Nintendo revives two favorites with improved graphics and a cool accessory.
After putting up with the below average Pokemon Dungeon and Explorers games, we needed the series to get back to doing what it does best: letting two breeds of monsters smack the crap out of each other. Fortunately, Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold provide you with another glorious, if somewhat familiar journey to become the ultimate Pokemon master. You'll choose from your respective male or female trainer and set out to become the best in Johto, battling folks along the way and discovering new species of Pokemon.
Now, if you've played these Pokemon games before (the original Gold and Silver titles that these two are based on), then you'll have no problem getting into the turn-based combat, choosing which attack is best suited for the Pokemon you're fighting against. When you're not fighting, you'll explore small cities, discovering new species and talking with different characters.
What makes SoulSilver and HeartGold stand out over countless Pokemon titles is their accessibility. There are two areas where Game Freak and Nintendo hit the proverbial nail on the head. The first is the Wi-Fi Plaza. Although we've seen this before in previous Pokemon games (and you have to journey for a while before it unlocks), it's great being able to log in, enter a few Friend codes and battle/trade with your friends online. This works effortlessly with the Wi-Fi Connection, provided you have a strong Internet set-up in your home (or wherever you take your DS).
On top of that, you can port other Pokemon through your Pokedex, whether you have them saved in Pokemon Diamond, Pearl or Platinum. The game even recognizes the old Game Boy Advance LeafGreen and FireRed titles, if you have an older DS that supports that format (DSi and the upcoming DSi XL do not). You can build yourself a good library, between old favorites and exclusive new Pokemon in SoulSilver and HeartGold, including Meowth, Claydol, Phanphy and Teddiursa.
Besides the main journey, Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold also have mini-games that you can play off-line to keep you busy. Sure, they're not as exciting as the actual Pokemon battles, but they're decent to pass the time with as you travel from town to town.
However, the most notable highlight is the Pokewalker. This is a separate Tamagotchi style device (housed in a Pokeball shell) that connects to the game and lets you build your Pokemon's skills by doing something as simple as walking. Go for half an hour or so and they'll jump up three to four levels. Now, this doesn't work as effectively when they're on a higher level, but for starting players who want to get the most from their rookie Pokemon, this is a cool thing to have. The fact that Nintendo didn't charge extra for it (or sell it separately) is a wonderful thing.
Visually, Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold look about the same as other Nintendo DS Pokemon efforts, but that's not necessarily bad. When you compare them to the original Silver and Gold titles, they look greatly enhanced. Sure, the games still use a sprite engine rather than 3-D models, but that's just part of the simple pleasure. Johto still looks like a fun little world, and the numerous creatures you'll run into should put a smile on your face. We only wish that Game Freak did more to enhance the audio. We've heard this background music in previous Pokemon games, and the effects fail to astonish.
Bottom line, Pokemon fans will pick up these games no matter what we say. Thankfully, there's a reason to snag them. Even though most of the presentation and general gameplay hasn't changed much from previous Pokemon adventures, both HeartGold and SoulSilver have an adequate amount of content, online and off, to keep you exploring until the next sequel arrives.
What's Hot: Connects to other Pokemon games, graphics were upgraded from the original Gold/Silver, Wi-Fi lets you battle and trade online, the Pokewalker is a helpful device to level up Pokemon on-the-go.
What's Not: Audio needs upgrading, the battle system hasn't changed much, you still need Friend Codes to battle online.