What is it about the Pokémon series that draws players back time and time again? Aside from improved graphics and a few new features, the formula hasn't changed since the original Red and Blue games from 1996. Regardless of this fact, the weeks leading up to the DS remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver have been a frenzied blur of excitement. Gaming forums and communities from all corners of the web play host to the same assortment of zealous questions: which version should I get? What starter Pokémon should I choose? Want to arrange a battle? Nearly 15 years since its inception and Poké-fever is as contagious as ever, but is the series still worthy of all the excitement?
Much like Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green, HeartGold and SoulSilver are remakes of existing games in the series. The graphics have been spruced up for the DS generation and the game now has lovely WiFi connectivity features, but it's still essentially the same experience as that on the Game Boy Colour ten years ago. This is nothing to be sneered at, however, as Gold and Silver are widely regarded as the best games in the series.
If for some mind-boggling reason you haven't played a Pokémon game before, pay heed to the following paragraph as I explain what you've been missing out on for the last decade and a half. Each game follows the same well used template: after being given your first Pokémon, you set off on an adventure to become a Pokémon Master by defeating gym leaders in exchange for badges that will eventually grant you access to the Elite Four, the strongest Pokémon trainers in the game. Along the way you'll put a stop to the tyrannous Team Rocket and catch as many Pokémon as you physically can in order to complete a Pokémon encyclopaedia known as the Pokédex. It's a wonderful life.
With HeartGold and SoulSilver, that exact formula takes place in a region known as Johto. There are eight of the aforementioned Gyms to work through and countless other forests, caves, and ancient ruins besides. The same turn-based battles are at the heart of the experience, and seasoned players will quickly slip back into the satisfying grind of strengthening their team. Just like in the original games, once you've defeated the gym leaders, Elite Four and the Pokémon Champion in Johto, the game grants you access to Kanto, the region from the very first Pokémon games. Revisiting Kanto is a nostalgic experience, although the impact has lessened slightly since Fire Red and Leaf Green. This second region almost doubles the lifespan of the game, with a further eight gyms to collect badges from. What I'm trying to hit home here is that these are big, big games.
If you've played the original Gold and Silver, little of what I've prattled on about so far will be news to you – so onto the new stuff. The Heart and Soul prefixes bring with them numerous improvements and enhancements to the game. As well as being graphically superior, the battle screen and menus have all been given a makeover, allowing for quicker and more accessible item and Pokémon organisation. You also no longer need to hold down a button to run, and more than one key-item can now be registered for quick-use. Most of these enhancements have been seen already in the DS Pokémon outings, but HeartGold and SoulSilver offer a wealth of their own new features.
No longer are your Pokémon confined to the prison of a static battle screen; HeartGold and SoulSilver bring your companions into the world of Johto itself. The lead Pokémon in your party will actually appear behind your avatar, faithfully following you from town to town. What's more, the creatures are scaled to size; seeing a Charizard or Tyranitar towering above your avatar as he (or she) strolls through a town is empowering indeed. It might seem like a trivial addition to the game, but it breathes new life into the Pokémon that have never been anything more than listless battle combatants.