Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: April 22, 2007
Pokemon. If you're over the age of 10, you probably already know all about it. The basic premise is simple: There are hundreds upon hundreds of magical fighting animals called Pocket Monsters, or Pokemon, wandering the world. As a Pokemon trainer, your goal is to collect them all while using them to battle other trainers. It's a simple concept, and yet one that became so popular that it was almost difficult to believe. For a few years there, it was nearly impossible to turn on the television without seeing an ad for something Pokemon-based, be it the anime, the collectable card game, or some sort of Nintendo-sponsored event. While Pokemania has died off in the recent years, these adorable monsters still have a devoted fan base who eagerly awaits the next game in the franchise.
The last games released by Nintendo, Pokemon Fire Red and Pokemon Leaf Green, were remakes of the first two titles in the franchise, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. While these titles sold well enough, all they really did was whet the fan's appetite for a real sequel. After years of waiting, those sequels have finally arrived in the fourth generation of Pokemon games: Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl.
On the surface, Diamond and Pearl are not particularly different from the earlier games in the series. You take control of a self-created avatar from Twinleaf Town, a tiny hamlet in the region of Sinnoh. After venturing out to a nearby lake with your best friend (and eventual rival), you end up with your very own Pokemon, given to you by Professor Rowan, an eminent researcher into Pokemon Evolution. He asks you to complete a Pokedex (or Pokemon Encyclopedia) in exchange for the Pokemon, and so your journey begins. Along the way, you'll battle an evil Pokemon organization, collect gym badges to enter the Pokemon League, and maybe save the world once or twice. As far as plots go, it is almost identical to the adventures in the previous Pokemon offerings, and no real twists occur that are not instantly predictable, even by Pokemon standards. The real purpose of the plot is to give you a chance to level up your new Pokemon.
Unsurprisingly, new Pokemon are the primary focus of this new game. With the new additions from Diamond and Pearl, the total number of Pokemon has risen to roughly 500 unique specimens. Diamond and Pearl switches things up a bit from the previous games. When you first start out, you have access to the Sinnoh Pokedex, an encyclopedia which records every Pokemon you come across in Sinnoh. However, unlike the other titles, not all of the new Pokemon introduced in Diamond and Pearl can be found in Sinnoh. In fact, many of these new Pokemon are special evolutions of older Pokemon, such as Magneton and Eevee. Instead, once the player has viewed (but not captured) all 150 Pokemon native to Sinnoh, he or she is given a National Pokedex and a Poke Radar.
The National Pokedex is simply an expanded Pokedex with the capability to record data on Pokemon from the other three big Pokemon nations of Kanto, Johto and Hoenn. The Poke Radar allows you to find rare Pokemon that are not normally available in Sinnoh by searching in tall grass. In many ways, the entire main game is simply leading up to you receiving the National Pokedex, which allows you to truly "catch 'em all."
For the most part, the new Pokemon are not very impressive additions to the cast. There are a few truly unique and interesting ones, such as the Parrot-type Pokemon that can record the player's voice and use it for an attack cry, but the designs are generally rather boring, a problem that has plagued recent Pokemon titles. However, with 500 or so Pokemon available, these new creatures not all being winners feels like a minor gripe at best.
The biggest problem I encountered is with the glut of new Legendary Pokemon, which is functionally a deity of the Pokemon world. They usually control some major element, such as the weather or time itself. Truly skilled Pokemon trainers can catch these Legendary Pokemon and use them in battle, where they are unsurprisingly incredibly powerful allies. The previous Pokemon games have each added their own sets of legendaries, usually five or so each, including one or two who can only be acquired by going to Nintendo events. Diamond and Pearl add a staggering 13 new Legendary Pokemon to the lineup, including the most powerful Legendary seen to date. Eight of these Legendary Pokemon can be caught normally, one can be acquired by trading Pokemon from your old games, and one can be acquired by playing Pokemon Ranger. The remaining three will be received via Nintendo Events. This means that you could create two new teams made entirely of Legendary Pokemon!
New Pokemon are not all that Diamond and Pearl offer to players, thankfully. The first change is one that may not be instantly apparent to most players, but significantly alters the way a lot of the Pokemon function. In the last three generations of Pokemon, the stat on which an attack was based was determined by its elemental type. For example, all fire attacks were based off a Pokemon's Special stat, and all Normal attacks off its Physical, which made very little sense for attacks such as the Fire Punch. In Diamond and Pearl, each attack now has a separate type and element, so it is very possible to have fire physical attacks and fighting special attacks. It's a seemingly minor change, but it means that some tactics that worked in Ruby and Sapphire won't work here.
The other big addition is something that Pokemon fans have been awaiting forever: online play. For a game built on multiplayer interaction, the lack of online play meant most players were limited to nearby friends, unless they wished to brave the Nintendo-sponsored tournaments, which was close to suicide for those without a hyper-optimized team. Now, players can battle and trade with friends or strangers. Players have two options when trading via Nintendo's Wi-Fi network. The first is done via Friend Codes. After trading Friend Codes with another gamer, you can connect directly to one another by going to the Wi-Fi Desk, located in every Pokemon Center in the game. Once connected, trading is a simple matter of picking a Pokemon and sending them across, without any fuss.
