Return to Sinnoh and experience generation IV yet again with Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes on the Nintendo Switch. With a new chibi art style and an expanded Grand Underground, can these remakes surpass their original DS counterparts? Unfortunately, for the veteran player, it’s more of a foul poffin than a perfect one.
2007 was a simpler time. It was the year Apple announced its first iPhone, The Witcher was released for PC and the first Assassin’s Creed was published by Ubisoft. In the tech and gaming worlds, 2007 was considered a rockstar year for the industry, delivering hit after hit in games, including the fourth generation of Pokémon games for the Nintendo DS: Diamond and Pearl. Like many other veteran Pokémon fans, I’ve been playing this franchise since their first generation (Red, Blue and Yellow) – and haven’t missed a generation since. This makes me harder to please, I suppose, when Nintendo and The Pokémon Company remake games I played repeatedly in my childhood.
Originally developed by Game Freak in 2007, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were excellent – and were only exceeded by Platinum, the generation’s final game. Platinum solved many of the grievances fans experienced, with improvements and fixes to the gameplay, such as Poffin-making, a ‘back’ button on the Pokétch App, new Pokémon to capture, and new areas to visit such as the Distortion World. It’s a shame that many of these improvements, then, are not included in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. As with the Pokémon franchise of late, the games appear to be taking one step forward and two steps back.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are, unfortunately, no exception to this rule. While the storyline and post-content remains intact (thankfully), there are many elements of the original games that have been changed for the worse in the remakes. It’s a shame that ILCA, the development team which have taken the reigns from Game Freak for Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, could not have strengthened the game to reach new heights. Even the cutesy chibi art style, which is beautiful aesthetically, feels so far removed from the storyline’s dark intentions. For example, it’s hard for Cyrus – Team Galactic’s head honcho – to look menacing as a cute yet creepy Funko Pop when he’s putting an end to human civilisation.
Art style aside, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl also suffer from oddly bizarre and inconsistent changes to gameplay. For instance, Experience Share – the game’s way of sharing out experience in your Pokémon team evenly – is now always on by default and cannot be turned off. While veteran players have ways and means of making the game more challenging (nuzlocke, minimum number of trainer battles etc), trainers, gym leaders and the Elite Four have not been re-balanced to account for this difficulty change. This results in a player’s Pokémon levels being vastly skewed, sometimes increasing by 10 levels or more.
With the difficulty level unchanged, this leads to another grave issue: friendship. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have half-heartedly incorporated friendship from generation VI (X & Y, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire), meaning that battle effects like surviving with 1HP and breaking through status effects, is now a feature within the remakes. Battle dialogue has also been included too, much to the frustration of speed-runners. While on the surface these changes appear to emphasise the ‘warm fuzzies’ associated with the Pokémon series, what challenge remained becomes virtually non-existent. Of course, these changes do make the series highly accessible for younger players. So, while all may be lost for veterans, youngsters will find solace in their ease.
Unfortunately for the remakes, the inconsistency with gameplay continues. Contests – now named Super Contest Shows – have been pared down so that very little strategy now remains. In the originals, there were three distinct elements (visual, rhythm and acting) yet, in the remakes, rhythm is the only element that remains, with visual being relegated to ball capsule effects (stickers) and Pokémon condition (via poffins) instead of fun accessories. The acting element has been somewhat merged into the rhythm minigame, enabling players to perform one move during the performance. You can play online with others in Super Contest Shows, however, which is a fun local and wireless multiplayer feature.
To help players appeal visually to judges in Super Contest Shows, Pokémon must be fed poffins to increase their star quality. On the DS, poffin making was certainly an art. Players had to use their stylus and the touchscreen to mix the batter clockwise and anti-clockwise – without spilling or burning – to produce a perfect poffin. Now, the Switch uses the analog stick to control the batter, removing the touchscreen use entirely. With limited flexibility in its controls, this means poffin-making is fouler not fairer.
Fortunately, there are some excellent changes that have been introduced in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. While they are few and far between, improvements like introducing a Hidden Move app for the Pokétch negates the need for your team to learn HMs, alongside the ability for a Pokémon in your team to follow and interact with you in the overworld are wonderful. Plus, the expansion to the Grand Underground, which now encompasses all of the Sinnoh region, is an excellent addition to the game.
In fact, the Grand Underground is not just the biggest expansion to the remakes, it’s also had an overhaul. Now, there are areas known as Pokémon Hideaways, where you can encounter and visually see Pokémon in their natural habitats. These biomes are beautifully presented in both handheld and in docked mode, with the vibrancy particularly popping on the OLED model. From fiery alcoves to bountiful rivers and lakes, these are exquisite to wander within. You can still excavate for spheres here too, but instead of furniture, dolls and traps, players can now discover statues and purchase pedestals to display in their secret bases. A downgrade for some, perhaps. Another classic case where the Pokémon series takes one step forward and two steps back.
Outside of gameplay and in terms of overall user experience, the remakes feel a little dishevelled. Upgrading from the D-pad to a cross-directional format is certainly a technical challenge. So, while running feels lovely and fluid, using the bicycle is awkward and, at times, incredibly frustrating. However, battle animations are fantastic, with no visual framerate drops as seen in the latest games. And while the main menu screen feels a little cramped at first, it doesn’t take long to get used to the new setup, with the autosave function a neat addition.
As it stands, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are faithful remakes in terms of storyline and post-content material. However, there are real issues here with the game’s level balancing, pared down content and overall user experience that does not go unnoticed. There’s no denying that these games are still enjoyable, especially for youngsters that haven’t experienced the originals. But for veterans yearning for a polished remake, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are a beautiful disaster.
A review copy of Pokémon Diamond was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.