REVIEWS -- Pokemon SoulSilver Version -- DS
by Pramath Parijat
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
Not only are these Pokémons the greatest handheld games ever created, but they represent the deepest and most addictive titles you’ll ever own.
NOTE: The following review has been written for the Japanese build of the game. Though there should be little to no difference in the final English version and the Japanese one that we played, please be advised that Nintendo may opt to make certain aesthetic alterations that will not reflect in this review.
It is perhaps hard to argue the fact that Pokémon today represents the most lucrative property in gaming. With sales having touched 200 million in little more than a decade, and each release running into the millions, Pokémon helped Nintendo survive in the ‘90’s when they were being assuaged by the Playstation from all sides. Today, with merchandising that extends to an anime that is currently in its 14th season, annual movie releases, trading cards, figurines, posters, and even apparel, Pokémon has probably raked in more cash for Nintendo than all their consoles put together.
And yet, the quality of the games in the series is certainly suspect. While there can be no doubt that Pokémon Red/Blue were the absolute best in their time -- dwarfed only by their GBC successors that were superior in every single way -- the games have certainly gone downhill since then. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were a disappointment to all, and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl have done little to repair the franchise’s image. Meanwhile, increasingly inane console titles like Pokémon Battle Revolution and Pokémon XD, accompanied by horrendous spin off titles like Pokémon Dash and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, which reek of nothing but cynical attempts on Nintendo’s part to cash in on the hysteria surrounding the franchise as much as they can, have certainly epitomized the decline of the series.
It will be understandable, therefore, why my excitement upon the announcement of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, the long awaited and ever-elusive remakes of what is widely heralded as the best of Pokémon, was laced with a certain amount of trepidation and apprehension. See, I have a certain fondness for Pokémon Gold and Silver -- they constituted a chunk of my playtime when I was still in my early teens, and I hold them to be among the greatest games ever created, and certainly the greatest handheld games ever made. With the series’ recent track record in mind, I had absolutely no doubt that Nintendo and Game Freak were going to mess this one up, and badly, and that was the last thing I needed or wanted. Boy, was I wrong.
Looks (and sounds) good on the surface
There can be no two questions about it: Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are indisputably the best looking Pokémon titles to date, and that includes all the console versions. Game Freak opted to ditch the realistic look in favor of Diamond/Pearl/Platinum’s 3D cartoony visual style, further refining the graphics, and notching them up by several gears.
What we have as a result is a beautifully rendered overworld that is incredibly atmospheric through neat little touches that are absolutely unheard of in handheld games -- the way the smoke wafts out of the chimneys, the way Ecruteak City is perennially strewn with golden leaves, the way small water bodies have water lilies on the surface, the plant life that grows on the cliffs, the way the Magnet Train’s overhead bridge track can often be seen in the distance…
The original Pokémon Gold and Silver were among the most atmospheric and immersive games of their time, in spite of being on severely limited and inferior hardware, and their DS progeny look set to replicate the feat on a much more massive scale.
Many a time, the game abandons all pretenses, and presents us with full 3D graphics, N64 style. This is mostly limited to specific areas, like the gyms, but it certainly is a delight to see old favorites recreated with such loving and tender care. For newcomers, these areas present tangible proof of exactly what the DS is capable of, and they make you wonder why, six years into the system’s lifespan, we are yet to see other games that can match up to what Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver provide visually.
There are certain niggles though -- battles are largely the same static slide show affair they were eleven years ago. Yes, this game is a remake of a game more than a decade old, and yet, barring certain added dynamism and more color effects to Pokémon attacks, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. Okay, well maybe that’s a little unfair, but my point stands -- it’s inconsistent, it’s jarring, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Come on, we know that both the system and the developer are capable of much, much better than this. Then why this apparent laziness, when in fact everything else about this game suggests anything but?
Thankfully, even though most of your playing time will be spent in battles, you won’t really notice the incongruence. While there can be no excuses for Game Freak not updating the battle screens, the existing ones have been polished quite a bit, and for people who are playing a Pokémon game for the first time, or are returning to the series after a hiatus, there will be no cause or reason to complain. It’s just that for us fans who’ve actually stuck by the games for so long, they could have maybe sprung up a surprise on us all.
