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Review: Pokemon Gold

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Street sharks were no laughing matter

Pokémon for me personally was a defining piece of media growing up. I can still recall recess at school and seeing groups of kids huddled around Game Boy screens or playing the card game. I even remember the first episode of Pokémon I ever watched -- “Mystery at the Lighthouse” -- in which Ash caught a Krabby, the gang met Bill for the first time in his bizarre Kabuto costume, and the insanely overgrown Dragonite that left me in awe and immediately hooked on all things Pokémon.

I also still remember the fever pitch and hype surrounding the second generation of Pokémon. I remember all the playground rumors, such as Marill being some sort of evolution of Pikachu or Pichu, or speculation on new legendary Pokémon and talk of a “Mewthree.”

This is something I can't genuinely say about other forms of media I consumed growing up. For instance, I couldn't tell you what the first episode of Street Sharks I watched was, or even what the show was remotely about...other than the insanity of it all and the very real fear I then had growing up of bi-pedal sharks chewing through the cement I was walking on at any given moment.

But, what I can tell you is this: Pokémon Gold is without a doubt a shining example of a sequel done right.

Pokémon Gold (Game Boy Color, 3DS [reviewed])
Developer: Game Freak 
Publisher: Nintendo 
Released: November 21, 1999 (JP GBC), October 13, 2000 (AU GBC), October 15, 2000 (US GBC), April 6, 2001 (EU GBC),  September 22, 2017 (3DS eShop)
MSRP: $9.99

Even after all these years, in many aspects it still holds up incredibly well. Entering Goldenrod again for the first time in the middle of the night brought on a wave of nostalgic feelings and memories for me, a wave of liquid I wanted to then drown myself in. The soundtrack in this game is easily one of the best on the hardware.

As well as the incredible art direction and sprite work on display for all 251 Pokémon, obviously these games weren't a graphical marvel by any means. But considering what they accomplished given the hardware -- it was impressive, to say the least. Something about night in this game, for example, was oddly comforting to me and was my preferred time to play at. I think it's the little details, such as the windows being lit up.

The day and night cycle was also one of the many features introduced to the second generation of Pokémon, allowing you to capture different Pokémon at different times of the day, as well as the introduction of a weekly calendar. Throughout the week you could meet different NPCs, find specific Pokémon such as Lapras in the Union Cave, or even compete in the bug-catching contest on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday where you'll spend what feels like an eternity looking for either a Scyther or Pinsir -- only to then come second place to a Venonat!

In terms of gameplay, the Pokémon formula hasn't changed much over 20 years. It's a run-of-the-mill turn-based battle system with different elemental weaknesses, but don't fix what isn't broken, right? Well, in this case, Game Freak certainly has taken that to heart over the years. But, they also did attempt to fix some mechanics in the original games that needed some fixing -- specifically the psychic types.

These Pokémon (I'm looking at you Alakazam), were drastically overpowered and had little to worry about in terms of weaknesses in the original games. So in response to this, Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced two new types to balance things and specifically combat psychic types in the form of dark and steel type Pokémon. Despite all this though, dark types were far and few between (as were steel types). Meanwhile, Alakazam or even Kadabra, for that matter, still had ridiculously high special attacks.

Which brings up the next attempt at balancing the second generation meta, the attack split. This generation would introduce “special attack.” Both attack and special attack were broken up by the various elemental types, so for example: Psychic and water moves were considered a special attack, while normal and fighting moves were considered physical attacks.

The attack split did some good for certain Pokémon, but also did some harm to others -- take Gyarados for instance. One would assume Gyarados would be an incredibly strong water type Pokémon, but that assumption would be wrong. Which is pretty odd considering Gyarados is even featured in the story of the game, and for many people, was their first encounter with the newly introduced shiny Pokémon.

As I mentioned earlier, water type moves fall into the special attack category and Gyarados ended up with horrendous special attack, on top of already having a horrible move pool in the second generation. Throw in water moves being special attacks, and Gyarados would end up being a pretty terrible water type Pokémon in generation 2 and was hardly used in the competitive meta because of this. Which is a shame, because Gyarados looks damn cool.

But that's okay, I just simply traded my Squirtle over from Pokémon Red for my water pick! Which brings up another feature added in the second generation: the ability to trade with the previous games through the time machine system. Now of course, you can't trade second generation Pokémon and Pokémon that know second-generation moves over to the previous games. But on the 3DS versions you can now also do this all wirelessly and the Virtual Console releases even support the Pokébank, allowing you to transfer over first and second gen Pokémon all the way over to Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon -- which is a pretty cool new feature in general.

The second generation would also introduce genders and breeding, allowing you to breed various Pokémon to obtain new baby Pokémon such as Pichu, Elekid, and Togepi. You can also breed various Pokémon within the same egg group to create Pokémon with moves they wouldn't normally learn. The overall breeding mechanic is fairly complex, especially in the later generation of games, and was a great new addition to Pokémon overall.

This generation would also debut tons other features, such as various new items you could equip to Pokémon. Items such as the Exp. Share, which make it easier to raise lower-leveled Pokémon, as well as berries and items that had different effects -- such as making certain move-types more powerful or evolving Pokémon when traded. However, not all the new features were solid. Take for example the introduction of new types of Poké Balls through apricorns.

Throughout your journey you can collect apricorns and bring them to Kurt in Azalea, who then turns them into new types of Poké Balls depending on the apricorn given to him. Problem is, it took a real-time 24 hours to create this Poké Ball. Which, considering you'd only get a single Poké Ball out of it, it was a feature I rarely ever used and was greatly improved upon in future games, simply by allowing you to buy different types of Poké Balls at different towns and locations. So when returning to the second generation, this just feels like a waste of time now.

As for the overall story, the Pokémon games have never been complex in terms of writing, and this was especially so in the older generations. Pretty much all the encounters will be just a blanket statement followed up by a battle. Much of the game is left to the imagination, but that still works incredibly well, because the combat and mechanics are still very fun and addictive.

The Johto region itself is filled with plenty of interesting locations to explore. Take for example the Ruins of Alph. My mind ran wild with speculation when I encountered the puzzles and Unown for the first time -- not to mention that spooky radio signal you could tune into.

Throw all this in with the ability to explore the previous Kanto region, minus a few notable locations such as the Safari Zone, and you have a game filled to the brim with hours on end of content. Pokémon Gold certainly isn't a perfect game, it's not even the best version to play anymore, but it absolutely built and expanded upon the original Pokémon games, and in my opinion forever cemented Pokémon in pop-culture.

Even today with Pokémon riding high with the release of Pokémon GO and Pokémon Sun and Moon, coming back to the second generation, it's surprising how mechanically solid these games still are. Even if they aren't exactly the most complex JRPGs you'll be playing anytime soon, catching them all is still just as addictive as it's ever been and ever will be.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]


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Pokemon Gold reviewed by Dan Roemer

9

SUPERB

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Dan Roemer
Dan RoemerContributor   gamer profile

Dan Roemer unironically likes pop-punk, collects old gaming magazines, and writes about video games. He's been enjoying and dabbling in Destructoid content since 2014. His life goals are pretty ... more + disclosures


 



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