Pokemon Diamond / Pearl

Reviewed by Cliff Bakehorn, Posted on 2007-05-07


Developer: Game Freak Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: April 22, 2007 Also On: None

The Pokemon franchise single-handedly kept Nintendo on the market when the GameCube and Nintendo 64 hardware couldn’t keep up with Sony’s PlayStation and PlayStation 2. RPG-style gameplay combined with an addictive collection mechanic made Game Freak’s Pokemon a winner from the start, and after successful games, movies, television show seasons, and trading card game editions, it is still running at full speed. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, the first traditional RPG-style Pokemon games on the Nintendo DS, are the fourth generation of the series and ultimately do a great job continuing the franchise into another generation.

The story is basically the same as it has always been. You start an adventure with a young boy or girl and set out to collect and document all of the Pokemon in the world. You also train them with hopes that you become the most powerful Pokemon trainer and Champion of the land. Combining the collect-‘em-all style with experience points and battle time is the only way to strengthen your team of Pokemon and defeat the gym leaders and rival trainers across the land, so the storyline naturally progresses with the gameplay in mind.

Due to the level-based nature of the game, it is crucial for a Pokemon game to have a proper flow. Diamond and Pearl chug along at a decent pace, introducing a fair amount of new Pokemon to catch and raise as well as capable trainers to battle. I couldn’t help but feel like the battles were too easy after a few hours; the difficulty I remember facing in Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and Silver wasn’t intact. I, for the most part, strolled straight through my copy of Pearl without breaking a sweat or worrying about my Pokemon not being strong enough to win a battle. This makes the game more accessible for the younger Pokemon fans, but seasoned veterans such as myself will of course notice how much easier the game has become. Still, saying it is easy is completely variable–after all, Pokemon is only as hard as you let it be, since you almost never have to proceed through the storyline without an infinite amount of time to level up your monsters.

Going into a Pokemon game, veterans can expect to see some encounters, locations, and even characters that are familiar to past examples and fill similar roles. For example, a veteran would expect to see that you have a rival friend who chooses a Pokemon alongside you at the beginning of the game. One would expect a Safari Zone experience (this Safari Zone isn’t any fun, unfortunately), the Victory Road challenge before finishing the game against the Elite Four, and a team of evildoers to scheme and break up the journey with their wrongdoings. You get all of that in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, as well as other familiar but not-so-harmless things: you’ll still long for the ability to Surf and Fly for a while before you’re ever able to Surf or Fly. You’ll trudge through a long, somewhat dull and random encounter-loaded cave and forest map. You’ll try to hunt down a legendary Pokemon that tries to run away at the start of every battle. Some of these annoying concepts have always ticked me off, and I wish Game Freak would rethink the story arc and flow and nix these ideas for the next set of games.

The Diamond and Pearl versions boast the most Pokemon to date–every last monster from previous games is available after a certain point, and there are around 100 new monsters to collect as well. This huge number of creatures (officially 493, in fact) is almost too hard to stomach, and I was slightly disappointed that Nintendo included all of them. After all, it makes it less important to learn the moves and abilities of new Pokemon and also makes the game feel a lot less fresh. New attacks and abilities keep the battle system from ever feeling too stale, although the battles play out exactly as they always have (I am not saying this is a complaint in any way). There are some great new moves, like Brine, which is a Water-based move whose damage is doubled if the victim’s health is already less than 50%. Some attacks have been carbon-copied and given another type, like Night Slash, which is fundamentally the same as the already-powerful Slash, but is Ghost type rather than Normal type. There’s also Grass Knot, a Grass type version of the Fighting type move Low Kick, whose damage dealt is judged by the weight of the victim Pokemon. There are also incredibly powerful attacks that are specific to the game’s legendary Pokemon Dialga and Palkia, cover stars of Diamond and Pearl, respectively.

Other new DS-specific features like the touch screen controls and the new Poketch tool are pretty interesting. The touch-based controls pertain mostly to battle, and have you touching huge buttons rather than stumbling through battle menus with the previous interface. I honestly didn’t prefer either method, they both worked equally well. The Poketch is a new Pokemon gadget that is essentially a watch that can install special programs and features to deepen your experience and help with all sorts of things. For example, there’s a Marking Map application that can been installed so you can mark locations on the world map for future reference. There’s a Day Care Checker that lets you see how your Pokemon in the game’s daycare center are coming along. There’s even an app that lets you see how attached to you that your Pokemon are.

What disappointed me, though, was the use of the DS’ hardware for superficial purposes. I am completely aware of the large amount of monsters and attacks and battles and such that load up the storage space on the DS cartridge, but I couldn’t help thinking that the DS is capable of much better graphics, even better than the nice, new graphics engine. Buildings, trees, and other environmental objects are most often rendered in 3D while characters and Pokemon remain in their 2D forms similar to those in previous games, and while the game most certainly looks nice and much better than it ever has, I am determined to believe that the DS can do much better. Battle animations are nicer, but 3D effects are rarely if ever used for attack animations and the Pokemon still don’t move much at all after they are introduced into battle. The frame rate in battles seems to be a little less smooth than it has been previously, and battles move along at a generally slower pace. I also noticed a slightly annoying visual effect while simply moving through the environment; it almost looks as if the set pieces shake slightly while you walk. The battle cries are still short sound bytes that tear horribly out of the DS’ speakers, although attack sound effects sound a lot better than ever. The music isn’t as catchy (I can still hum most of Blue and Red’s different songs) but it sounds like Pokemon and works quite well anyway.

I expected Pokemon Diamond and Pearl to be the fourth coming of the Pokemon series, and it most certainly is. These games are the real deal, they’re every bit as good as Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, and previous iterations of the series with new Pokemon, challenges, gyms, and side quests. It’s a lot more of the same with enough change to be satisfying for any gamer, Pokefreak or not. Of course, as this is written, copies are flying off of the shelves–Pokemon Diamond and Pearl were officially the fastest-selling Pokemon and Nintendo DS games in history when they launched April 22nd, but for those of you who haven’t experienced the mania on Nintendo DS, get yourself to your nearest video game store and check out one of the two versions.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8.2
Written by Cliff Review Guide

Reviewed by Cliff Bakehorn