The original Pokémon Silver was quite possibly the most played game of my childhood, and for good reason. While the more recent Pokemon games have, admittedly, added their fair share of new additions, none of them have really felt like as much of a step forwards as Pokemon Silver, which brought with it a whole host of new, useful features, along with another bunch of Pokemon you'd actually want to catch, rather than 90% of the more recent additions, which are, lets face it, a bit naff (Bastiodon, I'm looking at you).
It was the first Pokémon game to features real time day and night cycles, with nocturnal and diurnal Pokémon, and contests that took place on certain days of the week/months. It also introduced the PokéGear, a clock, radio, map, and mobile phone hybrid that put the iPhone to shame. In many ways, Pokemon Silver was way ahead of its time - something which was proven, when Pokemon Ruby was stripped of so many of Silver's features, and as such, ended up feeling like a huge step back. So when Nintendo announced Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, the DS remakes of the classic Game Boy Colour games, I fell off my chair with excitement.
Like every Pokémon game, you start off as a young boy (or girl) who gets given their first Pokémon by the local Professor with a tree related name (Elm, in this case), and you're then sent off into the wild to live out your lifelong dream of becoming a Pokémon master. Along the way you'll encounter various different kinds of wild Pokémon, who you can catch and then use to battle other wild Pokémon, and the various trainers you'll meet on your adventure.
It's this collecting aspect where Pokémon really excels. As each version of the game has a different selection of Pokémon to catch (There's normally around 20 unique to each game) it actively encourages the player to trade with other people if they want to get a complete collection of Pokémon, or to acquire a Pokémon that's only available on the other game that looks quite cute - Anyone fancy trading me a Growlithe? Heart Gold and Soul Silver also feature the ability to collect the full complement of 493 Pokémon (Bastiodon included, sadly), but only once the first 251 have been seen.
Another feature that's been reinstated in these new games is the ability to have one of your team of six Pokémon follow you around as you roam the countryside (First introduced in Pokémon Yellow, but only with Pikachu). While it doesn't change anything of the gameplay, it manages to make the game feel more like the anime TV show, and allows a bond to form between player and Pokémon that the previous games have never offered. There's something special about entering a new forest and checking to see how your Pokémon's doing to be informed that he's busy sniffing the flowers, or dancing round in the grass, it gives your Pokémon character, when previous the only character they had was a single word describing their nature.
Another way that they've tried to make Pokémon an integral part of your everyday life, along with the real time clock and the calendar of events is the new Pokéwalker gadget that comes with every copy of the game. Acting in very much the same way as a pedometer, it allows you to transfer a Pokémon (via infra-red) from your game to the walker itself, and you can then walk with them (much like in the game) around wherever you might happen to be going. The steps you take, the more "Watts" you collect on the Pokéwalker. These can be spent when you're out and about on catching Pokémon or finding items on the Pokéwalker, or they can be sent to your game when you take your Pokémon off the Pokéwalker. Collect enough Watts and you unlock new routes for the Pokéwalker, and on new routes you can catch different Pokémon.
Nintendo are also supporting the Pokéwalker with the Mystery Gift feature. By connecting your DS to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection you can download special routes for the Pokéwalker, which allow you to catch special Pokémon. The last route they released (The Yellow Forest) allowed you to catch a Pikachu with Fly and a Pikachu with Surf, while the latest route (Winners Path) allows you to catch a Magikarp with Bounce, and a Munchlax with Self-destruct.
Like the other Pokémon games, Heart and Gold and Soul Silver are a massive timesink. Even just blitzing the game, without really exploring will take anyone upwards of 50 hours, so there's no concern that you're not getting enough for your hard earned cash. After beating the 8 gym leaders and the Elite Four in Johto, you can then make your way to Kanto, the land from the original games, and take on another 8 gym leaders, and the Kanto Elite Four. And even then, there's still the monumental task of catching 'em all, and filling your Pokédex for Professor Oak. For an idea of how long it might take to catch them all, Sarah's spent 445 hours (Yup, that much) on Pearl, and she's still only got 390 of the 493 Pokémon available. Nerd.
So basically, Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver are the definitive Pokémon games. You can get every Pokémon invented so far, but only once you've caught the best ones (the original 251) and it builds on everything that was brilliant about the original Gold and Silver. It's hard to see how Black and White - and indeed, any future Pokémon games - will top this.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS