Then there's the PokéWalker. Discard any preconceptions you might have that this is some cheap gimmick employed by Nintendo to sell a few more copies of the game; the device is pure genius. Shaped and coloured like the iconic pokéball, the device combines a pedometer with a Tamogotchi, prompting players to take their Pokémon out into the real world, where they'll gain experience through walking. Based on how many steps you take, Watts are accumulated, which can be used to catch wild Pokémon and exchange for new items. These can then be brought back into the main game whenever you decide to give your legs a rest. You can even connect to another PokéWalker to let your Pokémon socialise with a friend's. It's all as clever as it sounds, and far and away the best addition to the game.
The combined effect of seeing your Pokémon trot along behind you in the main game, and being able to take them into the real world via the PokéWalker is inspiring stuff. Never before has a Pokémon game allowed players to assume the role of a Pokémon trainer so realistically. Believe it or not, I feel genuine attachment toward my team of pocket-monsters. Apollo, Starbuck, Dr. Baltar, Boomer, Caprica 6 and The Chief (yes, Battlestar Galactica is my inspiration for names this time around) are all very dear to me. In fact, Starbuck, my prized Crobat, has joined me on several trips to the pub now, and transferring her to the PokéWalker before I leave the house is quickly becoming second nature.
As always, the multiplayer is where the hardcore will get their kicks. Setting a date and training towards the poké-battle to end all others is still one of the most addictive parts of the Pokémon experience. The Elite Four are pussycats in comparison to some of the opponents you're likely to face in the real world, and this is where the game really proves how deep it is. Putting together the perfect team to defeat your rival in real life is where the hours really start piling up, and extends the already hefty lifespan of the game further. Multiplayer has been made all the easier since WiFi banished link cables to the ever growing pile of redundant gaming peripherals. You can now fight friends and trade critters with players around the world, as well as over local WiFi.
Just as with Diamond and Pearl, players can migrate their Pokémon from previous games in the GBA series. Anything from Fire Red, Leaf Green, Ruby, Pearl and Emerald can be brought into the new games, but must first be caught again in the Pal Park. For the avid Pokémon collector, HeartGold and SoulSilver are the most comprehensive games in the series yet, with some 493 monsters to catch and collect. Most of these can be caught in Johto and Kanto, but those that can't (including the Sinnoh starters) can be traded from Diamond and Pearl.
The kids that grew up with the original Pokémon games are now in their twenties, but the mechanics at the heart of each game are just as appealing to the seasoned RPG veteran as they are to your six year-old cousin. The odd looks and raised eyebrows that come with playing a Pokémon game are wholly undeserved. Of course bringing your Pikachu to the pub doesn't help matters, but the fact remains that Pokémon is far more than a mere kids game. The role-playing mechanics are in-depth, there are hundreds of hours of gameplay on offer and the game boasts some of most innovative use of multiplayer connectivity ever seen in video games.
The only thing preventing the game from reaching the lofty heights of double digits is familiarity; the game is distressingly similar to all those that have come before it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing depending on your perspective, as HeartGold and SoulSilver are the most refined and well polished games yet to grace the series. It does, however, reinforce the fact that GameFreak need to reinvent the wheel for the fifth generation of games. With HeartGold and SoulSlver the Pokémon series has reached a point where it can't get any better. It's like a level 100 Pikachu; it's as good as it can possibly be, but it's probably about time it evolved already.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- PokéWalker is an inspired addition
- 493 of the blighters to catch!
- WiFi features are as innovative as ever
- The Pokémon formula is becoming worn out