Originally released in 2006, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl ushered in a new generation of Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS. With the themes of evolution and creation woven into the story, the improved designs of the new Pokémon found in the Sinnoh region, as well as newly discovered evolutionary lines of fan-favorite monsters, these games felt like a remarkable step forward for the franchise. By recreating these classics, new Pokémon developer ILCA is proving it can handle the franchise’s crucial tenants.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are for the most part “faithful remakes” – as The Pokémon Company likes to call them – of their DS games of the same name. The Skeleton is there, with the same cities, routes, trainers and Pokédex of monsters you’ll encounter during the adventure. You still start from humble beginnings in Twinleaf Town, where star-eyed trainers receive a Pokédex from Professor Rowan and their choice of starter Pokémon. From there, you’ll meet your friends and rivals, Dawn and Barry, and embark on a journey to conquer eight Gyms and become champions of the region. You will also discover Team Galactic’s plans to harness the energy of evolution and the legendary creation duo Dialga of Palkia. Nothing in the story is new or surprising, but I found that acceptable – and better – after being away from Sinnoh for over a decade.
ILCA chose to recreate the chibi characters of the DS games in 3D while maintaining the top-down perspective of the world, emphasizing the sense that these remakes stay true to the source material. This is a departure from how previous remakes have modernized their graphical styles and feature sets. That’s not to say the images look dated. New graphics improvements to lighting, shadows and water look great. The abundance of reflections on surfaces around the world and especially during Pokémon battles is also impressive. Unlike overworld characters, battles use full-sized Pokémon and trainer models with unique environments determined by your location in the world. These scenes look great and are usually free of framerate drops or the lag that plagues other 3D items in the series.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl deviate from the mechanical blueprint, with varying degrees of success. Newer innovations like autosave or the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of moves in battle are great additions, which I always love to see. Also, Pokémon no longer need to learn HMs to use moves like Rock Smash or Cut to navigate puzzles or obstacles in the world, something that would have taken a move lock in the original titles. On the face of it, EXP Share is a great way to cut down on unnecessary grinding to ensure your lesser-used Pokémon are ready for battle. However, the developers have not taken any steps to balance this feature and there is no way to disable EXP Share. As a result, my teams felt over-leveled as the game progressed, making big matches against Team Galactic or one of the Gym leaders feel easy and insignificant. I steamed through challengers on the surface of Sinnoh and had to find more formidable enemies elsewhere.
My favorite place to explore was the Grand Underground, a huge underground cave system that lies beneath the surface of Sinnoh. I’m serious, this place is huge and roughly the size of the main map. Here you will dig for countless gems, fossils and statues in the walls and hideaways. These hideouts are larger areas in the Grand Underground, complete with biomes and higher level Pokémon you wouldn’t normally find above ground, many of which are not part of the standard Sinnoh Pokédex. I found the challenge I sought above ground in these Hideaways as I captured new, exotic creatures to diversify my team. Players can create secret bases by digging customizable chambers in the cave wall. By placing special Pokémon statues in these rooms, I changed which monsters I found in the Hideaways. Those who want to catch them all will have to spend a lot of time in the Grand Underground, digging up precious objects and adjusting image combinations to fill the Pokédex.
Other activities include the Pokémon pageants called Super Contest Shows, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. You will wow judges with a simple rhythm game and unleash a pre-selected attack at the perfect time to score points. I also loved customizing my Pokéballs with the Ball Capsule System. With an elaborate system of Diamond and Pearl, you can put different stickers on the capsules to create unique animations and earn extra points when you throw a Pokémon in these Super Contest Shows. Stickers add cool flames, bubbles, sparks or musical notes to give an extra bit of flash and bloom, bringing a level of personalization missing from the DS games. In fact, your Ball Capsule animations appear in battles, but don’t affect how battles go in any way.
While Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl don’t change the needle in terms of how Pokémon games will look and play, they usually hit the mark by staying true to the originals. I really enjoyed my time re-exploring Sinnoh, despite my qualms about the lack of critical path difficulties. They’re a welcome throwback to a simpler time when I felt completing a Pokédex was a somewhat realistic task to undertake. Veteran trainers will find plenty here to scratch a nostalgic itch, and new trainers who missed the first time have a solid adventure to embark on.