Pokémon: Soul Silver (and technically Heart Gold) Version Review
So, this is technically late by a day as far as the calendar is concerned, but on time for my internal clock (I haven't gone to sleep yet, so it's still Tuesday to me).
Like Mega Man 10, this may prove a hard title to review. After all, it's Pokémon, a game series whose mechanics have remained almost completely unchanged for the last 11 years. Small new additions show up in each generation but it's still a far cry from a complete overhaul. However...considering the surprising strategic depth, the incredibly addicting gimmicks all around and the fact that Pokémon games are JRPGs that are actually fun, I'm not going to complain about the mechanics.
By now, I'd be amazed if anyone reading this, even if it's someone who hasn't played the games, was not aware of how the gameplay works. As always, you begin your journey with a Pokémon of your choosing from the 3 starters of whichever game's main region. In Heart Gold and Soul Silver, being remakes, you find yourself in Johto with the available starters being Chikorita, Cyndaquil and Totodile. You work your way through the region by catching and training Pokémon to be able to defeat the eight gym leaders. Afterward, you go to the Pokémon League and take on the Elite Four as well as the Champion for the 'final challenge'.
Incidentally, after the first generation of games, the aforementioned 'final challenge' is rarely the actual latest and most difficult challenge in a Pokémon title. (Heart) Gold and (Soul) Silver present this factor in full force. Beyond completing the Johto League, you're given the privilege of traveling to Kanto, the region in which the original games take place. Nearly every trainer you find in Kanto is significantly strong and you also have the option of defeating the eight gym leaders in this region as well.
And of course, there's also the famous 'true final challenge' of tracking down and battling Red; Red being the protagonist of the original games. Last year, Pokémon Platinum dethroned Red as the strongest NPC trainer you could face, with optional rematches against your rival on Battle Island. Now, the newly released Gold and Silver remakes have given Red's team a bit of a boost, making him once again the most powerful in-game opponent you can find.
Heart Gold and Soul Silver have proven to be full of pleasant oddities and surprises (note Monday's post) that tend to make it really hard to put down your DS.
The original Gold and Silver stood the test of time well, being easily more enjoyable than the 3rd generation titles; the generation I consider to be the lowest point of the series. The 4th generation games Diamond, Pearl and Platinum picked the series up again but never quite hit the peak it had in the 2nd generation. The design of the Sinnoh region felt a bit bland and a poor attempt at giving the series a deeper story often interrupted your progress to a point of aggravation. In a game like Pokémon, story really should be minimal. It's supposed to be your adventure as you see fit. The fourth generation titles seemed to forget this and force the player to be tangled up in something too run-of-the-mill-JRPG-ish to care about.
Surprisingly, Nintendo seemed to take note of these issues and avoid any shortcomings in the Gold and Silver remakes. They're not exactly the same, but the additions don't seem to feature anything negative. In other words, I can't argue that these are not only the best games in the series since the games they were based on, but also that they are indeed the best of the series to date.
Certain updates to touch-screen mechanics since Platinum, while small, have also significantly improved the experience thanks to the ease of access to all of the menus now. The toggle option for the Running Shoes also eliminates the annoyance of having to hold B all the time before you receive a bike.
Visually, the game certainly doesn't push the limits of the DS, and it looks pretty much the same as Platinum, barring a neat cut-scene involving Lugia (in Soul Silver) or Ho-Oh (in Heart Gold). It's come to be very apparent that the series has never made any large change to it's graphics at all in spite of the available hardware to do so. So, if there's one downfall to find with these games, it's in the visuals.
On the subject of audio, many familiar tunes make a remixed comeback, as they have in every game. I've found some tracks actually don't sound quite as good as they did in Platinum, though one could chock that up to Nintendo trying to make the remakes more nostalgic; which reminds me, after getting all 16 badges, you can get a device that lets you swap much of the background music with the actual original tracks used in the Gameboy Color originals (an item I have yet to try out).
Gameplay mechanics are tried, true, addicting and great - newcomers, as always, have the luxury of an experience that's easy to pick up and learn. Veterans will be in fond and familiar territory.
The story, or rather the lack thereof is thankfully not intrusive and what little there is ties the parts of the game together well.
Graphics, while plenty of specific features are new, are absolutely identical to Platinum in quality and are blatantly short of what the DS can actually do.
Music is effectively the same as always, just remixed. Like gameplay, veterans will find enjoyment in the familiarity and new players will first experience timeless tunes.
If you're a fan of the series, it's a no-brainer that you should pick up one of the remade pair. If you haven't played the games, or haven't in a while and are looking to get (back) into them, there's no better place to start than with Heart Gold and Soul Silver.
Putting this here because I forgot to mention it in the full review and don't want to take the time to find a good spot to place it. The PokéWalker is device that comes packed with either Heart Gold and Soul Silver. It is a pedometer with the appearance of a Pokéball; it also has two interchangeable backplates, one that's more or less featureless and one with a belt-clip. The device can communicate with the gamecard via infrared and store one Pokémon of your choosing from those you've caught. Walking with a Pokémon stored on the PokéWalker (slowly) builds up experience. The device itself also contains a few primitive but enjoyable gaming features. You can choose to search for items or Pokémon to acquire. Finding a Pokémon will engage a battle, but the battle system isn't like the one found in the games. You're options are Attack, Evade and Catch. Every Pokémon has 4 blocks of health; a landed Attack will take away one block, or two if a critical. Pokémon caught on the PokéWalker can be transferred back to the gamecard, allowing you to increase your collection without actually playing the game; though the different Pokémon you find are limited.
It's a very neat gadget but in my personal experience, it's easy to completely forget in favour of the game itself.