Following our review of the DSi XL, we naturally had to progress to a game. So where to start? How about one of Nintendo'sstrongest franchises, Pokemon. Supplied by Nintendo for review, Pokemon HeartGold is a reboot of the Gold version for Game Boy Advanced. But how does it stack up to its predecessor and more importantly: how does it stand on its own? Read our review to find out!
The first thing you have to know about Pokemon HeartGold is that it isn't an entirely new game. It's essentially a remake of the underrated Gold version way back on the GBA. While the Red and Blue versions are by far the most celebrated, the Gold and Silver version doubled the size of the Pokemon universe to include Johto as well as many new Pokemon.
You have the same choice of three Pokemon to start with in HeartGold as in Gold/Silver: Cyndaquil, Chikorita and Totodile. These are essentially just different versions of the three classics Charmander, Bulbasaur and Squirtle except more edgy looking, at least in Totodile's case. They basically do the same attacks and represent the same three types: fire, plant and water.
Weaknesses and strengthes work basically the same way in this game, with water being super effective against fire and fire lighting up plants. Some seemingly don't make sense, like water hurting rock, but as long as it all balances out, it's fine by me.
Catching Pokemon works the exact same way as it did way back in Red and Blue: the higher the caliber of pokeball, the easier it is to catch Pokemon. Even the names are the same. They range from the standard pokeballs up to the Master ball, the one that's inescapable and traditionally used for Mewtwo.
There are two legendary Pokemon in this game that are sooner made avaialble based on whether you get the HeartGold version or not. In SoulSilver, Lugia is made available first while in HeartGold, that honor goes to Ho-oh, the fire bird. These are the two birds on the respective covers in case you were unaware.
There are really only two noticeable changes to this game from the GBA versions besides the improved graphics and touch screen functionality, though that really doesn't add anything to the game aside from minigames that can win the gamer meaningless prizes. The first is that the Pokemon listed first gets to follow you around a la Pikachu in the show and Yellow version. While it was a pain to have to start with the Pikachu and always keep it with you in that version simply because Pikachu never got good enough, in this it can be any Pokemon. I usually had Thyphlosion following me around and eventually Ho-oh. It really looks awesome when a giant bird is following you all around. But this really doesn't have any impact on gameplay except that the beast will occasionally be inexplicably carrying around a random item. It doesn't gain them more experience or anything like that. You just get to see them onscreen, crudely animated with classic Pokemon character builds.
The second addition is the Pokewalker accessory. You can essentially beam one of your Pokemon stored in your box to the Pokewalker and they gain experience as you walk around with them. You can earn in game currency used to catch Pokemon as well as battle. It's not its own game by any means but is a fun little device for no extra cost.
In Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, Nintendo sticks to its tried and true formula almost to a fault by rebooting an old, underrated version of the game. They reuse classic things like the Safari Zone as well as the entire Kanto region. After beating the Pokemon League, you can go earn another eight badges. Why? I'm not really sure. It just seems like overkill. But the first eight as well as the Elite Four were awesome and really intense, especially in the final battle against Lance. I won't spoil it, but his Pokemon aren't exactly weak or ubiquitous.
While it isn't as groundbreaking as Diamond or Pearl and probably won't be regarded in the same breath as Red and Blue, the HearGold game is a very good game that stands up well to its predecessors. There are more storylines but fewer legendary Pokemon and therefore different variations of Pokemon to build around. It's really hard to take Cyndaquil to start simply because the only other elite level Pokemon you'll catch is Ho-oh, also a fire type, which puts you at a serious disadvantage.
But there really isn't another game out there that will provide you with the same bang for your buck. My game ended up being around 30 hours with 16 badges and this doesn't even count the inherent replayability of a game with such a deep role playing engine with so many combinations as Pokemon has due to the sheer amount of Pokemon.
While we may never see the original 151 again, with the news on the latest upcoming versions, this was a proper send off. At least they didn't bastardize the original classics, so this was probably the way to go: take an underrated game and bring it back, trying to capture the magic again. This really made me appreciate the gold and silver versions, while also letting me reminisce about my Pokemon training career again.
It's a really good game that can benefit from some touch screen functionality, such as the ability to create flying patterns or attack manually or even just use the cut yourself, but while the original 151 may have reached their nadir, the saga of the others is just beginning. It may not be a classic, but HeartGold is a game definitely worth owning for the DS, DS Lite and DSi.
Audio/Visual: 7/10 (It still doesn't look that much different from the original games, which many will appreicate)
[Pokemon HeartGold-Amazon w/Pokwalker] $38.54