As we head into both a new millennium and a new century, every gamer across the planet must have heard of Pokémon
by now--how the games were released in Japan with little fanfare back in 1996, and how it steadily grew in popularity
until it went beyond its videogame confines and turned into a global cultural phenomenon.
So how could Nintendo probably top the game that sold millions of copies, regained the popularity of an aging handheld
game console, generated billions of profits through endless merchandising tie-ins, and returned them to prominence
as a dominant force in the gaming industry?
By releasing a sequel, of course.
In Pokémon Gold & Silver, three years have passed since the events in Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow--a
nice touch, since it reflects the actual physical time; Pokémon was released in 1996, and Pokémon
GS in 1999 (in Japan). This allows a more believable concept that new Pokémon have been discovered and technology
has progressed further in those three years.
The main setting in Pokémon GS takes place in Johto, a region adjacent to Kanto, which was the setting of
Pokémon R/B/Y. You play a young boy who lives in the small village of New Bark Town, and are asked to help
out a neighbor, the Pokémon researcher named Professor Elm. It seems that Prof. Elm's friend Mr. Pokémon
(probably the worst and most laughable name I've ever heard) has discovered something important, and since he can't
leave his work right now, the good Professor has requested that you go find out what it is.
Prof. Elm also gives you one of three Pokémon to help you in your task--and this is the part where you choose
among the new starter Pokémon: Chikorita, Totodile, and Cyndaquil. Once you're done, you set off, but discover
someone who's been spying outside the Prof's Lab. This person will eventually turn out to be your rival in the
game, and his arrogant, annoying heartless attitude makes Gary Oak seem like an angel.
Helping out Prof. Elm is just your initial goal; in the course of the game, you'll discover several other goals--the
acquisition of Gym Badges in order to become a Pokémon Master, and the completion of your Pokédex.
In the process, you'll travel throughout Johto and Kanto, encounter new and familiar faces, battle villains, as
well as discover all-new Pokémon, with a lot of high-tech devices to aid you in your quest.
Gotta Catch More of 'Em
Pokémon's intrinsic appeal lies in its "collecting" feature, where you try and capture as many
Pokémon as you can, train the best ones and use them in battle when you face other trainers or Gym Leaders.
Pokémon GS introduces 100 new Pokémon of every known type and gender, including previously unknown
1st stage forms, two new types previously not available--the Dark and Steel types, and a secret Pokémon
that will only be available in future Nintendo promo events.
A new feature in Pokémon GS is that your Pokémon can now carry or equip items like healing berries.
During battles, the Pokémon will act on its own when necessary to heal itself, provided it's holding the
appropriate berry. And you aren't limited to berries either--some items will increase the power of certain moves,
while others will make the Pokémon strike first in battle or regenerate their HP.
Victory in battles results in winning money and experience points for every remaining conscious Pokémon
that participated in the battle. Once a Pokémon's XP has raised it to a specific level, it evolves, resulting
in a different form with better stats and stronger abilities. Some Pokémon can only be evolved with the
use of items such as Stones, or when traded to another Game Boy or by equipping it with a certain item while trading,
and some even evolve only when they're happy or completely trust their trainer.
All information on the Pokémon you encounter are automatically recorded in a device called the Pokédex,
a sort of handy personal digital assistant (PDA). In Pokémon GS your Pokédex has some new features
not found in the original games, like the ability to sort Pokémon by their numbers, evolution, or in alphabetical
order. In addition, you can do simple searches according to type, and there's even an Unown Mode to view all 26
types of the mysterious Unown Pokémon.
What Time Is It Again?
Pokémon GS has a real-time clock built into the game; when you start a new game you will be prompted to
set the time and day, and the game will actually mark the passage of time--day will turn into night, and the days
will march by, an innovative feature that gives the entire game a sense of realism (although in reality, I find
it hard to believe that kids will be allowed to wander around the countryside past midnight).
The real-time aspect also allows the game developers to make the frequency of Pokémon more rooted in nature--for
instance, some Pokémon only appear at certain times throughout the day, like the nocturnal Hoothoot, an
owl-type Pokémon that only appears at night.
Also making use of the time factor are the events that occur throughout the game, as in the Bug-Catching Tournament
that is held every Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and also some people who only appear on their favorite days,
often giving you valuable stuff or some other helpful advice.
