POKEMON GOLD AND SILVER (2001) – Game Freak
A few weeks ago, Pokemon Black & White were finally released in the United Kingdom, and my friends (who are all hip and have a DS…or a 3DS) all rushed out to buy it. My level of interest in Pokemon is perhaps not as high these days as it was back when I was 10 (still playing Red & Blue for the win), but I know enough about the series to notice a certain lack of excitement amongst my friends as the weeks have passed. Sure, they have continued to play Black & White, but there doesn’t seem to be the same spark or joy anymore. I personally blame the new cast of Pokemon; when you have to base one on a bag of rubbish (which for months I thought was a troll), you get the sense Game Freak are running out of ideas.
Which brings me neatly to the issue of the 2nd generation of Pokemon, with Gold & Silver. The first generation had taken the world by storm, and we were all eagerly awaiting the next adventure, where we were promised a new land, and 100 brand new Pokemon. The point is, at this time it was the first time Game Freak had pulled this trick, so we were all still interested and bought it. And I’m happy I did, because Gold & Silver picked up where Red & Blue had left off and improved it.
Plot wise, Gold & Silver are nothing special to be honest. Like in Red & Blue, you start off as a youngster in a small town, receive a starter Pokemon from the local Professor (the grass type Chikorita, the water type Totodile, or the still mighty fire type Cyndaquil), and then set out to become the Champion. This time round though, you have a mysterious rival who shows up at various points, the remnants of Team Rocket carrying out devious plans, and the small issue of three Legendary Dogs and two Legendary birds (the game mascots, Lugia and Ho-Oh) to deal with. It would be doing it a disservice to say it’s a bad story, but if you have played the original it is all a bit samey. Even with the opportunity to go back to the original region of Kanto and defeat the original eight Gyms all over again it’s a tad disappointing; it’s nice to see the changes to the environment such as the introduction of the railway to Saffron City, but by the time you get to Kanto the Gym Leaders are very under levelled and do not provide a great challenge.
Gold & Silver also sparked off the fierce debate amongst the gaming community about the new range of Pokemon on offer to capture. I consider myself a traditionalist in this argument; the original 150 are the best and there is no changing that. Admittedly, there are some great Pokemon from Generation Two: I love Typhlosion, Houndoom and Umbreon (critically because the newly introduced Dark type could crush the almighty Psychic type), but for the most part the new Pokemon were either not as useful as some of the Generation One Pokemon, or just completely forgettable. It is unfortunate that this is a trait that has somewhat continued in the later games.
Be thankful then that Gold & Silver revolutionised the gameplay mechanics for the series. The basic ‘raise Pokemon, beat trainers and Gym Leaders, catch better Pokemon’ dynamic is still in effect, and the battling system has not changed: you still have options to fight, run, change Pokemon or use items. This didn’t need changing however, as it worked perfectly fine in the last game. It’s the changes to everything else where the game really shines. First of all, they fixed everything that was wrong or awkward with the first game; menu’s are no longer anywhere near as cumbersome, Pokemon have an experience bar on the battle screen to show how close they are to levelling up, there’s a Move Deleter that allows you to get rid of moves from Pokemon, and you could assign an item like a fishing rod or a bicycle and use it instantly with the Select button. Game Freak then proceeded to put in some excellent new features. There is an active day/night system that works on a 24 hour basis, which affects which Pokemon you will encounter in the wild and events within the game world. You could now breed Pokemon, ensuring that you got the Pokemon that you wanted with unique move sets and stats and giving Ditto a proper use in game. Pokemon could now hold items which affected battle performance, raised health or gave more money and experience. You had something called the Pokegear, where you could listen to a radio station and call other trainers for rematches. You basically got the feeling that the game world had been expanded and it does work out very nicely indeed. Add on the still fantastic ability to battle other people via Link Cable and compatibility with the N64 game Pokemon Stadium 2, and you have a game that does more than enough to surpass the original.
Gold & Silver also changed the graphics for the better. Whereas Red & Blue is bathed in black and white colours, Gold & Silver are in full colour, making the game world much more attractive as a result. The grass is actually green, the sea is actually blue, and having the Pokemon themselves in colour gives them a better personality. It does not perhaps have the same retro feel that Red & Blue managed to achieve so well, but quite clearly utilising the power of the console is the way to go. On the other hand I was personally a bit disappointed with the soundtrack for Gold & Silver; some tracks such as the standard Trainer fight and Fight with Lance stand out as being utterly brilliant, and the remixes of some of the tracks from Red & Blue are nice to hear again, but overall it does not capture the same brilliance that the original had.
Overall then, Gold & Silver are pretty solid games. This did not stop Game Freak however from creating an upgraded version in the form of Crystal, released a year later which introduced moving Pokemon sprites, the ability to become a girl trainer, and the Battle Tower. I quite liked Crystal, especially with the slightly tweaked storyline that brought Suicune into the plot as an important character. Game Freak would then go one step further many years later, completely remaking Gold & Silver for the DS in the form of Heart Gold & Soul Silver. I have not personally played these versions, but I have it on good authority from my friends who have that they are faithful remakes that incorporate gameplay from later generations well. If nothing else, it proves as to how popular Gold & Silver were that they were given remakes.
To conclude then, Pokemon Gold & Silver are great games. They refined the original and vastly improved the gameplay for the series as well as tweaking the aesthetics to make it more pleasing on the ears and eyes. However, for me all the improvements in the world can not give Gold & Silver the charm that the original had. The repetition of the story and the lack of new engaging characters brings the mark down slightly. Still, if you ever find yourself with a Game Boy Advance and a long journey ahead of you, then Gold & Silver can still raise a smile.