Review: Pokemon Platinum (Nintendo DS)

Pokemon Platinum
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Developer: Game Freak
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 03/22/2009


About five months ago, I reviewed the Japanese version of Pokemon Platinum. I declared Pokemon Platinum to be the best Pokemon game since Pokemon Crystal, which remains the gold standard not only for Pokemon but for hand held RPG’s as a whole. In fact Pokemon Platinum felt like Game Freak was trying to do an exact redux of Crystal. Enemies were fleshed out more, the story was given a greater depth, Gym Leaders and the Elite Four were remixed and most of all, your protagonist ended up having a special subplot surrounding a specific Pokemon. In Pokemon Crystal it was Suicune; in Pokemon Platinum it’s Giratina.

There’s no question that Pokemon is the most successful video game franchise of all time. Its toys and ancillary products have out sold every other video game’s spin-offs by millions of dollars. It’s the most successful cartoon series to ever feature video game characters and it is one of the longest running animes of all time. Most of all, Pokemon has blown away every other video game series of all time in terms of sales and popularity, something that sticks in the craw of many a faux hardcore gamer. Although the Mario games have sold 201 million games since they came out, Mario has been around for nearly thirty years. Pokemon, however, has managed to sell 186 million in a third of the time and with far less spin-offs ala Yoshi’s Island or the wacky (but fun) Mario sports games. If you take an average, Mario has sold “only” 7.1 million games a year while Pokemon sells 14.3 million. That’s a little more than twice as many games a year. It gets even worse when you look at the per game numbers. The Mario franchise spans over over 200 video games, while Pokemon has less than 30. That’s dominance. Pikachu and friends have rightfully become the gold standard not only for Nintendo, but all of video gaming – at least in terms of profit.

I can’t deny I’m proud of this series and have some emotional ties to it. I’ve been a huge champion of it since it first hit Japan, and these days I not only pull down two different Pokemon related paychecks (Beckett’s Pokemon Collector Magazine – available in fine stores everywhere, and The Pokemon Company – not to be confused with Pokemon USA), but I am also one of the few lucky stiffs to have a Pokemon named after them. That’s pretty freaking cool. However, just because I make money off Ash Ketchum and friends doesn’t mean I’m unable to review Pokemon titles without bias. I’ve skewered Pokemon Trozei and even Pokemon Emerald for example. Still, as always, whenever I review a product I have a financial stake-in, journalistic integrity states you need to reveal it, and that’s what I’m doing here. So for those of you who are reading me or DHGF for the first title, I won’t take offense to you taking this review with a grain of healthy skepticism.

Because the US version of PP is the same game as the Japanese (save for the language being used), this is very close to being the same review as the import version. So if you’ve already read that one, expect some heavy Deja Vu.

Let’s Review

1. Story

For the most part, PP has the same plot as D/P. You are an unnamed silent protagonist as always. After being given a starter Pokemon by Professor Rowan, (albeit it in a slightly different manner from D/P) you and your best friend set out to become the world’s greatest Pokemon Trainers. Along the way you’ll pass through eight Gyms and the Elite Four before becoming the master of all you survey. Then the REAL adventure begins.

What’s new? Well actually, the plot is drastically shaken up. You’ll notice your main character is in warmer clothing than in D/P, and there’s a story behind that. There are some new stones to affect your Deoxys, a whole new plot involving Team Galactic, an all new 3-D area known as the Distortion World where you’ll encounter the Legendary Pokemon Giratina. There’s also a new sub-quest involving the Legendary birds of Kanto, another new sub-quest involving the Regis, new forms for Giratina and Shaymin, FIVE new forms for Rotom, some new mini games, a new version of the Battle Frontier, four gyms that have been upgraded, the Top Trainer Cafe which FINALLY lets you have rematches with Gym Leaders, battles in Pokemon Centers, a complete remix of where you find Pokemon as well as what moves they learn, a resort house that acts sort of like a secret base, and so much more.

I was really impressed by how fleshed out everything was. There are new NPC’s to encounter and it’s easily the best characterization of villains in the history of Pokemon handheld games. That being said, Pokemon is not really the series you go to for an exceptionally deep or well developed story. It’s light entertainment and enjoyable, and PP is a step below Crystal and Pokemon Ranger in overall story quality. Due to the rather shallowness of the myriad of characters you encounter, it’s not going to be in line for a story of the year nomination come the end of 2009.

PP is entertaining and fun for what it is, and especially for a Pokemon handheld game, but nothing amazing or mind blowing.

Story Rating: Above Average

2. Graphics

Like the plot, the graphics of Pokemon Platinum are improved over D/P. We’ve got some new sprites all around, and some amazing new Pokemon animations. Awww, Turtwig is so cute! The opening video montage actually blew me away. When Giratina first shows up (either in the opening movie or actually in the game) it was goosebump city. Game Freak really put a lot into the visual upgrade of Pokemon Platinum and it shows. I think anyone and everyone reading this has already seen screenshots or footage of the distortion world, but to actually play in the faux 3-D environment is something else.