In addition to the Pokédex, you also have the Pokémon Gear, or PokéGear for short, an ingenious
wrist-worn gadget that serves as a watch, map, phone and radio. Not all will be available at the start, so it's
up to you where to find the appropriate PokéGear add-on cards. The Watch is simply to tell you the current
time and day, and the Map is to show your current location, which I always like to think of as something like a
Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.
While the watch and map are no big deal, the phone and radio are something else--the Cell Phone allows you to be
called or contact important people like your Mom, Prof. Elm, and Bill for updates or highly useful information.
Occasionally, other trainers impressed by your battling ability will also ask for your number, and sometimes their
calls are the key to capturing rare Pokémon; since your PokéGear can only store a limited amount
of numbers, the trick is to find out which numbers are useful or not.
As for the Radio, you can tune in to music or shows transmitted from the Goldenrod City Radio Tower; there's nice
music that changes every other day, a daily talk show featuring none other than Prof. Oak, where he dispenses wise
advice on where to catch certain types of Pokémon, and a weekly Lottery show that awards prizes based on
trainer's ID numbers. There are also additional stations that you can get later on in the game, including a station
that plays a very useful Pokémon tune.
The Pack for the Well-Organized Trainer
Your backpack in Pokémon GS isn't the cluttered thing available in the old games anymore, this pack is a
Pokémon Trainer's dream--it's got separate storage pockets for Items (like Potions or Escape Ropes); Pokéballs
(all kinds from the simple Pokéball to the expensive Ultra Balls); TMs/HMs (those useful Technical &
Hidden Machines that give added abilities to your Pokémon); and Key Items (important one-of-a-kind items
like the Super Rod or the Itemfinder).
You can't mix items that belong in one pocket to the other, but you can arrange items in any pocket, with the exception
of the TMs/HMs--these are automatically arranged in numerical order, and even shows you a short description of
what the TM or HM does--no more guessing like in the old games.
There's also a very handy option for the Key Items--you can program items into the Select button. This feature
instantly activates the item when you press Select, without opening a single menu onscreen. For example, you can
enter the Bicycle into the Select button and whenever you want to go biking, just press Select and you're off--very
It Takes Two to Tango
Pokémon GS also introduces a breeding feature that makes every single Pokémon cartridge useful, no
matter if it's the older games or the new ones. There's a Daycare Center in one of the cities, and when you leave
two Pokémon of different genders, and depending on the circumstances or Pokémon species, chances
are that the next time you return, an egg will be found, which will eventually hatch into a new Pokémon.
While the manual provides sparse data on breeding, it's best to experiment with different Pokémon and trade
Pokémon from older versions. The resourceful breeder will find many valuable sources of information elsewhere,
and by doing so will end up with lots of useful Pokémon for use in battles or trading with others.
In addition, breeding is the only way to obtain those rare 1st stage Pokémon that were nonexistent in the
older games--Pokémon believed to exist in their basic forms like Pikachu, Clefairy and Jigglypuff are now
known to be evolved Pokémon, with earlier, pre-evolved stages (Pichu, Cleffa and Igglybuff respectively).
The Legend of Pokémon: A Link to the Past
You can trade or battle with other Pokémon Trainers through the Game Boy's Game Link cable. The Pokémon
Centers in Pokémon GS are now two-story structures with all the link-up facilities located on the 2nd Floor.
Trading is pretty much the same as in the older games, and link battles at the Colosseum now has a poster that
records your wins or losses.
And then there's the Time Capsule. This device enables you to trade Pokémon over from Red/Blue/Yellow, but
with several restrictions. You can't trade Pokémon in GS that don't exist in R/B/Y, like Chikorita, and
you can't trade Pokémon with a move that isn't in those older games, like Sweet Scent.
It all makes perfect sense in a logical way, as Bill explains it in the game--the Time Capsule allows you to trade
with Pokémon only in the past (about 3 years ago), so new stuff that exists in the present can't be brought
over to that previous period. Furthermore, you just can't access the Time Capsule right off the bat and trade your
powerful R/B/Y Pokémon into the game; it will take some time in the game before it's available, probably
to prevent players from unfairly disrupting the balance of power in the early stages of the game.
Besides the link-up via cable options, there are other goodies available only through the GBC's Infrared (IR) port;
one is the Mystery Gift feature that's rather similar to the Card Pop! feature in the Pokémon Trading Card
Game for Game Boy. You can get various items (among them rare items not available in stores) by activating this
option when you start the game, and send out items with other GB players. Mystery Gift is not available in the
early stages in the game; you'll have to find the right person to access this feature afterwards.
The other IR port feature involves the Pokémon Pikachu 2, the colored version of the popular Pikachu virtual
pet/pedometer device. You can trade over watts earned in PP2 to Pokémon GS in exchange for certain items.
While having a PP2 isn't necessary to playing Pokémon GS, it does add further to the many linkable options
built into the game, which also includes the ability to transfer your Pokémon into the GB Transfer Pak for
the upcoming Pokémon Stadium GS game for the Nintendo64.
Controls, Graphics & Sound
Controls remain as simple and intuitive as in the older games--direction pad to move or scroll through menus, Button
A to Select/Talk, and Button B to cancel. Select moves items in a menu or activates an entered Key Item, while
Start brings up the Main Menu.
The graphics in Pokémon GS are better than ever; the worlds of Johto and Kanto now have brightly-colored
hues that change to reflect the passage of time, and the various houses and shops no longer have drab, nondescript
interiors--they're filled with more detail and items.
The little Pokémon icons are more diverse, with more easily-identified Pokémon appearing on the World
Map or in your Pokémon line-up, and even terrain sprites have been increased--now there are rocks, boulders,
a variety of trees, whirlpools and even waterfalls, giving the world a lusher, greener look.
The battle graphics have improved the most; there's now a visible experience point meter that indicates how long
before that Pokémon can advance to the next level. Your main Pokémon in the battlefield no longer
sports that blocky, pixeled look, and is now rendered in superb high-resolution graphics. Combat also features
great, fluid animation, from the smooth-twirling String Shot to the screen-warping Confusion, making all attacks
Music in Pokémon GS seems to be richer and fuller than the ones in R/B/Y; familiar and remixed versions
of the old themes will be heard occasionally, but new and noteworthy music has been added, among them my favorites--the
Pokémon March heard on the radio, the Bicycle theme, and the theme music from the Caves and Ruins of Alph,
which sounds like some kind of bizarro-jazz improvisation number.
Aside from the ones already mentioned, lots of nice little touches abound in Pokémon GS; your room, for
instance, can be furnished with decorations that your Mom occasionally buys; and the various trainers that you
meet now have names--no more generic Bug Catchers or Beauties to encounter.
Fruit-bearing trees will yield valuable healing berries or apricorns for specially-crafted Pokéballs; these
trees will bear fruits daily--just take one and come back the next day to get another one. Other trees however,
might yield something else. If your Pokémon has the Headbutt ability, you can use it on trees, resulting
in some Pokémon that might come tumbling down.
The Print feature first introduced in Pokémon Yellow returns with more capabilities; you can print your
entire Pokédex or the contents of your boxes in Bill's PC, as well as Mail and other stuff that you'll have
to discover in the game.
The Final Word
So is Pokémon GS a must-have? The answer is a resounding "YES!" Not only is it a worthy sequel
to one of the most successful videogames ever made, it also sufficiently expands on the unique and interesting
Pokémon mythos originally established in the R/B/Y games, and provides innovative methods to heighten the
entire gaming experience.
One can only wonder just how much data is crammed into every single Pokémon GS cart--with 251 Pokémon,
16 Gym Leaders, 2 Worlds, real-time clock, lots of trainers and items plus its hi-res graphics, my guess is that
it contains more than twice the amount of data in the older games. There's a lot to do here: collect, capture,
train, battle, trade, breed, and more, signifying hours and hours of immersive game playing.
Time Magazine, in its November 22, 1999 cover article on Pokémon, mentioned that Nintendo had originally
planned Pokémon GS to be released as far back as Christmas 1997, but fell behind schedule when creator Satoshi
Tajiri became downridden with the flu. It was surmised through Tajiri's own admission that he faced a tremendous
amount of pressure in creating a new Pokémon game after the success of the first games.
He shouldn't have worried--like its ground-breaking predecessors, Pokémon GS delivers, and in spades. Despite
the over-merchandising, marketing hype, and perception of it as being another fad that has come and gone, Pokémon
GS adds yet another page to videogame history, and no one can deny its well-deserved place in the gaming limelight.