Pokémon Pearl review
Diamond / Pearl First Impressions Review

The good:

I've been a fan of this series since it first came out and I admit I still loyally play each new installment (of the main franchise, not the spinoffs). Personally, I'd say this is one of the best handheld RPGs of all time. It's simplicity is deceptively appealing, but strategies end up being surprisingly deep. And as each new installment adds plenty of new moves to the game, creating that perfect moveset becomes all the more challenging. That said, I'll leave a few first impressions on this game. My girlfriend has Diamond (I have Pearl) and we've both put about 20 hours in: here's what I can say so far.

The Poketch application, which uses the DS touch screen is by far the best addition to the game. It has at least a dozen different features (unlockable as the game progresses) and while some are basic and essentially pointless, like the "counter", which you manually increase for no apparent reason, others are quite useful. You can now check how friendly your pokemon are, or look in at the daycare centre in a moments notice. These applications add a much needed convenience factor and are welcomed.

The other main improvement, especially for older gamers such as myself, is the enhanced moveset. While a younger player may be more content in structuring a team of favourites (and that's certainly a viable way to play the game), older gamers tend to build teams based solely on strategy. Thus having new moves from which to draw is always welcome. Some of my personal favourites are Embargo (prevents a trainer from using items on their pokemon, which is useful for those bastard elite four who never seem to run out of full restores) and Close Combat, a high end fighting move learnable by bird pokemon.

One more highpoint, in my opinion, is the soundtrack. The tunes, while extremely simple, are often quite memorable. The town music is actually noticeable now, and the trainer battle music is a personal favourite. The soundtrack has never been a strongpoint in Pokemon, but having a decent lineup can only add to the games appeal.

I should also mention the DS's wireless capacity, which has made battling flawless. There are no more lost connections or drawn out wait times. Trades also run fluidly, despite retaining the annoying animation. Trust me, when you're trading ten pokemon at once, having to watch that damn ball launched at the sky (I'm serious) over and over has no appeal at all.

The bad:

Unfortunatley, my compliments begin to dry up at this point. Let me be clear about something - this is still a great game. But it is very much a pokemon game and it still suffers from many of the gameplay flaws of its predecessors.

Graphics take the biggest hit. I realize that there is a certain expected formula for how these games are supposed to look but the fact is that we're up to the DS now and that means 3D graphic capacity. Pokemon Diamond/Pearl look almost identical to their GBA predecessors Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald. Sure, the pokemon twitch a little bit now and the moves look prettier, but all things considered this game could probably run on a GBA (graphically, speaking). Even the in-battle backdrops appear poorly rendered and very static. Anyone expecting a major step up, possibly even into a 3D realm will be solely disappointed. Again, I acknowledge that these games follow a formula and also that graphics aren't the be all and end all of a handheld game. Still - compare this game to Super Mario 64 DS, or the CGs at the beginning of Final Fantasy III and you'll understand my point. There was room for a ton of improvement here and sadly only incremental gains are made.

My second biggest gripe with this game is the lack of new pokemon. There are about 120 or so, if I'm not mistaken... but good luck seeing half that many. I'm twenty hours into the game and I've probably only had the chance to catch maybe two dozen new entries (which balloons to about three dozen if you count their evolved forms). But the problem goes so much deeper than that. My main issue is that you're always running into the SAME exact pokemon. I'm not kidding, every area offers the same fodder over and over. Fight in the grass and expect to face either a Starly, a Bidoof or a Ponyta a good 75% of the time. Go into a cave and you'll only ever see Geodude and Zubat, with the occasional Onix. Go fishing and it's Magikarp and Goldeen, even with higher end rods. Sure, the game has new pokemon and you'll sometimes find them in the wild... but there is still way too much repetition. It is no exaggeration to state that whenever you battle in the wild it is against this same core set of pokemon (Starly, Bidoof, Ponyta, Geodude etc.) a good 90% of the time. This is made even more upsetting by the fact that the day/night feature, which played a prominent role in Gold and Silver does essentially nothing at all. As far as I can tell the same pokemon always show up at all hours of the day and night, with little to no variation whatsoever.

That's probably the biggest issue for me. A new pokemon game is supposed to offer thrills through its new members (as the gameplay and story are always essentially the same). So when a game gives you very few new pokemon to play with, as well as very few different pokemon in general, it's rather disappointing.

One more complaint is with the way the overworld looks... the new diagonal perspective doesn't really add anything and while there's nothing fundamentally wrong with it, the old viewpoint is superior. I suspect this was an attempt to differentiate the DS titles from the GBA ones but sadly, it offers very little.


That's about it. Like I said before, this is still a great game and if you're a fan of pokemon you'll know just what to expect. My issue is just that I expected more from it. I feel more could have been done to improve the series and keep it fresh. As it stands, this is really just a spiced up GBA title rehashing the same formula (a successful formula, mind you) one more time. And that's sad, because a tweak in the graphics engine and a more robust lineup of APPEARING pokemon would've made a huge improvement.

(A copy of this review is posted for both Diamond and Pearl versions)

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