartGold (and thankfully doesn't increase the game price). Much like the pedometer that was included with Personal Trainer: Walking, the Pokewalker connects wirelessly to the DS and allows you to transfer daily information into SoulSilver to keep track of a bunch of stuff. The idea is that you import one of your Pokémon from the game to the pedometer and walk around with that Pokémon all day long. At the end of the day, you transfer that Pokémon back to the DS, which will tell you what your Pokémon did that day, complete with cute actions to make the creature more endearing.
At the same time, the more you walk around with the Pokewalker, the more Watts you'll earn, and you can use these Watts to search for Pokémon and other items, acting almost like a secondary form of in-game currency. It's a pretty interesting way to get some quick and easy free Pokémon; I wish it didn't result in me doubling up on my existing Pokémon as much as it does. Also, while the inclusion of the Pokewalker is certainly new, longtime Pokémon fans will realize this is actually a spin on a somewhat similar option from the original Gold and Silver games, in which you could use a Tamagotchi-like accessory featuring Pikachu to earn Watts in-game. Connecting your Game Boy Color to the device would let you import the earned Watts into the game. This is a far better use of the function in SoulSilver, and it even promotes a little bit of exercise, which will surely delight some parents.
SoulSilver still features some online modes that enable you to battle other Pokémon trainers in real life and lets you easily trade between players. There's also the promise of exclusive Pokémon to be collected or earned at various retailers across the U.S., just as with the Pokémon Diamond, Pearl and Platinum games. As far as an evolution of the series goes, SoulSilver isn't the game that's going to appeal to players who have grown bored with the franchise. Instead, this acts as a bit of fan service, especially to longtime players of the game.
I don't really have a lot of complaints about Pokémon SoulSilver, and it certainly does a great job of reaffirming my memories of the original title. There are a ton of familiar elements that will stand out to loyal Pokémon fans, but at the same time, you don't need to have a working knowledge of Gold and Silver to appreciate these remakes. My only real complaint is the annoying menu, which feels cluttered in this title. It features a bunch of subsections that you must wade through before you can get to the item that you want; it definitely feels like it could have been streamlined some more.
I'm also not big on the revamped soundtrack, but there is a neat feature that allows you to listen to the soundtrack in its original chiptune form, which is a nice addition. Longtime Pokémon fans will latch on to this title just as much as they did the previous entries, but at the same time, SoulSilver doesn't offer up much for players who find the Pokémon formula to be stale. If you have fond memories of the original, like I do, I'd recommend checking out this game. Otherwise, this title will only appeal to the existing fan base.
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