In a series like Pokemon, where changes are small and subtle, an addition like the Pokewalker - a Tamagotchi-style pedometer you can transfer your Pokemon into for quick leveling on the go - is huge. and provides 2 minigames, Dowsing and a Poke Radar for catching Pokemon. The IR connectivity also makes using it a breeze, as you simply hold the Pokewalker’s sensor up to the game card, which has its own built in IR sensor.
Once the Pokemon is on the Pokewalker, he is considered “On a Stroll” and is removed from the regular game. From there, the Pokewalker keeps track of your steps, and awards experience and happiness to the chosen Pokemon, while also awarding Watts, a currency specific to the Pokewalker. Aside from unlocking new options and areas for the Pokewalker, Watts can be used to play two minigames: dowsing for items, or searching for other Pokemon to capture with the Poke Radar. Dowsing is a simple guessing game in which you select a patch of grass and look for an item, while the Poke Radar has you track a Pokemon through some grass and battle against it with a simplified menu. Pokemon captured in the Pokewalker can then be transferred back to the game the next time you connect.
Above: Also functions as a Max Repel against random girl encounters
After transferring a Pokemon onto the Pokewalker, it took about 63 steps to level up my Mareep from six to seven. Low-level Pokemon tend to level extremely quickly on the Pokewalker, which makes using it immediately fun, if somewhat impractical. Knowing that your ‘mons are leveling as you're commuting to work or school is an awesome feeling, and there's a certain nerdy giddiness in knowing your Pokemon pals are in your pocket with you wherever you go. The only downside comes from the fact that the Pokemon may only level up once per transfer to the Pokewalker. Given how fast low-level Pokemon level, you'll find yourself constantly swapping Pokemon on and off the system as you walk around in real life, so that you’re not wasting steps on a Pokemon that's already leveled up. While it’s likely to dissuade cheaters from just placing the Pokewalker in a hardware store paint can shaker and getting a bunch of Lvl 100s, it hardly feels worth the effort in the early portions of the game, as traditional battles will level your young Pokemon much faster.
It’s a minor complaint, but it’s kind of irksome that, even now, Nintendo and Game Freak still have not included ways to monitor all of your Pokemon’s stats. Ways to see your Effort Value and Individual Value stats are still M.I.A, and require you to do a number of roundabout things to track them. Advanced endgame Pokemon trainers may be a minority, but it wouldn’t require a lot of effort to add some extra functions to the Pokegear for the tournament players who are eager to breed and raise optimal Pokemon. Having to keep a notebook full of theorems and equations seems incredibly outdated and unnecessary. It could be argued that these aspects are intentionally kept obscure to prevent everyone from having top-tier Pokemon, but if all it takes is a visit to Bulbapedia to noodle out the secrets, why make them so difficult to implement?
Above: Sealocanthachu, the Fossil Fish Pokemon
The only major criticisms of HG&SS stem from the fact that this is still essentially the same Pokemon Nintendo and Game Freak have been releasing for years. It’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that HG&SS is something of a stopgap game to help make up for the difficulty of transferring Pokemon over from the original Game Boy and GBC games. All the original starters are available in HG&SS, albeit very late in the game, which is great because no one but the most dyed-in-the-wool Pokefreak is going to dust off their original Game Boy carts to trade Squirtle into the current generation. The recent (Japanese) announcement of the all new Generation V games, in addition to the rumblings of a new nVidia powered DS on the horizon may also cause the more casual Pokemon fan to hesitate on HG&SS.
Above: The Future?
The Pokewalker, Pokethlon and the myriad updates and tweaks more than make this title worthwhile, but they’re all ultimately new coats of paint on the same creaky old house. Even so, the grindy RPG gameplay is so pure, it’s still fun after all these years. But if Nintendo wants to appeal to new gamers outside the fanbase, they’re going to have to finally make some real changes to the franchise. It's more than a little ironic that in a game full of constantly evolving creatures developing new abilities and talents, Pokemon has become a virtual coelacanth, nearly the exact same creature it was in its beginning, but somehow still alive eons later.
Bakugan: Battle Brawlers? Absolutely. If Digimon was a pale imitation of Pokemon, Bakugan is paler than an albino at a WoW convention. A boring, generic spin on the already-taxed collect-‘em-all card game-hybrid introduced by Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon, Bakugan has one1 zillionth the depth of HG&SS, and none of the charm.
Invizimals? Yes. While Invizimals may someday be a worthy Pokemon opponent, it still has bugs to iron out with its camera technology and gameplay. Even so, it's got some great ideas, and Nintendo should be taking notes when it comes to the much more dynamic battle system and the way Invizimals embraces new technology.
Pokemon Platinum? Just barely. HG&SS comes out barely a year after Platinum and offers better graphics and more side quests, but virtually no new Pokemon and only a few places gamers haven't seen before. The clincher really is the Pokewalker though, as it adds a dynamic new aspect to the game that its predecessors can't offer.
HeartGold and SoulSilver are undeniable rehashes, but Nintendo’s signature polish and the Pokewalker make it easy to overlook the recycling. It’s hard to argue with a gameplay formula that still manages to be fun 15 years after the fact, but as usual, there’s little here to draw new players into the franchise.
Mar 10, 2010