One part remake, one part upgrade, a billion parts awesome, “Pokémon HeartGold” and “Pokémon SoulSilver” take what could be the best games of all time and make them even better. The games masterfully hearken back to simpler times, back when there were a mere 251 Pokémon to catch, while still offering expansive, challenging and downright cute gameplay for those who like having nearly 500 critters to capture. And if it weren’t for that damn Pokéwalker, the new games would be as close to perfection as gaming may ever come.

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver

For Nintendo DS
Nintendo

“HeartGold” and “SoulSilver” are remakes — or rather, evolutions — of “Gold” and “Silver,” the Game Boy Color titles from the days of yore (1999). This was back before things got too complicated. There was a manageable amount of Pokémon, there weren’t a bunch of crazy items with overly specific uses and the Dark and Steel types were still novelties. “HeartGold” and “SoulSilver” keep much of this simplicity for the first half of the game, giving players access to only the first 251 Pokémon. But after the Elite Four are beaten, the game opens up to an expansive world featuring the oodles of monsters to which players are now accustomed.

Of course these games are not pure remakes, even for the first half. The player receives the requisite running shoes early on, making for a much less tedious experience; the menu system is streamlined on the touch screen and includes all the new features players loved in the new games; and in an unexpected added jolt of cuteness, players can have their Pokémon follow them around, wiggling as they walk. There is also a new, more customizable Safari Zone that serves as home to many of the game’s rarer Pokémon after the first half of the game is completed, as well as an arena where your Pokémon can compete in surprisingly fun sporting events.

While these are undoubtedly amazing games, there are still a few flaws. Even in the first half of the game, some of the 251 Pokémon are unavailable, which can be disappointing for players who go into the game with a team in mind. Then there’s the fact that, in an effort to revert to the simplicity of “Gold” and “Silver,” the Vs. Seeker, an item that made it easy to rematch trainers, is omitted in favor of a cumbersome cell phone gimmick that presents rematches at random.

And then there’s the Pokéwalker. It comes in the same box as the main games, so it’s technically a part of them, but in nearly every way it’s an entirely different experience. The device, a small circular PokéBall that looks kind of like a Tamagotchi, is a pedometer with some added features. You can move Pokémon between the Pokéwalker and the Nintendo DS, then catch Pokémon and find items on the dinky little pedometer. This wouldn’t be so bad if it were a side option, but there are some Pokémon that are exclusive to the Pokéwalker. Now, sure it’s a good idea to get gamers to walk around, but forcing players to use the additional, annoying features of the pedometer makes gamers engage in an experience that is neither fun nor rewarding.

So when you buy “HeartGold” or “SoulSilver,” just don’t take the Pokéwalker out of the box. Bask in the glory of playing the greatest installment of the Pokémon franchise — challenging the coolest gym leaders, raising the best Pokémon and exploring the most vibrant world — while taking advantage of how far the game series has come since its inception. Gaming is evolving. Don’t press B.

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