Although it’s nowhere as brilliant as the visuals in Hi! Hamtaro Ham-Ham Challenge (Although nothing is. The game may be for five year olds, but it’s really pushes the NDS graphically), Pokemon Platinum remains one of the best looking games on the DS, sporting the widest array of character designs out of any portable video game ever made.

Graphics Rating: Classic

3. Sound

I find the music of Pokemon Platinum to be quite good, although little has changed from D/P. Sure, there’re a few new tracks like the music of the Distortion World, but for the most part, it’s practically the same score we heard not too long ago.

Pokemon still use their same standard midi squwarks, and like most Pokemon fans I’m annoyed that they could use Pikachu’s voice actress in an old Game Boy Colour game, but not in something a few generations down the road. Eventually, they’ll get that ironed out as it just sounds worse with each passing generation of Pokemon. Seriously, the DS can handle voice acting – let’s make it happen.

The new music is neither memorable nor as catchy as the original songs that are still used through Pokemon marketing to this day, but they are entertaining and add to the feel of the game and you really can’t ask for much more than that.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

The core engine of the turn-based Pokemon games is arguably the best for this subgenre of RPG’s thanks to its depth, flexibility, insane math equations used to generate stats, and how easy it is for gamers of all age to understand and play the game.

As with D/P, I actually enjoy doing contests thanks to the mini game aspects added to them. In R/S, these things were god awful boring but you HAD to do them to get certain things in the post game. Kill me now. Now, the contests are mostly optional and the gameplay is far more entertaining.

There are twice as many TM’s than in the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald generation, which allows for more flexibility for your Pokemon to learn moves outside their normal set. You’ll also need a new IV calculator to figure out how good your Pokemon are if you’re that anal. AV/EV stats are also done differently and for those of you who sadly care about building the OMG UNSTOPPABLE POKEMON instead of having fun, there are resources up online to help you with that as well. Moves are now divided into what type of contact they involve rather than all Fire moves using the Special Attack stat or all Fighting moves using Attack. This is one change really changes the conventions of the game as totally changes what Pokemon are top tier and what ones aren’t. A sad example of this is that my beloved Muk, who is one of the best Poison types in the first three generations of the game, now sucks as he has a high Attack score and a low Special Attack, and all his classic power moves now fall under Special Attack. Alas.

The core game, for those of you who have somehow avoided Pokemon over the last decade or so, involves creating a team of six Pokemon from the 493 available to you. Then it’s all about raising them, breeding them, and leveling them up until you can beat your opponent, be it CPU controlled or another person over the Wi-Fi connection. There are seventeen classes of Pokemon, which we refer to as Types. Each Type of Pokemon is strong against some other type(s) and weak against yet others. A good example is that a Dark Pokemon is strong against Psychic Pokemon which are strong against Fighting Pokemon which in turn are strong against those aforementioned Dark Pokemon. The game boils down to one gigantic game of rock-paper-scissors. It’s easily one of the deepest and most customizable RPG franchises of all time and it’s nigh impossible to find fault with the engine or gameplay.

Bottom line – this is what turn based RPG’s should play like, even if the plot and cutesy characters have their naysayers.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled

5. Replayability

When you finally beat the game and are the Pokemon Master, you find the game has just begun. There are so many new challenges, trainers, and subquests you can go out on. This doesn’t even take into account the ability to play against either your friends or random strangers from across the world. There’s also the ability to trade Pokemon with people from across the world, the Underground, Pokemon Day events like Pokemon Rocks America or the ability to get exclusive Pokemon from places like Toys R Us or the Nintendo Store in NYC.

To say that you can get hundreds of hours out of a single Pokemon cart and still find something new is not an understatement. No game out there gives you replay value like this, and it’s one of the reasons the series has remained so crazy popular over the years.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

Again, I hate to sound like such a mark, but again, this is an area where Pokemon excels beyond most other games, regardless of genre.

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 through the game (meaning fighting nothing but Bidoofs around, say, Jubilife City), 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 Pokemon with better Effort Point values. 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: Unparalleled

7. Originality

This is a bit of a hard one. In a way, this is like trying to judge the originality of say Super Street Fight 2 Turbo to the original Street Fighter. The heart and core of the game is the same, but so much is different. There are new graphics, moves, animations, and even a whole new story in Pokemon Platinum, enough to justify its purchase for those that already have both Diamond and Pearl. At the same time, it really is a face lift on D/P and one has to question how long Pokemon can keep the half steps up between generations.

