Friday, March 11, 2011

Gold and Silver! Silver and Gold! (c) Yukon Cornelius -- Pokémon Gold and Silver -- The Pokémon Retrospective

After playing the ever loving crap out of Blue, getting my paparazzi on in Snap, and owning fools in Stadium, I discovered that Nintendo was hard at work on a Game Boy continuation of the Pokémon franchise. The bullet point list of improvements was incredible: 100 more Pokémon, a day and night cycle, eight new Gyms, and the entire region from the first game available for unlock after joining the Pokémon League. For a series that, to me, was not in need of major renovations, Nintendo came out swinging with a laundry list of upgrades.

Pokémon Silver takes place in the Johto region, a western province based on the Kansai region of Japan, and it’s full of new sights to see. Like the first game, the player is a young boy setting out on an adventure to become the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer, with only the shirt on your back and the Pokéballs at your belt. Along the way, players will travel to new cities (all named for different species of plants), battle new trainers, and capture all sorts of new Pokémon.

New town, same ol' Pokémon Center.

The biggest change to Pokémon Silver comes in the form of an internal clock, which tracks the time of day. The environment changes depending on what time it is (if the game is played at night, the areas will become darker), and gameplay is affected by the time as well. Certain Pokémon only come out at night or in the morning, and several moves are more effective when used during a particular time of day.

While they do add a fair bit of gameplay variety, I was never too chuffed with the day/night cycle. It took the deep, fantasy world which I loved and tied it too strongly to the real world, and gave it a “game-y” edge to boot. Not to mention it was now impossible to try to find wild Pokémon; I wasn’t sure if certain creatures were rare, would only come out during the evening, or both. This probably could have been helped if I had bought a strategy guide, but catching ‘em all still seemed like far too daunting a task.

Though it added depth, I didn't care much for the addition of night.

Of course, more was brought to the table than just the clock. After players beat the Elite Four, they could take a bullet train to the Kanto region, where the first game took place. From there, players could journey back through old haunts and re-challenge the likes of Brock, Sabrina, Giovanni, and other old Gym Leaders.

I was super excited for this feature, but it turned out to be slightly less than advertised. When I finally reached Kanto, it had been waaayyyyy downsized from the way it was in Blue. I understand that it would have taken far too much memory to include such a huge map into an already enormous game, but I was still slightly disappointed. That said, I enjoyed grinding through 16 Badges was way more than I did grinding through eight, so the Johto/Kanto split was ultimately a good thing.

You hop on the metro to get to another region. Did I mention this game was made in Japan?

The last major shakeup was the Pokégear, a set of gadgets at the player’s disposal that functioned as a watch, map, radio, and cell phone. The cell phone part is the real kicker—players could now save the phone numbers of other trainers and call them for rematches, helping earn extra experience points.

Gold also took advantage of the Game Boy Color’s IR port with a feature called Mystery Gift. Once a day, players with two copies of Gold or Silver could Mystery Gift each other and receive a special, randomized item; the item could be something as simple as a Potion or as fabulous as a Rare Candy. Sadly, since I didn’t know anyone with a copy of either Gold or Silver, I never got to use this feature (I was now in 8th grade, and Pokémon was now for Pokélosers).

There was also the usual assortment of new TMs (devices that taught Pokémon different moves), health items (Pokémon could now hold items called Berries, which restored HP or cured status ailments in battle), and Pokémon techniques to try out, making for a fresh experience overall.

Folks like this old bloke helpfully explain the new mechanics like berries, which is right nice of them.

My favorite additions to Silver, though, were the fixes to my minor complaints from the last one. Pokémon Box full? Someone will call you and swap it! Need to level a weak Pokémon so it can evolve? Have it hold the Experience Share! Hoping the Pokémon you’re trying to catch won’t dodge the Ultra Ball you’re throwing at it? IT WON’T NOW! If nothing else, Silver was a polishing experience that made me realize how much room for improvement the first game had.

Unfortunately, I think the Pokémon franchise suffers a bit from the law of diminished returns, and while I enjoyed the crap out of my time with Silver, it wasn’t quite as memorable as Blue. Though I had a good time travelling around, I wasn’t able to remember very many of the city names (I think the original’s decision to name each town after a different color was a solid one). I also found myself falling back on old, G-1 ‘mons instead of trying the new, fancy ones introduced in Silver.

There were a few cool-looking monsters I adopted, but I mostly stuck to what I was familiar with.

Still, as a follow-up to the wildly popular original, Silver was about as ambitious as you could hope for, and succeeded in many places the original didn’t. It also helped keep the Pokéstoke going in my heart, letting me know that this series wasn’t just a fad. It wasn’t the revelation that Blue was, but it was a damn fine game, and sometimes that’s all I need.

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