Seventh generation of Pokemon! By now, people are probably split into two dichotomies: “Yay, another Pokemon game!” or “Not another one!!” Pokemon: HeartGold and Pokemon: Soul Silver cater much to the nostalgia of older players who dislike or just can’t get a handle on those “newfangled Pokemon” that appear in Ruby/Sapphire and Diamond/Pearl, but that doesn’t stop it from adding new features and tweaking old ones.
At heart, Pokemon is still Pokemon. You go around, catch Pokemon, level them up, battle them, rinse, lather, and repeat. HeartGold takes many of the features that were added to later generations and puts them into the game. Headbuttable trees and swarms are back. Berries are back. Form-changing Pokemon (namely Deoxys, Rotom, Giratina, and Shaymin) are in as well.
OK, OK. Let’s look at the smaller changes first. Players of Diamond / Pearl may have noticed that the speed of the game — everything from text speed to walking speed to even battle speed was very slow, especially compared to the old GBA games. It was something like comparing Slowpoke to Ninjask, except slow does not win the race. HeartGold / SoulSilver is slightly faster – markedly faster than its DS predecessor, but still much slower than the GBA games. It’s a very much welcome change, though.
Another problem with Diamond / Pearl was that, although it was a DS game, it does not take advantage of the touch screen except for a few events like making puffins. HeartGold / SoulSilver fully incorporates touch screen controls. Although the menu button is still X-button, the entire menu was moved to the bottom screen along with the battle choices. The Pokemon box management system was also moved to the touch screen, so now you can actually drag the Pokemon to and from your party. This is a very logical and convenient way of using the touchpad, and a change I highly welcomed. On another note, you can assign shortcuts (the Y button) to two items instead of one, which made me very happy because now I didn’t have to shuffle back and forth between the bike and the fishing rod every time I needed to fish!
Several new areas were also added. There’s a new Pokethlon Dome, where trainers for the also added Pokethlon gather. Think Beauty Contest, but with athletic events like hurdles or wrestling matches. Game Freak made a Battle Frontier area too, although it isn’t new to the Pokemon series. There are also new areas to accommodate for the Ruby /Sapphire legendaries, as well as Arceus. Finally, there are new routes connecting one of the cities to the Safari Zone.
Apricorns are back. You can make Pokeballs out of them – some new ones like Moon Ball and Friend Ball too – but this time, you can also make ApriShakes, which work like Poffins in Diamond / Pearl. Berries, on the other hand, are back as well, but not in tree form. You carry them around with you in an item so now you don’t have to travel all the way back to where you planted the berries to take care of them!
And for the Safari Zone, they decided to expand the number of Pokemon that appeared in it by allowing you to add items like trees or crates to lure Pokemon. Also, to save you the effort (and steps!) of extra walking, you can swap areas around. For example, if you have already entered the marsh area and you want to go to the desert area, you can put the desert area right at the entrance. Thus far, the only reason I have been expelled from the Safari Zone is because I ran out of Safari Balls. The step count is only a very minor secondary worry now.
One of the new features in Pokemon HeartGold / SoulSilver that garnered a lot of attention is the Pokemon following you around. Let me tell you, Nintendo put a lot of effort into making the comments that appear when you talk to them be as detailed as possible. There are remarks specific to a Pokemon, many comments specific to an area, and some text that is general for all Pokemon.
My Chikorita was “happily waving its leaf around.” On a beach, my Amparos was “happily piling up the sand” or was “having fun watching your footprints on the ground.” And when you’re in the Bellsprout Tower, Pidgeotto was “energetically weaving in and out from between the pillars” or “watching the swaying pillar cautiously.”
The Pokemon that follows you is always the first Pokemon on your team. This option cannot be changed, so it’s going to be impossible to waltz around with a Dialga while your first battle Pokemon is Milotic or something. Aside from the cuteness, talking to your Pokemon provides vital information, such as its status and relative health. If it has a status effect, it will tell you. There are special comments for it having less than half health as well as almost no health left.
I am very pleased with this game and the changes that have been made since the previous installment. Pokemon Gold and Silver were solid and fun games, especially with the option to travel between Johto and Kanto. This not only expands the areas you can explore but also provides a connection between two regions that the other installments more or less lack. I found a few control issues that I didn’t like, such as the fact that switching between Pokemon storage boxes is a pain, but overall, it didn’t decrease from my playing experience.
If you have been holding back from Pokemon games because a.) they just keep coming or b.) you don’t like the new Pokemon, HeartGold / SoulSilver will be an excellent game for you to return to the franchise.