How Pokemon Gold and Silver Perfected the Formula

Difficult second album syndrome? Nah, Pokémon Gold and Silver are brave and brilliant...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK. 

With a bit of time to kill before Pokémon Sword and Shield come out, Den of Geek is taking a stroll down memory lane and replaying all the classic games in the iconic RPG series. For our second trip back into the Poké-experiences of yore, it’s time look back at Pokémon Gold and Silver.

Continuing the trend that Pokémon Red and Blue started, Pokémon Gold and Silver launched in Japan first (in 1999) before hitting Australia and the US (in 2000) before finally arriving in the UK and the rest of Europe (in 2001). The games were immensely popular, with their sales exceeding 23 million units, according to a stat that did the rounds in 2010.

If you do dust off your old Game Boy Color cartridge of Gold or Silver, you might find that it still loads up fine, but has lost the ability to retain save files. This, according to a cursory glance at the internet, is down to the time-measuring chip in the cartridge, which manages the day/night cycle in the game but only lasts for 5-10 years before giving up the ghost. The first step in fixing this issue seems to involve picking up a soldering iron, but before you do that, please be aware that Gold and Silver are also available rather cheaply on the Nintendo 3DS virtual console in a seemingly unaltered fashion. Now that we’ve found a version of the game we can actually play, let’s get cracking…

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From the first moment you pick up Gold or Silver, it’s immediately obvious that directors Satoshi Tajiri and Junichi Masuda (both of whom worked on Red and Blue) were keen to revitalize and upgrade upon the original games in the franchise without losing sight of what made them great. It’s a mixture of old and new, from the very first seconds of the game. Professor Oak is still the first character that speaks to you, for example, even though it turns out that he’s more of a radio star now and it’s actually Professor Elm that’s going to kick off your journey.

Every time there’s a familiar beat, it comes with a little twist: there are still three starter Pokémon, but the originals have been replaced by new faces; you’ve still got a rival, but he’s a bonafide criminal now (who steals his first critter) instead of a mildly annoying acquaintance; your mum still packs you off, but now she’s saving money and buying items as well as kitting you out with a snazzy Poké-Gear instead of a traditional rucksack; Team Rocket are still around, but they’re now involved in darker plans (like chopping off Slowpoke Tails and selling them off); there are still eight gyms, but you’re in a whole new region with 100 fresh Pokémon and totally different gym leaders (each with a hitherto-unseen specialty to challenge gamers anew).

The Empire Strikes Back is often cited as the gold standard for sequels in geeky media, earning praise for the way it stayed true to the first film’s spirit of adventure while also splicing in unfamiliar planets, unpredictable new characters, and an enhanced sense of darkness. Arguably, Pokémon Gold and Silver do exactly that same thing, moving on from a kid-friendly first installment and forcing the franchise to grow.

Walking around the world of Johto feels both familiar and fresh, with a mix of classic and new Pokémon popping up at very regular intervals to challenge you (especially if you don’t like using Repel). The world feels winningly densely populated, with things to do in each locale (whether it’s healing a sick Pokémon, putting an end to Team Rocket’s grim Slowpoke-maiming plans, or investigating a pond of unruly Gyarados) and heaps of trainers to take on.

And thanks to the phone feature in the Poké-gear, they can even ring you up for a rematch or let you know when rare creatures have popped up in their area, which adds a whole new level of replayability to the routes and areas you’ve already completed. Admittedly, though, until you’ve got the Fly ability, popping back past several times to take on the same Picknicker again isn’t always very appealing. But when you’ve got a tough gym to face – like the brutal Milktank-touting tactics that you’ll find in Whitney’s gym in Goldenrod City – journeying back to previous locations to battle trainers again, as a way to power up your party, can start to feel a lot more appealing.

Speaking of revisiting places, anyone who’s played the Gold and Silver games will remember the thrill of finishing the main adventure in Johto and finding out that the original Kanto region from Red and Blue is now open to you. This is the icing on the cake of the game, allowing gamers to head back to the land of nostalgia to challenge its gyms once again. 

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The old gym leaders have strengthened their parties in the three years since your last visit, though, and the wild Pokémon have become stronger as well. Now that it’s positioned as post-main-game content, Kanto has become a lot harder, and redoing your past glories is no walk in the park.

This is another example of how, even when these games take you to the familiar locations of Kanto, Gold and Silver always find ways to make things feel fresh. And when you come face to face with Red in the Mt. Silver cave (instead of the Mewtwo you would’ve found there last time), at the very end of the game, it feels like you’ve come full circle in the most exciting way. Battling the player-character from Blue and Red is an epic way to finish things off, and again, it’s no easy feat to defeat him.

Gameplay notes: The core mechanics of catching and battling Pokémon may not have changed, but a lot of extra flourishes have been added: the ability for Pokémon to hold items, meaning they can heal themselves without having to waste a turn on a Potion; there is also a time system, allowing for a day/night shift that sees different Pokémon appearing at different times of day; and the Poké-Gear gadget was a fairly massive upgrade, combining map, radio, phone, and clock, feeling like a precursor for the modern smartphone. Steel Type and Dark Type Pokémon were added for the first time, too, as was the possibility to catchy shiny variants of Pokémon (i.e. the Red Gyarados in the aforementioned lake.)

Weirdest thing: In Red and Blue, the glitches in the game were arguably the weirdest thing on offer. In Gold and Silver, these technological blips seem to be fixed, but we do see some strange additions to the lore. The existence of an Egyptian-inspired culture in the Pokémon universe might be the most surprising new idea. Early on in the game, for instance, a random passerby character mentions the pyramids. Soon after, successfully completing a small puzzle with allow you to stumble into a cave where hieroglyphic-looking Unown Pokémon can be caught. These hints that there could be a region based on Egypt are yet to be fully followed up on, but they caught our attention nonetheless.

Cutest critter: Although the new starter Pokémon are already pretty cute (we’re particularly fond of Cindaquil), there’s one newcomer in these games that blows them all out of the water in terms of adorableness: the first ever Pokémon you see born from an egg, Togepi, has an infantile innocence to it that it’s hard to match. Also, carrying the egg (and then the newborn Pokémon) around forces you to have a weaker element in your party, which helps keep the difficulty level from slipping too low.

Poké-Legacy: Like all the Pokémon games, Gold and Silver‘s influence spanned out across the anime series and the card-collection game. Gold and Silver were also re-released on the 3DS Virtual Console and separately remastered as HeartGold and HeartSilver. We’d love to see a Let’s Go-style Switch remake at some point down the line, as well.

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And, in terms of the ongoing gaming franchise, the games’ additions to the mechanics mostly stuck around. Having your Pokémon hold items, in particular, is something that feels like a core part of the RPG series’ experience today. And this second generation of Pokémon was so wonderfully designed that a lot of them have become fan favorites, with their arrival in Pokémon Go being particularly welcome.

All in all, these games took the genius of Red and Blue and found exciting ways to build upon it, resulting in a release that perfected the Pokémon formula.

Are Gold and Silver your favorite Pokémon games? Did we miss any great bits? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…