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2022 promises to be an important year for Pokémon. On January 28, Pokémon Legends: Arceus hits Nintendo Switch, hopefully ushering in the bold new reinvention that the long-running series has been in dire need of for quite some time. But as main series developer Game Freak continues to toil away on the next big chapter in our never-ending quest to catch ‘em all, we have something else to keep us busy.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are the latest in a series of now-traditional remakes that allow players to return to earlier generations on newer hardware. This time around, developer ILCA has filled in for the undoubtedly busy Game Freak to revisit 2006’s Pokémon Diamond & Pearl. So, do these new Switch remakes do enough to justify a return trip to Sinnoh, or is this less of a facelift than the criminally underrated fourth generation games deserve?
For the most part, I’m happy to report that Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are bright, fun remakes that recapture the essence of the originals and offer a thoroughly classic Pokémon experience. Unfortunately, its rigid commitment to the source material can often hamper as much as help. The resulting product is a remake with some great new ideas and smart improvements that are ultimately held back by its own slavish devotion to what came before.
Let’s start by addressing the Donphan in the room: the game’s visuals, which have already become a huge talking point among the Pokémon community. The chibi art style and classic top-down perspective certainly isn’t for everyone, to put it mildly. While I totally understand that, Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are frequently terrific looking games - albeit with some substantial caveats.
One of my favourite things about previous Pokémon remakes was seeing the huge leap forward in terms of graphics. Fire Red & Leaf Green were stunning improvements on what had come before, for example, just as the Let’s Go games were. You really don’t get a sense of that progress in Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl.
That’s not to say they don’t look objectively better than their Nintendo DS counterparts, because of course they do. The overworld is vibrant and more colorful than ever before, and there are some particularly gorgeous water effects throughout. But there are many areas where it all falls short. Our dumpy protagonist looks downright odd whenever the camera changes perspective to zoom down on them, for one thing. The strange, expressionless faces of the residents of Sinnoh lend a hollow feel to the world. There are also far too many reused objects and character models appearing in every town, house, and route. I totally understand why that was a thing in 2006, but come on, it’s 2021! If The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Switch remake was like looking inside a living toy box, Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl is like peering inside an actual toy box. Pretty at first glance, but ultimately lifeless.
Battles don’t fare much better. Having recently finished Dragon Quest XI on my Switch, I don’t really understand how a modern Pokémon game is still getting away with the same dozen or so static backgrounds and unimpressive move animations. Visually, ILCA has done a great job of bringing everything that was in the originals up to modern standards. But it really does just stop there, when it would have benefited hugely from some added details and flourishes.
I’ve always considered Sinnoh to be one of the far more interesting regions in Pokémon , and it was a treat to once again get to explore it. From the lush greenery of Floaroma Town, to the blackened streets of Oreburgh, each town and city feels truly unique. There are also plenty of caves and routes to explore, each with their own fun secrets and, naturally, Pokémon to discover. It’s just a shame, once again, that ILCA did so little to change them up and take advantage of the Switch to bring them to life in surprising new ways. These are 1:1 recreations, pretty much exactly as they appeared on DS. We know the Switch can do more, and it’s a shame to see Pokémon once again fail to take advantage of the hardware properly.
As far as gameplay is concerned? Well, it’s Pokémon. I’d hope at this point in your life you’ve decided whether or not the franchise is for you. Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl follow the classic formula to a fault. You pick a starter Pokémon (Piplup, or one of the other two if you’re wrong), and then travel along a fairly linear path catching and training new monsters, collecting gym badges, fighting off a world-ending threat, and ultimately beating the Elite Four to become the champion of the region.
It’s standard stuff for the series, but I have to admit that it’s wonderfully comforting to slip back into such a long-established rhythm of building and training the perfect team of my favourite Pokémon - especially given the range of new updates ILCA has introduced. Virtually every gameplay improvement introduced to the series since the original Diamond & Pearl is present, making for a much more streamlined experience overall. Battles are speedier, and HMs are now tied to an app rather than your individual Pokémon, which makes the use of moves like Cut and Strength so much easier than ever before. You can also customise your trainer’s gender, skin tone, and hair at the start of the game, and will ultimately unlock a variety of outfits to further kit ‘em out. There aren’t that many options to choose from, but it's a neat touch.
You can pick your favourite Pokémon to walk alongside you too, although even that has its issues. Monsters struggle to keep pace with you a lot of the time as if they’re smokers out for a run, which is unintentionally hilarious. Oh, and the sense of scale is all over the place. I understand why a Gyrados that’s following can’t be the exact size it’s supposed to be, but seeing a weedy little blue snake that’s half your size trail behind you is kind of lame.
Finally, levelling your team is once again super convenient thanks to an XP Share… the unfortunate catch here, however, is that it’s impossible to turn off. Less than ideal for the players looking for more of an old-school challenge, especially since including the option to toggle it would have affected literally nothing.
It does strike me as odd with all these smaller extras, then, that a good deal of the genuinely impressive bonus content from Pokémon Platinum is missing. Remakes are usually the perfect opportunity to include any and all bonus content and become the “definitive” edition, so the lack of a Distortion World or Battle Frontier is a little disappointing.
Fortunately, there are a few areas in which Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl have definitely upgraded. Competitions are back, and are infinitely more interesting - and fun - than before. Players can enter their best and brightest companions into competitions dedicated to various attributes such as “coolness”, “cleverness”, and “cuteness”. Each Pokémon will have different strengths based on their nature and moves, all of which can be upgraded by collecting and making Poffins with your berries.
Naturally, it’s vital to pick the best monster for the job before submitting them into a strange little rhythm action game in which pulling off the right moves at the right time is key to success. It’s a neat little diversion, let down only by the Poffin-making minigame. On the DS, this Cooking-Mama-style minigame involved swirling batter at certain speeds in the indicated direction. On Switch, we’re expected to rotate our Joy-Con sticks as if drift isn’t an issue that definitely affects this console. It’s uncomfortable and kind of a pain to do, and there’s no way to use the Switch touch screen to do it instead.
The Underground also returns in Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, and it’s become a genuinely worthwhile pursuit. In the original DS games, players could explore the tunnels underneath Sinnoh alone or with friends to build bases and collect rare gems and fossils. It was good fun, if ultimately throwaway. The fittingly-named Grand Underground is noticeably more substantial. You can still explore as you did back in the day, but there are now various habitats scattered about where rare Pokémon roam freely for you to catch. It’s a lot of fun roaming these tunnels, and adds something truly fresh to the adventure.
If you’re looking for a nostalgia-fuelled blast of classic Pokémon, Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are as good as it gets. It's the classic 2006 DS adventure through and through, freshened up with a slick coat of paint and some much-needed quality-of-life upgrades. As someone who sank hundreds of hours into those original games, part of me is thrilled. The other part, unfortunately, can’t shake the feeling that the long-awaited gen-four remakes could’ve been considerably more than a pretty basic reheating of 15-year-old games.
Pros: Great mix of Pokémon, Sinnoh is as expansive as ever, the Grand Underground is a great new feature, HM app is a god-send
Cons: Uneven visuals, bland battle scenes, lack of Platinum content
For fans of: Pokémon, obviously
7/10: Very Good
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are available November 19 for Nintendo Switch. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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