I love me some pokemon. Ever since I received a Game Boy Pocket and Pokemon Red for my birthday back in March of 1999, I've been hooked. I was ten then and 21 now but in those 11 years of change one thing has stayed the same; the magic spark that keeps the Pokemon franchise fresh, even though the main entries in the series have been copy pasted from the beginning.

What allowed Pokemon to gain so much popularity seemingly overnight and continue being one of the best selling video game franchises of all time remains somewhat a mystery. What is it that appeals to us about capturing and collecting hundreds of unique monsters to grow, battle and trade? All I know is when Game Freak finally announced the highly anticipated remakes of the Gold, Silver and Crystal generation of games I was ecstatic. Gold and Silver are easily the greatest entries into the series and I'll tell you why.

HeartGold (HG) and SoulSilver (SS) follow many of the same plot points as their Game Boy Color counterparts from 10 years ago. Of course, now, we're playing on the Nintendo DS and many features have been added to accommodate the bells and whistles it offers. The touch screen can be used for navigate your menus both in the field and in battle. What's genius about this is you can use both the stylus to physically poke the buttons or use the control pad to highlight and select them (Are you listening Zelda?). Every item in the game (and all 493 pokemon for that matter) have unique icons, which is much appreciated. This is especially handy for the not so good with reading crowd, both young and old.

The game takes place in the Johto and Kanto regions. To those semi-familiar with Pokemon, Kanto was the region from the Red and Blue versions and was featured in the first few seasons of the animated show. Johto is nestled to the west of Kanto and ironically is steeped more in Japanese style. Many towns in Johto sport towering pagodas and large eastern looking halls. Many towns also have Pokemon gyms as well, where you must defeat the leader to win their respective badges. Rinse and repeat until you have 8 badges and a strong team then it's time for the Pokemon league challenge where your skills will be put to the ultimate test.

After traveling the entire Johto region, toppling the sinister Team Rocket, and defeating the league elite the game allows you to travel to the Kanto region and collect an additional 8 badges. Gold and Silver remain the only games where more than 8 badges are available. This effectively makes this the longest Pokemon adventure of its kind to date, clocking in anywhere from 30-50 hours depending on play style. Keep in mind that the game never "finishes". In many cases the credits just mean somewhere new to explore or new Pokemon to collect. There are 493 pocket monsters now, so bring extra balls.

When the original Gold and Silver was released it broke the mold by adding 100 new Pokemon to the existing 151. The remakes feature the original 251 native to the region rather than include the further additions from Ruby and Sapphire, and Diamond and Pearl. That being said, Pokemon from Heonn and Sinnoh can be traded into your HG/SS game at any time although they won't appear in your pokedex until after you've obtained the "national dex". The pokedex is a handheld electronic encyclopedia that details which Pokemon you've seen and caught. Receiving your pokedex in a Pokemon game usually marks the beginning of your adventure as it does here. Your goal is not only to defeat the toughest trainers around, but ultimately to fill every page of your pokedex.

It has to be said that HG/SS boasts one of the sexiest pokedexs I've ever seen. Using a grid, the unique icons, and touch interface, viewing your collection has never been so gratifying. To help you on your quest, those who bought or will buy the game new will receive a new tamagachi-like device called the pokewalker. The pokewalker functions much in the same way the Pokemon Pikachu device used to, with an on board pedometer counting your steps. You can transfer one Pokemon at a time to the pokewalker, and it can be any of the 493. Steps convert to watts which can be spent to catch Pokemon, find items, or unlock new paths to take you Pokemon on during your "walks". This thing is on my belt right now, furthering me in the game as I simply walk to the fridge for a yogurt. Things obtained in the pokewalker can be transfered back to your HG/SS game at any time, your Pokemon that accompanied you for your walk may also level up!

Those who played the original Gold and Silver will find no surprises in the plot. Many story elements from the Gold/Silver+ entry Pokemon Crystal are also present, such as the Suicune side-story. At the behest of Prof. Elm, the pokemon in your top slot will follow you around on screen while walking around towns and such. Much like Pikachu did in the Red/Blue+ entry Pokemon Yellow, but this time around it can again be any of the 493. Each Pokemon is animated and grows closer to you as it follows you around. Distractions such as the beauty-esque pageants and the new pokeathlon mix things up should you choose to partake.

Battle animations and move effects are the best the series has seen on a handheld. The 2.5D works very well on the DS. The music has all been remixed though you receive an option later to switch to the original GBC soundtrack.

Whether you're a long time fan anticipating a nostalgia bomb or a newcomer wondering where to begin, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver is the destination for a premiere Pokemon experience. I dare any Pokemon fan not to get sentimental during the end game Pokemon battle with the enigmatic "Red". The character is a physical embodiment our own youth, naive, taking to a cave to shut out the rest of the world... maybe I'm reading to much into this.

Mewtwo, Tentacruel, Aeeeroooodactyl,

Written March 14, 2010

(Collected the first 8 badges and I am preparing for my first Pokemon league challenge at the time of writing this. Played the SoulSilver version of the game.)