Similar inconsistencies in the sound design abound. While there can be no question that Pokémon Gold and Silver is the best sounding Pokémon game to date, there still is the rather glaring fact that Nintendo still hasn’t updated the Pokémon cries, which in today’s day and age, come across as a screechy, 8 bit jumble of a mess. At the very least, they could have brought these cries to the level of those developed for the new Pokémon in Diamond and Pearl, but no, they’ve retained the old cries. Sad, really.
However, even the low quality of the Pokémon cries cannot detract one from the otherwise wonderful aural experience that this game is. The old music has been remixed and redone wonderfully, unlike in FireRed and LeafGreen, where many old fan favorites were downright butchered, and even though all tunes may not appeal to all, most tunes will be to everybody’s taste. However, foreseeing the possibility of a really nitpicky gamer, Nintendo has even included the option to switch over to the original Gold and Silver’s chip tune, in an effort to ensure that everybody will be pleased.
And that’s not even all. Like with the game’s graphics, Game Freak has gone all out to ensure that the game’s world totally immerses you. So you’ll be able to hear the sound of your footsteps as you walk, which actually varies as per the terrain you’re walking on. You’ll be able to hear the wind as it blows through the windmills in New Bark Town, you’ll be able to hear the soft sigh of the sea, you’ll be able to hear the twigs cracking under your feet… they’re all minor details, that, when added together, lend unprecedented depth and believability to the game.
Dig a little deeper, though…
However, as any long time fan of the series can attest, Pokémon has never been about the technical aspects -- graphics and sound are almost incidental to these games, which are all about gameplay. Pokémon has been constructed around the single most balanced, well thought out and addictive gameplay engine known to mankind, and over the years, it’s been refined and perfected until now. There really are no further kinks to smooth out. Make no mistake, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver represent the absolute peak and refinement of the vintage Pokémon formula.
In case you’re new to the series, though, let’s take a minute to try and summarize the basic premise -- Pokémon veterans may skip the next few paragraphs safely.
The Pokémon world is inhabited by nearly five hundred species of special creatures known as Pokémon (well, duh). Each of these creatures can have up to two elemental affiliations, which range from the obvious like Fire, or Water or Electric, to the imaginative like Dark, or Psychic or even Dragon. Each type is stronger against some, and weaker to others -- like an electric Pokémon can wipe the floor clean with a water Pokémon. Water Pokémon, in turn, are super powerful against Ground Pokémon, who in turn are immune to electric Pokémon. It’s like a complex and bizarre rendition of Rock/Paper/Scissors.
Each Pokémon learns new attacks (that in themselves have an elemental affinity -- for instance, flamethrower will be a fire attack, whereas Surf will be Water) and grows as it battles other Pokémon, either in the wild, or those under possession of someone else, until it reaches a certain point where it evolves into a bigger, more powerful creature, and gains access to even more powerful attacks.
Pokémon trainers (as the protagonists of the games are labeled) are essentially tasked with taming and harnessing these Pokémon so that they can build the ultimate battle team. This requires rigorous training, and a lot of planning and foresight, as you essentially have to cover for every eventuality. You can only have six Pokémon in your team at a time, and since there are seventeen types, with not a single one of them being all powerful, you’ll need to ensure that you create the most balanced and well thought out team that you can.
Once you think you have a balanced team, you may battle a trainer, either in-game or online, who totally steamrolls you, or you may meet a wild Pokémon that will make you realize the inadequacy of your team. It’s a never ending process, and your team is constantly growing and evolving.
Battling, however, is only half the story told. The other more ambitious task that the game assigns you is to catch every Pokémon that exists (and hence the old adage). However, there’s a catch: no Pokémon game has all the Pokémon available, and moreover, certain choices that you make during the course of the story will make some Pokémon permanently inaccessible to you. The only way to catch them all, then, is to trade with others. However, trades themselves have to be well thought out, and both players should be getting exactly the type of Pokémon the other wants. More still, certain Pokémon are super rare legendary Pokémon that are incredibly hard to catch -- you’ll be hard pressed to find a trainer who will be willing to part with these.
And damn, it’s addictive!