Sadly, the other method of online trading is not quite so hassle-free. The Global Trade System, or GTS, allows players to trade with random strangers all across the world. Rather than connecting with another gamer, players instead place a Pokemon into the GTS and register exactly what they want in trade. Other gamers will come across that uploaded Pokemon while searching the GTS, and if they decide to make the trade, the next time you log in to the GTS, your new Pokemon is added to your party.
The trading system is not without its faults, although most are based on the players, not the system itself. The first problem is that you can only trade for Pokemon you've seen in your own game. This means any player searching for an obscure Hoenn or Johto Pokemon, or a rare Legendary like Mew is going to have to somehow encounter a trainer with one of those Pokemon before he can get one of his own. The other problem comes from the fact that no limits are set on what can be traded. This means that if you are searching for a Munchlax, you may find a number of trainers offering Munchlaxes, but only in trade for level 100 Legendary Pokemon or something similar. Finding a trainer who isn't looking for an obscenely overleveled Pokemon is an exercise in frustration that is hard to overcome.
Of course, all of this trading would be rather pointless if you couldn't take your new Pokemon up against greater challenges. Like Trading, Battling comes in two flavors, one for Friend Codes and one for random challenges. Battling someone with a Friend Code is just like trading in every regard, with the only difference being that you choose to "battle" instead of "trade." Battles in this mode can be free (any level), Level 50, (All Pokemon are set to Level 50) and Level 100. Battles can be Single (one Pokemon vs. one Pokemon) or Double (two vs. two.)
Generally, the online play is smooth and free of any significant issues, although the lag can cause battles to be a tiny bit slow at times. One surprising feature is the ability to talk to your opponent using the DS microphone while battling them. It's a small addition, and yet one that works surprisingly well. Few things are as satisfying as hearing your opponent groan as you land a critical blow.
Random challenges, on the other hand, are severely disappointing. Once you reach the Battle Tower in the game, you can choose to enter Wi-Fi Battle Rooms and compete with other players across the world. However, you don't actually fight these other trainers, but copies of their team controlled by the A.I. The only Wi-Fi in these segments involves downloading the team's data to your cart. However, these A.I. teams just can't adapt to using an abnormal team, so any Pokemon team that is not built for pure power will be easily swept side by your own Pokemon — even if that same team would provide a significant challenge if a real human were on the other side. While it doesn't ruin the game, the lack of randomized online play really cuts into the endless replay value that true random online play would have offered.
The biggest disappointment is the updated graphics. Ever since Pokemon was first released on the classic Game Boy, one element that has remained consistent is the graphical quality. Oh, they may add some colors or improve the sprite quality, but the overall game graphics are distressingly similar. Diamond and Pearl perhaps show this far worse than the other titles; combat has a few more shiny graphics, and instead of remaining in stock poses for the entire fight, the Pokemon do move … sort of. When a Pokemon first enters the fight, it has a preset animation to go through, such as a Pikachu glowing with energy. However, once they do that animation, they never move again, which simply emphasizes the age of the battle graphics. The world map is slightly better, using the DS' capabilities to make all of the cities and wilderness psudo-3D, giving everything a real sense of depth. However, besides that minor improvement, nothing else has changed and most of the time, there is really nothing to separate this game from the Pokemon GBA titles, which were not known for their graphical prowess.
The graphics are unimpressive, but the same can't be said for the audio because Diamond and Pearl have the best Pokemon music in ages. Both the returning themes and the new music sound excellent and do a great job of preventing you from getting annoyed while searching for that particularly rare Pokemon. The voice chat in online play is surprisingly good and free of static and distortion, and it came across exceptionally clear for something coming from the DS microphone. I had a minor problem with the Pokemon battle cries, which still sound more like random noises than any sound an actual animal would make.
The bottom screen on the DS is used fairly well, but certain elements just don't mesh well with the overall game design. Most of the time, the bottom screen shows your Poketec, a super-advanced wristwatch with many unique functions. As you find add-ons for the Poketec, you can monitor the time, check the breeding status of your Pokemon, track running Pokemon, identify how happy they are, or simply check on how many steps it'll be until a Pokemon egg hatches. The Poketec is a wonderful addition and makes many elements much less frustrating than they could have been.
However, the rest of the touch-screen functionality is fairly lackluster. You can use it to move through menus in your backpack or to choose attacks in battle, but these controls are very awkward, to say the least. For example, scrolling through your backpack involves "spinning" a dial to scroll through the menu. A few of the mini-games, such as the Underground mining game, use the touch-screen in fairly effective ways, but the greatest use of it was the Poketec.
It's Pokemon. Moreover, it's Pokemon with online play. If you're a Pokemon fan, that reason alone is enough to pick up Diamond and Pearl, ignoring the new Pokemon and new features. Although not entirely perfect, Diamond and Pearl isn't a bad addition to the Pokemon franchise at all. It is a bit unbalanced and it is rather unashamed of rehashing the older games plots, but in the long run, that isn't the primary focus of this generation. Instead, Diamond and Pearl is about finally being able to fight and trade with your friend in the next city, state, or even country. In that, it does things fairly well. The biggest problems are the inability to face random people online and the rapidly aging graphics. If you can get past those problems, Pokemon Diamond or Pokemon Pearl are easily worth picking up.