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Review – Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (NDS)

Oh Pokémon, how conflicted you make us. On one hand, you’re a lot of fun. Your simple system of battling animals is easy to pick up somewhat difficult to master. On the other hand, you’re such a huge blatant marketing whore that we can’t help but hate you for it.

Pokémon is a franchise designed to sell… stuff. Lots of properties do this but only someone like say, Disney does it bigger than Pokémon. Ironically, both Disney and Pokémon use a mouse as their mascot, coincidence? Probably.

Anyway, Pokémon sells too. Kids eat up all of the toys, the card games, the peripherals, the games, the game systems. I am pretty sure this series didn’t pioneer the dual game version format but it certainly perfected it. This encourages people to own multiple copies of the same game for the sole purpose of being able to capture and control maybe a dozen additional virtual creatures. Well, it also encourages social activity among children so they can trade these creatures around. Unfortunately, no one wants to do an even trade for anything, they all want level 100 rare “Legendary” Pokémon for worthless normal types. That’s greed and a complete lack of how economies work that a million ten year olds will create for you.

And millions of ten year olds are out there to trade with. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl (D/P) is the first of the series to feature the ability to trade via the internet thanks to the Nintendo DS’s WiFi capabilities. See a neat or cute Pokémon used by an in game trainer that you’d like to add to your party. You can look for one on the WiFi network to trade for. Unfortunately you’ll likely not possess or be unwilling to give up the powerful Pokémon being requested. This is where the aforementioned balance issue comes into play here in force. Everyone is looking for Dialga, or Mewtwo, or level 100 Milotics. No one wants your Gyarados for their Murkrow. WiFi trading is not a good alternative to straight out hunting and catching things on your own.

This brings up a point I’d like to push about how broken the WiFi trade system is. It could really use a “Search for what’s wanted” sort of feature. Let’s say I have an extra Psyduck. Being able to see who out there wants a Psyduck then deciding if I want what they are offering would be much more useful than the current system. The current system being that I offer up my Psyduck for a specific Pokémon then hope some person comes along wanting to trade for my Psyduck using that specific Pokémon. Most of the time, I don’t care what I get for it just so long as it’s not something I already own.

WiFi isn’t just used for trading; it’s also used for battling. I think. Once again, the multiplayer options are a bit flawed and confusing in this game. There seems to be dozens of variations of two player battles going on in this game varying from fighting friends over the internet or fighting local players to team based battles. There’s supposed to be a way to fight other player’s champion teams as well though the teams become computer controlled. They all get initiated via different options and in world locations and what does what is not particularly clear due to conflicting in game terminology.

The key word here is friends. You can only battle people whose friend code you’ve entered. Anonymous random battles over WiFi would have been a totally awesome option in this game. Especially if there was some sort of server side algorithm for determining a balanced battle so you don’t have someone fielding a bunch of level 1 Pokémon against a party of level 100 legendaries. I suppose this would have made is possible that the other player had named his Pokémon “Penis” and some kid might get exposed to this but the simple act of not showing names would have fixed that. Besides, there’s no filters on the trading end of things and it’s not possible to rename traded Pokémon.

Anyway, enough about the broken WiFi capabilities of this game. Let’s get to the actual game play. If you’ve played any other game in this series, you’ve played this game. The only Pokémon game I have experience with is the original Blue, and I was amazed at how similar this game was to that game. There are a few new options and extras such as Pokémon breeding and shinny Pokémon and multiple hidden Legendary Pokémon that have been added over the years but the core is still the same.

You start out as a kid with his/her first Pokémon, you battle through 8 themed gyms and against an evil enemy “Team” while building an army of cute fighting critters, then you face the “Elite Four” and the current Champion.

The maps are 3D now but they are stuck in an overhead position and look essentially just like the old ones. The battles use the same cornered menu driven look. The newer games occasionally have 2vs2 battles but for the most part it’s 1vs1.

One of the main new features for the DS is the use of the lower touch screen as a Poketch (short for Pokémon Watch I believe). This takes up the entire screen and looks like an LCD wrist watch that your character would wear in game (it’s all grayscale except for the border watch part). It’s an extremely gimmicky way to present useful information on the fly while helping with the immersion feel of the game. They could have done the same thing with a pretty color interface but this simplified look helps give it some interesting charm. My only complaint is that once you get a lot of applications loaded into it, it takes forever to navigate. A “Previous app” button would have done wonders to help this. As it is designed there is only one “button” for switching applications.

The Applications range from a simple clock that keeps real world time, to a radar for finding hidden items, to mini maps that tell you where berries or markers are located. Some are extremely useful and required for finding everything. Others, like the customizable roulette reel are ultimately useless.

Now, I know I’ve been a little hard on this game, but the parts I’ve been hard on are a small and mostly unnecessary part of the game. The core game play is a lot of fun, especially if you like RPG style game play. Well, I should clarify that as “old school” RPG style game play. Modern RPGs tend to be a bit different than the simple turn based menu driven combat used in Pokémon. There is also the massive collecting aspect that can appear to a person’s obsessive need to well, collect things. The core game has 150 Pokémon in the “Sinnoh Dex”. After you complete he Sinnoh dex by seeing (not catching) all 150 Pokémon you unlock the “National Dex” which includes all Pokémon from every game in the series. We’re talking not quite 500 of the little critters.

This National Dex is of course empty until you fill it up by seeing or capturing all of the Pokémon. How do you do this if there’s only 150 core Pokémon in the game? After you unlock the National Dex additional Pokémon start showing up around the world. There will be daily swarms in certain areas, the master of the Pokémon mansion will import more exotic types into his garden, a whole new Battle Island will open with lots of Pokémon being used and to be caught from other regions. Also, you can trade Pokémon up into Diamond or Pearl from your previous GBA versions of the game. Unfortunately, this is a one way trip for your Pokémon and annoyingly, you have to do it 6 at a time to satisfy the Pal Park mini game requirements. The real challenge of this game actually comes AFTER you “complete” it.

Ultimately, Pokémon is an experience that a player is either going to love or hate. There’s not much of an “Its ok” or “I guess I like it a little” ground. It’s a concept that appeals to kids and obsessive collectors and not much else. Fortunately, it still does a pretty good job of it. Now if only I could import my Pokémon Blue army into my copy of Pokémon Diamond.

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