When the original Pokémon Game Boy title debuted, I don't think even Nintendo's closest insiders could have anticipated the kind of insane endurance and head-scratching international popularity the franchise has enjoyed over the years. After all, not only was this title strangely different from most other games in concept, but all outward appearances gave the impression that this was a game tailored to the often fickle taste of the Japanese populace, who are known for buying in and out of fads faster than the time it takes Michael Johnson to complete the 400-meter sprint.

Yet the thing that Pokémons most ardent pundits failed to understand about the runaway success of the franchise is that it wasnt built purely on aggressive advertising or sound business strategy. The main reason why Pokémon flourished—single-handedly elevating portable gaming to a new plateau in the process—was that it was simply a great game. It's still hard to believe that with all the catchy "gotta catch 'em all" jingles, feature films, Saturday morning cartoons, collectible toys and trading cards flooding the market, at the end of the day, innovative design and addictive gameplay prevailed above all else.

The main objective of the original game was to capture, accumulate and train squads of little wild beasts affectionately known to as Pokémon and pit them in friendly sportsman-like battles against other trainers and their team of Pokémon. Of course what made the title so unique and popular was that there were two versions of the game (Blue and Red) and players needed to digitally trade found Pokémon (some available only in one version) with one another in order to round out their roster and complete their Pokédex (a electronic directory of all existing Pokémon) listings.

The sequel follows an identical format, only this time around with Gold- and Silver-colored editions. The latest entries are no longer the quantum leap in design that their predecessors represented, but the games are still of impeccable quality in nearly every facet of their production nonetheless. And just because the titles aren't a quantum leap in design doesn't mean that the developers over at Game Freak didnt try to add more diversity and improve on the previous efforts, either. There is certainly a long list of new features—many of which are notable.

Chief among them is an internal real-time clock, which actually keeps track of the day of the week and time of the day in accordance with reality. Not only do the environments change visually to match the morning, afternoon and night times, but the gameplay dynamically shifts as well. For instance, some Pokémon will only appear during the day, while others will only appear at night. Some events may only occur on particular days of the week, while some people can only be located at certain times of day. Beyond just a gimmick, the time feature is definetly one that the developers thought through and implemented into the gameplay nicely.

As for the actual Pokémon themselves, the original roster of 152 has now been updated to over 250. In addition to all the regular favorites, new Pokémon of every conceivable size and shape have been included. Along with that, there are also plenty of new attacks, abilities, evolutions and types of Pokémon. In addition to typical methods of acquiring Pokémon (i.e. trading, capturing), there's also a new breeding feature. Carefully breeding different male and female Pokémon together may result in the birth of new types of Pokémon that can't be found through any other method. Some of those new Pokémon designs are of questionable quality, but for the large part most hold up and stay within the style of the original designs that have become so lovable and enduring.

On top of all the new features, just about everything else about the game has been polished to craftsmanlike quality. Graphics and sound, while impossible to describe as technically impressive in this day and age of whiz-bang 3-D graphics, can still be described as attractive and spotless. Nearly every part of the interface has been tweaked and streamlined. Organizating Pokémon and items has been made many times easier thanks to the inclusion of some nifty features like the ability to assign the use of certain items to the "select" button, or the updated file-manger style organizer for Pokémon boxes.

In the end, there's nothing terribly wrong with Pokémon Gold/Silver. The new features held my interest, the game is still loads of fun and can be rather engaging at times. I just wouldn't describe the title as truly ground-breaking. It delivers what I expected in a nice all-around package. What ultimately kept it from achieving a higher rating was that despite all the extra additions, it doesn't really seem all that dramatically different from its predecessor. It's a great sequel only in a evolutionary sense, but still worthy of Nintendo's great moniker. Rating: 8 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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