It’s kind of hard to miss the Pokemon games when they seem to spawn a fresh instalment every year or two. 2009 saw the launch of the well-received Pokemon Platinum, and with it came some fresh new features to what has traditionally remained a relatively static formula series. While Pokemaniacs will argue about which game in the franchise’s expansive back catalogue has been the best so far, Nintendo has taken it upon itself to relaunch what it believes are the most popular versions with a new lick of paint. Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver bring the story and monsters from the Game Boy Color versions of Pokemon Gold and Silver into the new decade with updated visuals, an extended story, and new monster friends to catch and battle.
Loyalists can sleep soundly at night safe in the knowledge that while the rebooted HeartGold and SoulSilver bring new lush environments and cutscenes and bump the Pokedex monster counter to 493--including exclusive new types in each version--the combat is still rooted in advanced turn-based rock-paper-scissors battles across the various elemental schools.
Our hands-on time kicked off with a new character. You’ll be given the usual options to name and select your character's gender. It wouldn’t be a Pokemon game if you didn’t play the part of an up-and-coming Pokemon trainer who meets an eager Pokescientist with an important mission to undertake. We accepted Professor Elm’s request to leave our village and head north in search of fisticuffs. We were offered the choice of a fire, water, or grass monster to kick-start our collection, but after selecting a young Chikorita, we quickly set about causing a ruckus by rooting around in the tall grass looking for someone to defeat to help us earn experience points. As you’d expect from the early portion of the game, our battles were cakewalks and saw us tackle some Pidgeys and a Sentret, the latter of which spent more time using its foresight ability to identify us than actually doing damage. Levelling up unlocked the razor leaf ability, a returning grass-type attack with a high chance of landing a critical strike on the opponent. Continuing to battle and level up will grow and evolve your team, rewarding you with new attacks and abilities essential for your travels.
HeartGold appears to be putting a lot of focus on your relationship with your monster crew. Having them travel alongside you and showing them a bit of affection is enough to increase their friendliness levels and improve their loyalty.
In addition to the software, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver will bundle a small hardware accessory called the Pokewalker, which is an evolution of the Pokemon Pikachu 2 GS portable pets for the original release of Pokemon Gold and Silver. The Pokewalker acts as a pedometer which you can use to track your daily exercise as well as store a single monster that can earn “watt” points as a result of your movement. The Pokewalker includes some 20 different virtual paths, and spending watts through minigames on the device unlocks items and battle experience and offers the chance to catch unique Pokemon that can be transferred back into your DS game. Syncing your character is as simple as entering the mode from the main menu, lining up the IR port on the cartridge with the one on the dongle, and waiting for it to transfer. You won’t be able to store a monster on both your handheld and the device at once, but it does mean that while you might not be able to level up during the day, you can be building up experience and watts to spend when you get home. The minigames are very basic and see you quickly moving cursors to select marked bushes to uncover hidden items and foes to fight. The battle mechanics are just as basic and allow you only a single type of attack and the option to evade or capture. Two players with Pokewalkers can also trade items wirelessly without needing to have their DSs handy, while daily gifting can reward players with full free heals and consumables.
The last and most interesting new feature of our hands-on time with HeartGold was the new Pokeathlon zones found in the world. These new arenas are similar to gyms but allow you to compete against the game AI or friends over local ad hoc Wi-Fi to earn medals across a range of disciplines, like speed, power, skill, stamina, and jump. Each Pokemon in your posse is given a star rating, so it’s easy to pick the best group or individual to suit the challenge. Touch-screen controls feature heavily here, and in the speed events you’ll use taps, swipes, and stylus drags to move your characters around the screen, jump over hurdles, collect flags, and race in a horizontal scrolling lap contest. Winning events awards points, and successfully topping the charts at the end of the competition rewards you with medals--though these are purely for bragging rights and don’t imbue you with any additional powers.
Due out in mid to late March on the DS, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are sure to capture the interest of fans of the origal namesake games, as well as bring lapsed Pokeaddicts back into the fold. Stay tuned for our full review of these reworked classics soon.