Review: Pokemon Diamond & Pearl (Nintendo DS)

This is actually the first of three reviews I’ve done for the print media on Pokemon D&P. This one is about two or so months old. I’ll upload the more in-depth 4 page one later this week.

Anyway, even with the US release on Sunday PD&P had been a lot of fun. the GTS and Wireless interfaces makes Pokemon more accessible for everyone and really increases the importance of Player vs Player battles.

PDP is currently the most pre-ordered game ever and is easily going to break the 10 million mark for games sold. There’s even talk it’ll surpass the Super Mario Bros. 3 sales…if you don’t count in the re-release on the GBA.

Anyway, let’s do a quick breakdown with the IP 10 point scale and look at how the game racks up.

1. Story

This is your typical Pokemon game. Kid gets a Pokemon and a Pokedex. Kid eventually becomes Pokemon Champion and defeats some evil conglomerate. The end. They have added a lot of side story to the game, and made it a lot longer and harder to beat (mainly due to levelling). It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s what you come to expect from a Pokemon game: A well written if not rehashed and cliched plot.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Pretty game. Not the best game on the DS in terms of graphics, but still quite nice eye candy all around. Character designs are excellent, Pokemon are animated once again. Everything in this fourth generation Pokemon RPG really takes advantage of the the DS’ power compared to the old GBA. Some really nice animations include the cut scene you get of a Pokeball whipping into the sky when you do a trade. There’s also a lot of little touches like how your Pokeball opens and the flash you get when it does so. You can spend hours just customizing the Pokeball. Although, god help you if you really do.

Graphics Rating: 8/10

3. Sound

It’s your typical Pokemon fare here. There’s a lot of remixed songs going all the way back to the original black and white Game Boy games. There’s the same digitized skwarks that pass for Pokemon talking instead of sound bytes. This has always bothered me that the game text for example will have Pikachu saying “PIKAPIKAPI!!!!” but the noise it makes sounds like you’re beating a whoopie cushion with a microphone. Just take the cartoon aound bytes like 95% of the Pokemon gaming mass wants already!

The new animal sound bytes are a lot better. One actually sounds like a meow while another sounds like a squirrel. It’s gotten a lot better than it used to be. One of my favorites is the Chatot who will actually mimick your own speech when you talk into the built-in DS mike. It’s quite hilarious to be playing via the wi-fi connection and to have Chatot come out with Samuel L Jackson’s voice saying “Motherf*cker!” or with Ryan Reynolds’ saying “Cock-Juggling Thundercunt!” Oh Game Freak, you have to know Chatot is only every going to speak profanity. Thank you for this hilarious oversight on your part.

The music is catchy and they’re slowly going from GB midi’s to actual noises that sound like animals. Hopefully we’ll eventually get Poke voice acting as well.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Controls are wonderful. It’s the most solid turn based engine over the past decade, and yet Game Freak constantly finds ways to improve it. Pokemon contests now have a Space channel 5 mini game in them. Pokemon have personalities and food preferences. Move animations are more interesting and colourful than ever. Everything is pretty solid here. It’s hard to imagine a better turn based game engine. Okay, well *I* prefer the Shadow Hearts engine, but because that takes hand-eye coordination, it’s not as universally beloved.

Go up and re-read the scanned in review from Cheat Codes. This is one of the biggest RPG’s ever made in terms of all that you can do and see and interact with. The fact that the game is as solid as it is expansive is just mind-blowing.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

This is kind of a cheat here. One one hand you have a game that can only be played once for fear of losing all your saved data. You don’t start a Pokemon game over unless you have means to port all your captured beasties. At the same time, the game is so open ended, that once you “beat” the game, you find you’re only a quarter of the way done with what you can do. There’s still Pokemon Contests, the Battle Tower, completing your Pokedex, and so much more. Not even including battling and trading with your friends, you can easily put TWO HUNDRED HOURS into either Pokemon game and still have stuff left to do.

