Pokémon: Crystal Version is the most up-to-date of Nintendo's Pokémon games, but it isn't exactly the sequel that fans have been anticipating. Similar to Pokémon Yellow and its Red/Blue brethren, Crystal is merely an update to the Gold and Silver versions that preceded it. As such, those already knee-deep in the Gold/Silver series won't find much of interest in Pokémon Crystal. However, if you have not already upgraded from the older Red/Blue/Yellow series, or you happen to be a total Pokémon neophyte, now is an excellent time to take the plunge.
Just like Gold and Silver before it, Pokémon Crystal offers 251 different Pocket Monsters to collect, trade, and battle. As a trainer en route to the Pokémon League, you'll have the opportunity to meet and acquire a majority of these lovable animals--usually by searching in tall grass, hunting at night, or by breeding at the day care. Rare Pokémon--creatures so strong that you get only one shot to battle and capture them--can often be found hiding within ancient ruins or grazing in particular areas at various times throughout the week.
Although Pokémon Crystal theoretically includes the entire menagerie of Pokémon contained within both the Gold and Silver versions of the game, choices you make along the way can (and will) eliminate your chances of capturing specific monsters. Similarly, some Pokémon, such as Squirtle, Mewtwo, Charmander, and Bulbasaur, are exclusive to the older Red/Blue/Yellow series and are impossible to acquire via solitary means. For these reasons, if you intend to complete Prof. Oak's Pokédex, trading between friends remains an essential aspect of the Pokémon phenomenon.
When you consider different male and female variations, or the time spent trying to hatch rare eggs at the day care, it could take months just to complete even half the Pokédex. Thankfully, Pokémon Crystal offers a somewhat compelling role-playing adventure in addition to its core collecting mechanics.
Starting out as New Bark Town's latest rookie trainer, you and a single Pokémon (Cyndaqil, Totodile, or Chikorita) will embark on a quest to challenge the Elite Four at the Pokémon League. Before you can realize this destiny though, you'll need gym badges--lots of them. In all, you'll need to earn the badges of 16 different gym leaders throughout the continents of Johto and Kanto--a journey that will eventually take you to 18 different towns and through countless ancient landmarks. In addition to the helpful residents you'll meet during your travels, there are also approximately 500 other rookie trainers waiting to challenge you as you journey from town to town.
Suffice it to say, battle is also an important aspect of Pokémon. The game uses a turn-based battle system where the Pokémon in your care do all of the actual fighting. For each turn, you may perform a single attack or use a single item. Pokémon can memorize only four different attacks at any given time, however, so if they run out of PP for a particular move or are nearly unconscious, you can always swap them with another Pokémon in your pack. Although you're allowed to bring only six Pokémon into battle, PCs located at every Pokémon Center let you store approximately 250 additional Pokémon for later use. Pokémon will learn new attacks as they grow and evolve, but you can also acquire additional skills, in the form of TM and HM items, after hallmark battles or from special shops scattered throughout Johto and Kanto.
In addition to the 15 original Pokémon types (normal, fire, water, grass, bug, ground, electric, flying, fighting, ice, dragon, psychic, ghost, poison, rock), two new types were introduced to the mix by the Gold and Silver series: steel and dark. Pokémon Crystal contributes nothing new in this respect, but the strategic pairing of strengths, weaknesses, or stalemates based upon these innate proclivities remains a clever and enjoyable aspect of gameplay.
For players upgrading from the original Red/Blue/Yellow series, Pokémon Crystal contains a few notable enhancements to its item and tools systems. Foremost of these, Pokémon in your party can now carry items into battle. Berries, plucked from trees, automatically cure illness or status ailments, while special store-bought seeds can either augment or dampen a Pokémon's intrinsic talents. There are even items, such as rare stones and flower-print mail, that can evolve a Pokémon when it's traded to a friend via link cable. To carry the items you collect, you will have an in-game backpack that contains four different pockets with enough space to hold 20 items in each, and it has a separate HM/TM pocket that has room for an unlimited number of HM and TM skills. A PokéGear device attached to your pack gives you access to a variety of useful tools, including a comprehensive world map, a radio for entertainment purposes, and a cellular phone for keeping in touch with the game's many characters.
If you already own Pokémon Gold or Pokémon Silver, much of the information covered in this review is old news. In fact, the differences the Crystal version exhibits over its Gold and Silver counterparts are so subtle that you may never notice many of them. Of the most significant, the addition of a female character gives you the opportunity to choose an onscreen persona that is uniquely feminine. Within the game itself, there are numerous picayune visual embellishments to observe, the most obvious of which are new, brief prefight battle taunts. They're not spectacular by any means, but watching a Machoke flex its muscles or a Cubone juggle its bone before going into battle is somewhat delightful.
In terms of gameplay modifications, besides changing where and when Pokémon tend to appear, Nintendo has made a few useful adjustments to the game's radio and cell phone items. Now, when you add a trainer's cell number to your phone book, they may call and offer free items or advice in addition to his incessant pleas for a rematch. Similarly, Buena's Password Show is a new radio broadcast that can net you all sorts of spiffy big-budget prizes--provided you tune in daily and don't mind hightailing it to Goldenrod City every once in a while. Other improvements include a more pronounced Suicune (#245) subplot, a new rooftop bargain shop in Goldenrod City, the addition of a Poké Seer fortune-teller, and a much, much, much easier method of acquiring the 251st Pokémon, Celebi.
Like Gold and Silver before it, Pokémon Crystal also boasts a number of gimmicks that enhance and broaden the game's overall variety. A built-in time clock keeps track of the date and time, which allows the sun to rise and set in real time within the game. Certain Pokémon come out only at night or on specific days of the week. Similarly, a number of key events within the game also occur only on particular days or at specified times.
A revamped Pokédex lets you sort Pokémon by either type or number and includes a handy search-by-type feature. If you have a Game Boy Printer, you can also use the Pokédex to print pictures of the Pokémon you've encountered. In addition to battling friends one-on-one across a link cable, with the Game Boy Color's infrared port you can transfer mystery gifts between another Gold/Silver/Crystal version of the game or with Nintendo's Pokémon Pikachu 2 GS pocket virtual pet. Although designed for the Game Boy Color, the game works just fine when played on a Game Boy Advance--albeit without infrared capabilities, since Nintendo's latest system lacks the required infrared hardware.
It's not a brand-new game by any means, but for those who are new to Pokémon or have yet to upgrade from the Red/Blue/Yellow series, Pokémon: Crystal Version offers a great deal of value for the investment involved. As for those who already own the Gold or Silver versions of the game, unless you absolutely need to snag Celebi, there is no reason why you should even consider buying Pokémon Crystal.