Whenever a new Pokémon game comes out, there’s always this kind of nostalgic excitement for it. Sure, it’s not as major as it was back in 2000 when Gold and Silver first came to the Game Boy Colour and it defiantly does not have as much of a mainstream impact by the end of the decade that Halo, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have, but there is something exciting about picking up the newest Pokémon handheld game, putting it in your Game Boy or DS and contemplating which starter monster you want to pick like as though you’re picking up Red and Blue again and deciding whether you want Squirtle, Bulbasaur and Charmander.
Over the years, people’s biggest criticism of Pokémon whether it’d be Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl, LeafGreen and FireRed or the latest games HeartGold and SoulSilver is that there’s never a dramatic change in format or a new direction. Considering that the last two sets of games I mentioned are remakes of their GBA/GBC counterparts, you would have a very good case for this. The layout of the battle sequences is the same as it ever has been minus the touch screen improvements from Diamond and Pearl, the people are just a more colourful and better designed version of the ones from past games and I still can’t get over the fact that, after over a decade of making these games, the battle cries that come from the Pokémon still sound like cheap sprites you could produce on a nostalgic 8 bit soundboard. This is a console that can reconstruct very well done animated FMVs so it wouldn’t have been that hard to do.
With other franchises, this would be seen as the deathnail with innovation needed as soon as possible, but there is always something that Game Freak does when producing these games and putting in new features that makes the experience as addicting, enjoyable and charmful as it ever has been.
To explain the concept of Pokémon to someone who has never played it, first you have to ask the question ‘Where have you been for the last decade?’ and secondly, you have to say that the concept is very simple. You’re a young trainer who lives in a world inhabited by monsters whether big or small and your ‘objective’ as such is to build a 6 monster team capable of beating everyone and becoming the ultimate Pokémon master. Yeah, there are side quests and additional things to do, but the fundamental plot has never changed and with the world that the games are based on, there honestly isn’t much more you can do with it then that. Sure, you had the highly underrated Pokémon Snap and the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games along with others, but when you think of Pokémon, you think of ‘Gotta Catch ’em All’ and the lyrics of the first Pokémon series ‘I wanna be the very best, that noone ever was‘ etc.
Not that there isn’t anything new about these remakes. There is the Pokéathalon right near Goldenrod City where you basically compete with three Pokémon from your team against 3 other teams of 3 in an Decathlon style challenge depending on what type of course you choose (i.e. Speed, Power, Stamina etc) with each Monster in your party and computer box having a certain ranking. These are basically a collection of mini games and sometimes the controls can be off or overly sensitive with some of them, but they’re still quite addictive and rather fun when you get down to them. The graphical redesigns of each of the towns and buildings has also taken a page from the Diamond/Pearl/Emerald playbook and are some of the nicest looking on the system. Not exactly stand out or awe inspiring but they give you a great sense of scope about where you are, especially when you enter Goldenrod and see the giant buildings around you in almost full size.
The first Pokémon from your party following you around is a very nice touch as well. As I said before, I eventually caught Ho-Oh and having this giant bird brute walking with you is something to see and you can pretty much do it with every monster in the game. Yes, even the Red Gyarados from the Lake of Rage. And yes, it looks just as awesome as you think it would.
For those of you who are new to the franchise, the one thing I will warn you is that sometimes you won’t have any idea what to do at certain points. Unless you remember Gold or Silver off by heart, there will be times when you go to a stage and find yourself lost. This seems to be the nature of a lot of Japanese RPGs, especially recently, that really don’t hold your hand when you need guidence. Pokémon in general has never really crossed the line, say, Star Ocean has and there is definatly a single liniar storyline for Pokémon whichever game you start off with but you cannot help but think that there are occasions when the game should be able to point out that you should go into this location instead of running around fields waiting for something to happen.
What is a real revelation of this game is the Pokéwalker. In its design, it is basically a glorified Tamagotchi but in its execution, it’s something more in depth then that. The idea of the Pokéwalker is that you can take a Pokémon from your computer box in the game and take it with you on the move on its own route and measures your steps. It converts these steps into Watts allowing you to unlock more routes, items and even random Pokémon cameos to take back with you into the main game. It also gives you the opportunity to find items and monsters for you to catch and take back with you into the game in short mini games. When I played, a random Pokémon even joined my walker when I sent one I was training back which I also brought back into my game so it’s also good at springing those moments at you.
People who fell off the series, never liked or got into the series won’t find anything that will change their minds nor will this be an easy game to get into if you’ve never played a Pokémon game before because of its hard rooted Japanese RPG elements but if you loved the franchise, want to see what all the fuss is and was about or if you, like me, think the best games came from 2000, Gold and Silver will be ideal for you to dive back into the world of Pokémon. Many will say that changes still need to be made and improvements need to be done and there definatly are things that can be improved. At the same time, for pure nostalgia and fun, you can’t go wrong with either one.