Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo

Category: Role-Playing

Release Dates

N Amer - 03/14/2010

Official Game Website

Pokemon HeartGold Version Review

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I am a dedicated Pokemon fan, but even I can admit that Nintendo and Game Freak have done little to innovate their original concept over the last decade.

Fortunately, the HeartGold and SoulSilver re-makes are the most expansive, accessible, and streamlined Pokemon games ever created. New features such as the bundled PokeWalker peripheral, the Pokeathlon mini-game, and the greatly-enhanced graphics are just the tip of the iceberg: these two Pokemon games are perhaps the most engrossing handheld games ever created.

It is overwhelming to think about catching all 493 Pokemon, but the updated mechanics and an improved interface make the effort worthwhile. If you haven't given up on the series, or you enjoyed Gold and Silver as much as I did, prepare to reminisce – just don't be surprised if you suddenly need a 12-step program to cope with the addiction! 

Compared to the other Pokemon games, Gold and Silver had a particularly weak storyline. Sure, they all seem to follow the same basic path (leave hometown, catch Pokemon, collect Badges, become Champion), but the fourth generation's heavy topics were far more interesting: Who could forget Team Galactic's illegal Pokemon experiments, or Cyrus's psychotic determination to destroy the world and create his own utopia? Aside from eating Slowpoke tails, Team Rocket's antics in HeartGold and SoulSilver are harmless, and most of the characters are generally forgettable.

Your rival is basically an angst-ridden jerk with a chip on his shoulder; he is not really connected to anything else in the game. Professor Elm gives you a Pokemon at the start of the game, but Professor Oak is more important to the story and Elm is rarely involved in important events. The Esuine side-story from Crystal is back for the re-makes, but each encounter with this bizarre character feels more random than the last. After you become the Pokemon Champion, the Kanto area opens up – just like in the originals – but the story is mostly finished by that point. The next generation of Pokemon needs a darker story, interesting plot twists, and a legitimately threatening villain. 

The plot quality is less important than the enhanced gameplay, and these remakes shine brightly in that area. HeartGold and SoulSilver are overloaded with improvements that have totally optimized the Pokemon experience. First, the adventure is not as lonely: your Pokemon party leader follows you around, just like the Pikachu in the Yellow version. Revisiting all of the familiar areas might not sound exciting on paper, but Johto and Kanto have never looked so great: the visuals are even better than they were in the fourth-gen Pokemon games. The battle animations could still be more exciting, but it is hard to fault the developers for making the Pokemon games look so much better over the years. There are some new points of interest, like the Pokeathlon, Johto's Safari Zone, and Kanto's Pal Park. Finally, there is glorious mess of side quests, weekly events, and other distractions to experience. For example, you can participate in the Bug Catching Contest in National Park, battle with special rules and prizes in the Battle Frontier, fight through Mt. Silver for a challenging battle against “Red”, and try to catch Mewtwo in the Cerulean Cave.

The battle system is definitely the most important component of the entire series, and it has been improved subtly with each generation of Pokemon. If you are not familiar with the mechanics, fear not – it is a lot simpler than it seems. The battles revolve around the strengths and weaknesses of the 17 unique Pokemon types (Fighting, Ghost, Fire, and so on). Each Pokemon is affiliated with a type (sometimes two) and each of their moves are also matched to a particular type. These have not changed much since Dark and Steel were introduced in the original Gold and Silver versions, so if you remember that Psychic is weak against Dark but strong against Poison, you will feel right at home.

There is an intense level of depth that hardcore Pokemon fans are familiar with. These concepts have been developed and enhanced like any other part of the series, so hardcore players will appreciate the opportunity to make the ultimate Pokemon team with all of the options available. Newcomers should not worry too much – the game can still be played and enjoyed if you stick to the basics and ignore these advanced mechanics, but they are both helpful and rewarding to the players who invest the effort. For example, leveling up your Pokemon is as simple as earning experience points, but their statistical development is affected by several complex variables. Earning the proper Effort Values (hidden points that influence the growth of a Pokemon's stats) can actually turn a Chansey into a formidable, threatening opponent. I could continue and describe the effects of breeding, Natures, Personalities, and Independent Values, but those concepts are far too deep for a simple review. If you have an interest in learning about them, you should consult an online guide – it makes all the difference in competitions and friendly matches, but it is hardly necessary if you are just playing to relive the adventures in Gold and Silver. 

