"I ran out and bought Pokémon SoulSilver on launch day, and it sucks that I have to describe this course of action as having “caved.” I liked it when I was able to purchase these games without feeling ashamed of myself. "
I ran out and bought Pokémon SoulSilver on launch day, and it sucks that I have to describe this course of action as having “caved.” I liked it when I was able to purchase these games without feeling ashamed of myself.
HeartGold and SoulSilver are the second set of remakes in a series that has already received ample criticism for not taking any significant steps forward, and they’re coming from a company that’s famous for repackaging old content to rake in guaranteed cash from both longtime fans and the new additions to their constantly-changing target audience. I can’t really fault Nintendo, though – to an extent, they’ve earned the massive pile of money they’re currently lounging on, because playing through this remake reminded me that after all this time, Pokémon is still an extraordinary series. The ludicrously open-ended combat options were once the foundation for communities of Game Boy-toting grade schoolers everywhere, and I have no serious qualm with the formula being rehashed on a regular basis since the formula works so well to begin with.
Even a rehash is new content, however. Nearly any series fanatic will tell you that Gold and Silver were the best generation of Pokémon games, for a multitude of reasons – timing was one of them – but their moment of glory is long behind them, due mainly to the eclipsing nature of this series. With each entry broadening the scope, why go back in time?
Nintendo probably knew this, and included a failsafe: the Pokéwalker. This pack-in gadget is a pedometer that doubles as something similar to a Tomagotchi, only a thousand times cooler. Any Pokémon you've caught over the course of the main adventure can be transferred wirelessly to the device, after which you can take it with you and accumulate "watts," which are earned from your total number of steps and are used to play mini-games, unlock new environments for strolling, and train your Pokémon.
I love it. It almost bridges the gap between the game world and the real one, as it allows you to remain entrenched in the Pokémon universe even when you're not playing. A Pokémon can only gain a single level for each trip to the Pokéwalker, so it's difficult to abuse the device, but I can't ignore that the concept of real-life grinding has been introduced here. And while the mini-games aren't especially creative, they work as momentary distractions. If you've got thirty seconds free, take the Pokéwalker off of your belt and try your hand at catching a wild Pokémon. If you succeed, for the rest of the day you'll be carrying a reminder on your waist about how excited you are to jump back onto your DS after you get home from work, school, or wherever you happen to be.
The games themselves are not nearly as fresh, and it shouldn't be surprising. The FireRed and LeafGreen remakes felt like pointless fan service at the time, yet even they proved bizarrely vital in retrospect: The first generation of Pokémon games to hit the DS (that would be Diamond and Pearl) were backward compatible with GBA titles only, and as such, with the original Game Boy cartridges out of the equation, players were dependent on the remakes if they wanted to import any of the creatures from the earlier adventures into their most up-to-date Pokédex. Between three generations of intertwining games, all 493 Pokémon were ultimately obtainable on one meager DS card, provided you had the resources, the time, and the level of commitment to acquire them all.
Part of what makes the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver such a non-event is that they lack the thrill of a new world to explore, new gym leaders to fight, and (especially) a new batch of Pokémon to collect. Maybe their relevance will become apparent over time – say, on a future Nintendo handheld that’s only backward compatible with DS titles – but for the time being, they’re merely like every other remake in existence: It's a pleasantly nostalgic trip, yet it’s impossible to ignore the fact that you’re paying for a game you’ve probably already played to death. They're unable to justify their existence.
Platinum, the recent younger sibling to the DS generation of titles, suffered from a similar problem. I’ll continue to invest my valuable free time in this series so long as Nintendo gives me a compelling reason to do so, as evidenced by the 170+ hours logged in my copy of Diamond. But while I can stomach a game being released in two slightly different versions to encourage networking, reissuing that game in an eventual third version that offers a few mostly negligible bonuses to late adopters – a series staple since Yellow – is slowly coming across more and more as a holdover. We’ll eventually have to face the fact that these remakes, reissues and third-pillar titles don’t add anything that wasn’t already there.
My point is that if “gotta catch ‘em all” is still this series’ mantra, then the true fanatics were finished a year or two ago, and have since been patiently waiting for the next expansion of the Pokémon universe to keep the craze going. Platinum wasn’t it, and HeartGold and SoulSilver aren’t it.
But as much as I tire of Nintendo’s lazy attitude, I do not tire of the games themselves. It’s especially interesting that Pokémon has long held the reputation of being a children’s franchise, since these are still some of the meatiest RPGs in existence; it’s telling that it was SoulSilver that dominated my free time in the same week that the new Final Fantasy game was released. I wish Game Freak would focus their efforts on developing new games, but then I bought SoulSilver on the day of its launch, which probably means they’re doing something right. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a walk.
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