As you can see, the foundation for the series is the deepest, most addictive and most engrossing gameplay engine ever created. Pokémon is like electronic crack, and once it sucks you in, it’s really hard to get un-addicted. With HeartGold and SoulSilver, that’s even more the case; the formula has been refined to absolute perfection, and is a joy to play through.
The game makes it the easiest it’s ever been for you to catch all the Pokémon. And just in case you’re ever bored of the game’s story progression, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. In fact, by the time you’ve finished the game, you’ll have been a farmer, an electrician, a mailman, a fisherman, a chef, a vigilante, a salesman, a breeder, a safari hunter, a pharmacist, a gambler, and a ruins hunter. There simply is enough variety to keep you occupied possibly for the remainder of the year, without you pining for more.
For Poké-veterans, there’s something more: for the first time since Pokémon Yellow, your Pokémon will be able to follow you around in the overworld. Yes, that’s any and every Pokémon. This isn’t purely an aesthetic change however; talking to your Pokémon will let you gauge their mood and health (and prompt you to act accordingly), and sometimes your Pokémon may be holding onto certain items that are otherwise impossible to find. So yes, it’s eye candy, but there’s a certain practical significance to it.
Really, there are no ways to express this: there has never been a game that offered a deeper or more compelling experience for any handhelds, and this game could give several console titles a run for their money as well as far as sheer depth is concerned. The game’s design ensures that it will never get old, that it will have infinite replay value, and that as far as sheer value for money is concerned, this will be the best video game purchase you’ve made all your life.
And that, in fact, is what the longevity of the franchise can be attributed to: the game’s enduring design, and its very structure that makes its lasting appeal stratospheric. Even once you’re through with the game’s main story mode, which incidentally lasts for an excess of sixty hours, you’ll have hundreds of hours on your hand as you attempt to perfect your Pokémon battling skills, and try and track them all down. Even when you’re through with that, it’s not done; you can take your team online, and battle it off there with some of the world’s best and most experienced Pokémon trainers.
The online mode has been spruced up, and barring a still crippling dependency on Friend Codes for Pokémon battles, is probably the best in any Nintendo game. Seriously, you’ll keep returning to this one, and even Poké-veterans will be amazed at the sheer lasting appeal of the game. More so than any other title in the series, Pokémon Gold and Silver stick with you for long -- the refinement of the formula ensures that.
Ultimately, there really is no other way, so I’ll just come out here and say it: Pokémon Gold and Silver is the single greatest handheld game ever created. It not only trumps the originals in every way possible, but it also retains their charm, and paradoxically, their very spirit of innovation, by adding a spate of never before seen features to the franchise.
Yeah, sure, there are a few niggles along the way, and there is no escaping the fact that the game has that “kiddy” vibe to it all along, but look beneath the juvenile dialog and the vibrant and colorful graphics, and what you’ll have is not only the deepest and most addictive title you’ll ever play, but also one that trumps its esteemed predecessors in every way possible, and is, without any doubt, the greatest handheld game ever created.
Developer: Game Freak
Sepember 12, 2009 (JP)
March 14, 2010 (US)
May 2010 (EU)
March 25, 2010 (AU)
Review Date: 01-03-2010
Numbers of Players: 1-2
Players Online: ---
Notes: Wi-Fi, Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum System Link, Content Sharing
No other game on the DS has ever looked this good. Artistically, this is as close to perfection as you’ll ever get, and visually, this the most atmospheric handheld title to date. Though there are issues with the still static battle scenes, the game looks excellent.
Pokémon Gold and Silver is as close to perfection as games have any chance of getting. The developers struck gold with the first installments in the series, and now this latest entry represents the ultimate perfection of the formula. Paradise, this is.
For the first time, you can sense that the developers made an effort to ensure that a Pokémon game feels well rounded and well polished. Not only does it look and sound perfect (well, nearly so), but it is also devoid of bugs and glitches. Well, not any that I came across, anyway.
This is aural bliss. The music is perfect, the sound effects are spot on, and after a couple of hours of playtime you’ll forget about the jarring Pokémon cries -- the game just sounds that good.
This shouldn’t even be a question. Pokémon games usually last hundreds of hours, but this one stretches the limit to infinity. With two main quests, clocking in an excess of sixty hours, tons of side-quests, and an exhaustive list of things to do, this is it as far as value for money is concerned.