Pokémon: Heart Gold Version - Staff Review  

Change is Infinitely Improbable
by Adriaan den Ouden

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40-60 Hours
+ Same great Pokémon gameplay.
+ Pokéwalker is a neat toy.
+ More post-game content than any other game in the series.
+ New touch-menu is terrific.
- Changes to running make travel slower.
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   The "Gotta Catch 'Em All" trademark of the Pokémon franchise really embodies the spirit of the game. Unfortunately, the slogan cannot be applied to reviewing them: once you've reviewed one Pokémon game, you've reviewed them all. The games really only make microscopic improvements with each iteration, and the core mechanics remain pretty much unchanged since the original 1998 title. Pokémon: Heart Gold Version is even more difficult to review, as it is, in fact, a remake of the 2000 Game Boy Color series entry. Needless to say, this review is likely going to tread ground that I have tread before, but regardless, Heart Gold has enough changes from both Gold and Platinum to fill up, well, at least half a review.

   If you've been living in a Diglett Cave for the last twelve years, Pokémon is a series of near-identical games about ten-year-old children going out into the world to find and capture cuddly creatures known as pokémon. They train and battle these pokémon against others and collect badges from the cities in their region in order to challenge the Pokémon League and become Pokémon Masters. Throughout their adventure the children are hounded by some type of malevolent shadow organization that tries to use pokémon for nefarious purposes.

   This has been the game's story through four generations of games, and even extends into some of the many spin-offs. In Pokémon: Heart Gold Version, players explore the Johto region, and face off against the reincarnation of Team Rocket, which saw its defeat in the Red/Blue Versions. The original Gold/Silver Versions are widely regarded as the series' high point, and as far as modern, DS Pokémon titles go, Heart Gold manages to supplant Platinum as the definitive Pokémon game.

Your Pokémon will follow you around now, but it doesn Your Pokémon will follow you around now, but it doesn't really do anything.

   There are many things that make Heart Gold superior to previous versions, and for the most part, they're the same things that made Gold/Silver Versions so good. Most notably is the enormous pokédex that the protagonist starts out with. With 250 pokémon available in the main portion of the game, it's significantly larger than any other title in the series, easily beating Platinum's 210. There's also an entire second game that's playable after beating the Pokémon League challenge, wherein players can explore the Kanto region from Red/Blue and acquire an additional eight badges.

   But more than that, Heart Gold features a handful of interesting improvements that help to take advantage of the DS's touch screen. There is a whole new menu system that's entirely touch-driven, and after using it, it's rather difficult to go back to the button-driven menu from the earlier DS titles. The game also allows for two items to be hot-keyed — one to the L button, and another as a touchable button on the menu. There is also a rather questionable change to the run button. While in previous games, players could hold the B button in order to run rather than walk, Heart Gold allows players to simply select a toggle on the menu screen, turning running on or off at their whim. Unfortunately, running in tall grass or in caves now has the added effect of increasing the random encounter rate, which makes it inadvisable to run everywhere. This gives the slower walking speed an actual purpose, but also makes travel a bit slower.

   Something that will unquestionably please those looking for post-game content is the ability to acquire the National Pokédex without having to see the entirety of the Johto Pokédex, which was the case in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. A new safari zone has also been added to the Johto region, and has many new features that makes it much more interesting to visit.

Choose wisely. Choose wisely.

   The biggest new feature to Heart Gold is actually not even part of the main game. Heart Gold ships with the Pokéwalker accessory, a pedometer device that allows players to find rare items and pokémon. Each step generates watts, which are used as currency to activate the device's simple features. A rock-paper-scissors battle system allows players to capture pokémon, while a hide-and-seek mini-game lets players find rare items. Players can also transfer a pokémon from their game over to the walker, which will gain up to one level's worth of experience as you walk. There are several different "routes" you can walk through, and they all contain different pokémon and items to find.

   This covers all the important changes between this game and the previous ones. For the most part, the rest is the same. The combat system features the same addictive, type-focused battles as ever and the story is simple and stays out of the way. The audio and visuals have received a few improvements, however. The 3D elements introduced in Diamond/Pearl have been refined, and overall, the graphics are a bit sharper than the previous DS games. Likewise, new sound effects have been added to Heart Gold, like footsteps, which add a bit more atmosphere. The soundtrack also seems larger than other games, and this is particularly noticeable once you enter the Kanto region, which features different battle themes.

   Even though the series doesn't seem to evolve much with each new game, Pokémon fans keep buying the games with each new iteration, and Heart Gold is the perfect example of why. The gameplay is strong, and the changes are just large enough that they make it feel like a different experience. The pokéwalker provides a neat distraction, and the Kanto region provides plenty of post-game content. The main game can be completed in about forty hours, but with the additional content, it can easily eat up twice that much. Heart Gold is a solid remake and a great addition to the series.

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