Moving on, the PokeWalker is my favorite part of the new Pokemon games. It is just a simple pedometer, but if you connect it to your DS cartridge (via infrared sensors), you can transfer a Pokemon to the device. As you walk around with it in your pocket, your steps are added up. Each step is worth one experience point, and the Pokemon inside the PokeWalker can collect experience until it levels up. After gaining a level, you will have to transfer the creature back to the game, but it can be immediately returned to the Walker without much effort for easier leveling. Additionally, the Pokemon inside of the PokeWalker gains “Happiness” points. Some Pokemon, like Golbat and Riolu, only evolve when their “Happiness” rating is full. Needless to say, the PokeWalker is a helpful shortcut for evolving those two into Crobat and Lucario. Finally, you can capture new Pokemon and find items exclusive to the PokeWalker – not too bad for a gimmicky little peripheral, eh?

There are some minor issues to watch out for, but many of them are circumstantial and nitpicky. For example, the “confuse” status in particular seems to be more debilitating than ever. On many occasions, my confused Pokemon would harm themselves time and time again until they were “in the red” or completely knocked out. The accuracy rating of certain moves can be misleading; in one battle, I missed all five Blizzard attacks that were directed at a Pokemon that had not used any evasive buffs or accuracy de-buffs. Next, the random encounters were no problem for me in the past, but they seem to be too frequent in some areas of this game. It is difficult to patiently explore each area when you have to fight wild Pokemon after three or four steps. Finally, the PokeGear's cell phone is helpful in many ways (calling mom for a hint, finding a rematch, etc.), but the random phone calls are annoying. Usually the other trainers will babble on for a few seconds without anything interesting or important to say; eventually I stopped responding to the cell phone entirely (just like real life, hehe).

Aside from those setbacks, HeartGold and SoulSilver are the most streamlined games in the series. The touch screen is used well – it has never been so easy to organize Pokemon or attach items to them in the PC Boxes, select attacks during battle, or scroll through the giant National Pokedex. The PokeGear is cluttered compared to the Poketch in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, but it allows you to access the map and contact list without much hassle. The battles move quickly, and all of the necessary information and stats can be easily accessed in the menu.

Without question, these are the best Pokemon games ever created. I was worried that Nintendo and Game Freak would simply revise the second generation with fourth-gen graphics and music, but these titles contribute a lot to the entire series, and show a lot of promise for the fifth generation of games. Re-makes are rarely so lovingly revived; Pokemon fans should definitely own a copy of one of these games (or both). If you think you are over it, so be it – you should still give these games a chance. They are definitely the beefiest handheld video games that I have ever had the opportunity to play, and I am just as joyfully addicted to this series as I ever was a decade ago. 

Gameplay: 10
Pokemon has never been so accessible. The core mechanics of the battle system have been perfected. Newcomers and those who have not played Pokemon in years will be happy with the streamlined interface and effective use of the touch screen.

Graphics: 8.5
The limited battle animations are disappointing – Pokemon are still motionless in combat, but the effects for attacks and special moves look great. The 3D modeling in the environments make Johto and Kanto more beautiful and lively than ever.

Sound: 8
The MIDI-quality battle cries are still quite irritating, but the music is fantastic compared to the simple tunes from older Pokemon titles. On that note, the old tracks have been re-recorded and remixed, so they are far more interesting.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
The difficulty of any Pokemon game varies. Players who understand the battle system and its complex mechanics will spend a lot of time training, but the payoff is so incredibly rewarding that it is always worth the effort.

Concept: 10
The same great Pokemon experience you know and love, with a healthy buffet of new features and enhancements, and a fancy new peripheral that actually serves a useful purpose in and out of the game.

Multiplayer: 10
The pesky link cables are no longer necessary to enjoy battles or trades with a friend – in fact, the DS's Wi Fi Connection is used very effectively and allows you to play with anyone you want, as long as you're connected and have the patience for friend codes.

Overall: 9
There is not a doubt in my mind: Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are the pinnacle of the entire series. If you are no longer interested in Pokemon, you should still give it a shot for nostalgic purposes. If you enjoy Pokemon, the $40 price tag is chump change.

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Gotta catch 'em all, indeed.

Reviewer: Cliff Bakehorn III

Review Date: 04/10/2010

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