Since 1996, Pokemon has been an unstoppable monster on both sides of the Pacific. In Japan, Pokemon games helped push sales of the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS through the roof and you can find Pikachu and company just about anywhere. While the marketing craze has died down in North America, the popularity of the Pokemon games remains.
So it should have come as no surprise that Pokemon Pearl — alongside sister game Pokemon Diamond — has already sold over a million copies. We’ve already seen three spin-offs of the series on the DS in Pokemon Dash, Pokemon Trozei, and Pokemon Ranger, but not a full Pokemon RPG game until now.
However, it’s certainly been worth the wait. The franchise’s first major incarnation on the DS is not only an unbelievably fun time, but it pumps brand-new life into the 11-year-old franchise.
Once again, the Pokemon series finds itself in a new land, but with a very similar story. Starting off from Twinleaf Town in the land of Sinnoh, you set out on a quest to become a Pokemon legend, raising a team of Pokemon and battling other trainers, gym leaders, and your rival – this time an overeager and impatient friend of yours. However, other forces are at work in the form of Team Galactic, the token mysterious group with intentions to bring about a new universe. You’ll also be helping Sinnoh’s resident Pokemon expert complete a new Pokedex, a very familiar task for Pokemon veterans.
Pokemon Diamond/Pearl builds off the features that past games in the series have brought us, while adding in some appreciated new ones. The Pokedex is now easily scrollable with the touch screen and stylus and includes much more information, including keeping track of the different genders of Pokemon, the ability to check their weight and height in comparison to your character, and for audiophiles, the ability to play around a bit with the natural cries of each Pokemon. The day and night cycles are more visually distinct in Diamond/Pearl, as you’ll be able to tell whether you’re in the morning, afternoon, evening, or at night. Like in past games, this plays into when you can certain types of Pokemon, and each version of the game has a few Pokemon that can only be found in that specific version.
Of important note is the Poketch, a new device that’s similar to the old Pokegear from Pokemon Gold and Silver. Not only does it work as an in-game clock, but it also has 24 other applications that can be acquired over time, including a calendar, touch-screen calculator, friendship checker, daycare monitor and pedometer. Some of the applications are not always useful, but the majority of them are.
Still, even with all of these new features, the same-old game play core remains intact. If you’ve ever played a Pokemon game before, then Diamond/Pearl will seem very familiar. You’ll battle with your team of Pokemon by deciding what attacks to use, as well as capture wild Pokemon in a similar manner. What makes Diamond/Pearl different is the use of the touch screen and stylus, allowing for quicker and more precise controls during battles. The trainer’s backpack, Pokemon status screen, and Pokedex all have received some level of touch screen control that makes them quicker and easier to navigate.
In battles, the touch screen provides a quick way of accessing items from the backpack, a very welcome addition. Controlling your character is still done with the directional pad, and most of the other basic controls from the Pokemon game remain as is. Two-on-two battles, which first debuted in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, are once again back, and they’re really not too much different, other than that you’ll actually know this time around when you’re about to jump into a two-on-two battle.
There have been complaints about Diamond/Pearl not making the jump to 3-D, given the DS’ superior processing power over the Game Boy Advance. However, if anything’s for certain, it’s that Game Freak has proved time and time again that 2-D can be just as beautiful as 3-D. The game takes on a “flattened” 3-D perspective for buildings, trees, etc. while keeping characters and Pokemon in a detailed, sharp 2-D perspective. It isn’t the first time Game Freak has gone this way — their GBA title Drill Dozer pulled off similarly detailed 2-D graphics — but it’s not too big of a deterrent. Similarly, the sound has received a boost over past Pokemon titles, sounding crisper and better overall.
Like any past Pokemon game, there are still plenty of secrets to uncover and plenty of Pokemon to go catch after you’ve beaten the core game. The Nintendo DS’ Wi-Fi capabilities, though, greatly expand the replay value by letting you trade or battle anyone else with a DS and a copy of the game. The game also has global Wi-Fi capabilities, as well as the ability to chat wirelessly over the Internet with the wireless DS headset attachment. The only downside is that those oh-so-annoying Friend Codes rear their heads once again, and you’ll need to use them in order to go global.
After years of slowly building and expanding the series, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl is the biggest leap forward that the Pokemon franchise has seen since Pokemon Gold and Silver. Perhaps it’s ironic that Gold and Silver were the last Pokemon games to really draw me in for hours at a time. While features like two-on-two battles and sensitivity to the time of day might not be new, Diamond/Pearl executes these features in a way that greatly improves upon their use. Even if the same basic storyline has been used since the first Pokemon games have come out, there’s no denying that Diamond/Pearl is the best Pokemon game to come out in quite a while.
Pokemon Pearl is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.