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Snap Judgment: Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver

I can't remember a single game release I ever anticipated more in my life than Pokémon Gold and Silver. By the time the game hit U.S. store shelves in 2000, I'd been rendered a shivering addict to versions Blue and Red for nearly two years. The promise of new pocket-sized monsters and new areas to explore thrilled me to the central of my very being -- and thankfully, the franchise's massive second generation did not disappoint.

I'm a decade older now, and while I've retained most of my love for the franchise since my middle school career, I worried that the recently released remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver, wouldn't have the same intoxicating properties as their source materials. Now that I've spent about eight hours in the game, I feel confident in reporting that these remakes possess the same gripping magic as the originals -- partially due to the infusion of new elements introduced in later generations of the series, and, surprisingly, due to the bundled Pokéwalker peripheral.

If you're wondering about the big changes which have visited the series during its past few installments, the blunt answer is: "It got prettier, and that's about it." The tried-and-true formula of collecting Pokémon, forming strategies around six-'mon teams and tackling gym leaders in a lengthy quest to be the very best (like no one ever was) remains relatively unaltered from the series' first pair of titles. Fortunately, that concept is still as strong as ever -- even though we've seen it five or six times by now.

Though they're sorely lacking in innovation, the amount of polish Game Freak has put on HeartGold and SoulSilver is impressive. Character sprites and environments both look great, the latter sharing the same 3D look and feel as the other Nintendo DS Pokémon titles. On the whole, sound has also seen major improvements -- particularly the different background music played in the game's myriad of towns and villages. Unfortunately, most Pokémon still possess their 8-bit voices, which can be a bit jarring amidst the other, far more appealing sound elements.

Though I've only scratched the surface of the game, I've already encountered plenty of nostalgia-inducing moments, like laboring over picking my starter, or exploring the puzzle-riddled Ruins of Alph. Folks who played the original Game Boy Color titles will likely hearken back to simpler, better times as they traverse the first few towns. People unfamiliar with Gold and Silver (or even the entire Pokémon series) shouldn't be scared off. HeartGold and SoulSilver, like their predecessors, are extremely accessible, addictive RPGs.

I admit that I was more than a little hesitant about the Pokéwalker -- the Pokéball-shaped pedometer which comes packaged with the two games -- before I got my hands on it. Once I began to understand its capabilities, I warmed up significantly. In short, it allows you to beam one of your Pokémon into the device, and ... walk around with it. If you take it out for long enough, it can gain a level (but only one, lest people illicitly boost their team with the help of some sort of perpetual motion machine).

As you walk, you also acquire Watts, which can be spent to play two simple mini-games. One of these lets you search for an item in a row of bushes, while one enters you into a fairly simple fight with other, totally catchable Pokémon. These bonuses can be sent back into your copy of HeartGold or SoulSilver for the benefit of your elite fighting force. Watts can also be collected and spent to unlock new walking paths, which hold different collections of items and Pokémon for you to discover whilst walking about.

What I thought would be a simple, cheap gimmick to make the title stand out on store shelves actually ended up being a neat little companion to the core game. My Pokéwalker has become a permanent staple in the collection of gadgets I carry around with me -- though I try to keep it well-hidden within my deepest, most secure pocket, constantly fearing that I'll accidentally reveal myself whilst clumsily reaching for my cell phone.

The Pokémon series is currently on its fourth generation of games spanning across four different portable platforms -- but I'll always have a special place in my heart for the Gold and Silver era. With a lengthy roster of new Pokémon, two enormous islands to explore and 16 gym badges to collect (double the amount of any other Pokémon title), it was a truly massive game I poured over 100 hours into. Seeing as how that already wonderful experience has been improved by HeartGold and SoulSilver's polished visuals and sound, I think it's safe to say the occupant of my DSi's cartridge slot has been happily decided for the next few months.

Editor's note: This Snap Judgment is based on eight hours of playing Pokémon HeartGold. As the only difference between the two versions of the title is that they each contain a handful of exclusive Pokémon, the evaluation above is applicable to both games.