Insane. Totally insane.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

One of the nice things about Pokemon is that there is no unbeatable team. There is always a move or type or ability than can counter some other Pokemon, and there is always a counter to the counter. The only real way to assure yourself of an easy win is to run around in the early stages of the game and level up massively so that you can cakewalk against the Computer. However, upon doing this you’ll learn about a little failsafe built into the game. If all you do is fight low level characters. your Pokemon’s max potential will be limited as well. Meaning if you have a level 50 Pokemon you used munchkin tactics to plow your way throw the game, it will be notably weaker than another level 50 Pokemon on the same type that was raised by going through the game and fighting harder challenges and higher level Pokemon. This is perfection in terms of making a balanced game. It all depends on if you’re playing just to beat the main story of the game, or to make some powerful Pokemon to use competitively.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

Okay, there’s a lot of nice original content here. But at the same time, 95% of the game is the same exact game that has been out since 1996. It’s still the same story. It’s still catching a lot of Pokemon, it’s still 8 Gym Badges, and it’s still about catching them all and fighting your friends. Pokemon contests have been a stand by for two generations now. The Battle Tower has been around for three. In the end, the game is more of the same with some Wi-Fi and new baking and dancing mini games. The game is still amazing, but if you want originality from the Pokemon series these days, you have to go to the spin offs like Dungeon or Ranger.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Pokemon is crack for millions of people around the globe. Even as you read this, there are millions playing just in North America. There is so much to do and see in Sinnoh that you can feasibly play this game, and only this game, for months and not have a need to pick up any other game. Sick of battling? Do contests! Sick of contests? Trade with your friends? Sick of that? Play in the all new Underground and mine fossils or play capture the flag. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl has something for everyone to pull you in and make you a Pokemon Zombie for the next foreseeable weeks.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s the best seeling video game franchise of all time. It’s the most popular video game franchise of all time. It’s the most lucrative. it has the best spin-offs. It has the longest running cartoon in Japanese history and the second longest running worldwide. Even if you utterly loathe Pokemon, it is the measuring stick by which every other video game that will ever be made has to stive to be. If a game gets even 1/100th of the success of a Pokemon game, it’s considered a massive success. That’s pretty amazing considering how many detractors say it’s, “Just for kids.”

And you people say I don’t like anything popular.

Appeal Factor: 10/10

10. Miscellaneous

The only reason I’m not saying this is the best Pokemon game out of all the turn based games is because Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal was such a massive advance from the original game, that even today it’s astounding to see how much they crammed into that little card. Diamond and Pearl is certainly MUCH better than Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald in terms of well, everything, but compared to G/S/C, you really can see that this is more emulating the second generation and adding to it than surpassing it. Thus Crystal remains without a doubt the best Pokemon game out of the RPG’s. This is a very close #2 and if I was to redo my Top 30 RPG’s of all time, D&P would certainly be in the Top 10, knocking out RGBY.

The only thing that’s going to keep Diamond and Pearl from being the RPG of 2007 and possibly GOTY is that Persona 3 is coming stateside. The two biggest RPG franchises of all time have releases in the US in the same year. That’s some heavy level competition right there.

For now though, Pokemon D&P is the best game released in the first half of 2007 for the DS, and arguably all systems. Let’s see what can surpass it in the latter half.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

Total Score: 83/100
FINAL SCORE: 8.5

Short Attention Span Summary
If you own a DS and you don’t have this game, shame on you. You might as well flush it down the toilet.

The Wii’s Paper Mario has a much better story and graphics, but Pokemon has a better engine, better gameplay, a stronger replay value, and most importantly, millions of people you can interact with. Both are making Nintendo the company of choice for RPG quality, if not quantity this year.

There’s a reason more people are playing Pokemon D&P in North America right now than any other game. And it’s only been out for 48 hours. Anyone who thought Pokemon was even close to dying has to admit their error here. If anything, it’s stronger than it has been in 7 years, and the momentum is growing.

It’s like it’s 1997 all over again.

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