Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Top 20 Favourite Video Games Of All Time: #14

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions
(Nintendo, 2009; DS)

It's the third biggest franchise in video games and it's very easy to see why. Pokémon is the franchise that helped Nintendo in their darkest hour, and with a legion of fans to impress with each new release, Nintendo always have their work cut out for them. HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions, however, had half the work done for them already, being as they're remakes of Gold and Silver
Versions from the Game Boy Color.

When Pokémon exploded onto the scene in 1996, nobody could have predicted the impact it would have on the video game landscape, not to mention the significant cultural impact it would have for the next several years, with strong ripples of that impact still being felt today. The game was simple in theory, yet complex in execution: you have to try to capture and raise all 151 Pokémon and use them to battle for you and become the greatest Pokémon Trainer in the land.

To say Pokémon set the gaming world alight is no understatement at all. But when it came time to make the inevitable seqel (the world was hungry for more), Nintendo had to know it was going to be far from easy. Could they catch lightning in a jar twice?

Pokémon Gold and Silver Versions somehow managed. 100 new Pokémon, a brand new region to explore, dozens of exciting Trainers to battle and the return of Team Rocket plus the chance to return to Kanto, the region from the first games, all combined to make the second generation of Pokémon titles instant classics and strong fan favourites.

When Nintendo released the fourth generation of games in 2006, most fans noticed that the majority of Pokémon introduced in generation two were inobtainable without transferring them from the third generation games (an irreversible transfer, meaning many players were apprehensive). It eventually came to light that this was all for a reason- Nintendo planned to remake the second generation of games. This was no major shock, given they'd already remade the originals as Fire Red and Leaf Green Versions on Game Boy Advance. It essentially allows Nintendo the chance to buy some time for themselves to work on the next generation of games- not having to go through lengthy character design and scriptwriting processes cuts down large parts of the production stages, allowing them to divert such attention to the new titles.

HeartGold and SoulSilver are the same great games that Gold and Silver were, but better. The game mechanics are in line with Diamond, Pearl and Platinum Versions, the other fourth generation titles, but the story and characters are the same as they were in generation two. In addition, Eusine is added into the story, despite not appearing until Pokémon Crystal. In this respect, HeartGold and SoulSilver could be considered "ultimate editions".

The music is all remixed to DS standard, with varying success. Some of the Kanto tunes sound great in the new style, but a lot of the Johto tracks are somewhat inferior to the originals. It goes without saying, however, that the graphical overhaul is a complete success, with all the old Game Boy Color areas looking incredible in the semi-3D they're rendered in on the DS.

On top of all this, there are some nice new additions not present in the original. The biggest in-game addition is the inclusion of the Pokéathlon, an Olympics for Pokémon! There are loads of great minigames to play here with some cool prizes up for grabs. The Pokéathlon makes great use of the DS' touch screen, which makes up for the fact the generation five Pokémon games generally don't require you to touch the screen at all. The other wonderful addition is the Pokéwalker that comes bundled with the game. This is a pedometer that looks like a Poké Ball. As well as monitoring your steps, though, you can transfer a Pokémon over to the Pokéwalker for a stroll and level it up, as well as capturing rare Pokémon. The more you walk, the rarer the class of Pokémon you'll encounter. Since you don't have to pay for Poké Balls in the Pokéwalker, you're essentially capturing Pokémon for free- it's a trick that works, too, as I haven't gone a day without wearing my Pokéwalker since I first put it on.

As things stand, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions are the best games in the Pokémon series yet. The characters and story of the generation two games when combined with the Pokémon roster and game mechanics of the generation four games gives a potent combination that highly deserves your attention, especially if you like poring over games to unlock everything. With almost 500 Pokémon, it's the biggest challenge yet to catch 'em all!

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