I love that Pokemon tries to constantly do something innovation with each release instead of going the King of Fighters route and slowly ruining the franchise with each passing release. Between D/P and this, we managed to get Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness, Pokemon Battle Revolution and My Pokemon Ranch. That’s a rogue-like, an action RPG, a straight up battle game, and a storage device ala Pokemon Box R/S. Japan also had Pokemon Battrio, an awesome arcade strategy game, we’ll never see here in the States. Still, as much as this game feels different from D/P to make it worth buying, there is also a constant feeling of Deja Vu. Call it a thumbs in the middle here from me.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

8. Addictiveness

It’s very easy to get sucked into a Pokemon game. I know people that HATE RPG’s yet they have ended up whittling away hours or even days on their Game Boy or DS. Look at all the young children who do nothing but walk, talk, and dream of Pokemon. I go on hikes at least one a month with a Maryland hiking club. A lot of the parents in the group have Pokemon obsessed children and so whenever they bring them I am assaulted for hours upon hours by young kids who have an endless array of Pokemon queries. It’s a time sink that offers something different to each person who picks up the game. With the ability to catch both Dialga and Plakia on the same cart, once this hits stateside, it’s bound to sell several thousand new DS’ and also the new DSi. On yet another side note that might get me in trouble, I would STRONGLY advise against getting a DSi if you only play Pokemon as you need that GBA slot that the DSi lacks in order to “catch ’em all” or unlock other Pokemon. Seriously people, if all you play is Pokemon, pass on the DSi until you’re able to journey back to Johto…

Long story short: Pokemon Platinum is VERY long and it might even burn some gamers out, but most will be glued to their screen.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

It’s the most popular and successful gaming franchise of all time. It teaches kids sportsmanship and respect. It gets kids to play video games against each other long before they are able to go on Xbox Live. It’s a game that is loved by people of all ages, nationalities, classes, and gender. I know this sounds like verbal fellatio, but if there is one thing about Pokemon that cannot be understated, it’s how bloody popular it is and how the vast majority of humanity is able to enjoy it.

This is Pokemon’s strongest area and with Platinum being the best game Game Freak has given us in seven years, it’s going to make Nintendo a dump truck full of money.

Appeal Factor: Unparalleled

10. Miscellaneous

Okay. Normally this is where I talk a little bit about the extras, but here I’m going to give a little talk on Rotom’s new forms, how they differ and where to find them.

When you buy a Japanese version of Pokemon Platinum, you’ll find a special insert revealing one of the five new Rotom forms. This insert shows one of the new Rotom forms as both an art design AND a screenshot of the new form in action. There’s an actual use for the insert as well though. Once you activate your Mystery Gift ability at Jubilife Station (“Everybody happy” and “Wi-Fi Connection” are the key words to do so.), you can receive a Secret Key via Wi-Fi connection or from a retailer. Of course, as we’re here in the US, we’ll have to wait a little longer for this particular item. The secret key is only given out from September 28th to November 4th of 2008, so by the time you read this, the window of opportunity to get one in Japan is probably closed. Don’t fret though – it will eventually come stateside.

The next thing you have to do is beat the game. Easier said than done, right? Well, that’s the only way you can catch a Rotom in the Old Chateau. Once you have your Rotom, it’s off to the Team Galactic hideout in Eterna City. If you use the Secret Key between the bookcase and a wall, a secret door will open. Here you will find Pluto’s secret Rotom hideaway complete with five new electronic devices that Rotom can posses. When you pick an item, Rotom will enter it and it will disappear from the screen. Now when you use Rotom, it will have one of its five new forms, based on which of the items you chose to have Rotom possess. To get the normal version of Rotom back, you just have to go to the spot where the item used to be and press A. Then Rotom will leave the item. You can also switch Rotom forms by coming back to the Team Galactic Hideout and choosing a new item.

The five new forms Rotom can take are:
“¢ Mow Rotom, which is based on a lawnmower and can learn the Grass attack Leaf Storm.
“¢ Frost Rotom, which is based on a refrigerator and can learn the Ice attack Blizzard.
“¢ Heat Rotom, which is based on an oven and can learn the Fire attack Overheat.
“¢ Fan Rotom, which is based on an electric fan and can learn the Flying attack Air Slash.
“¢ Wash Rotom, which is based on a washing machine and can learn the Water Attack Hydro Pump.

You might be wondering what’s the point to these new forms? Does Rotom’s type change like Arceus? Nope. It remains Electric/Ghost, as it’s possessing the machine as a ghost would and providing the electricity for it to function. Instead, taking these new forms increases most of Rotom’s stats dramatically to where the new form is basically as powerful as an evolved Pokemon. Considering Rotom was pretty impressive to begin with, that’s a huge advantage. The only ability that DOES NOT increase is Speed, and that actually goes down some. This is most likely because Rotom is possessing something and thus lacks full mobility. After all, how easy is it to make a washing machine run, jump, or dodge Pokemon attacks?

So there you go! Go get yourself a Secret Key and try all the new Rotom’s out!

Keep checking back around DHGF from the 22nd to the 28th, as we are declaring it Pokemon Week in celebration of Pokemon Platinum‘s release. I’ll be giving away the locations of certain hard to find Pokemon whose locations may have changed from D/P as well as guides on the Gym leaders and Elite Four.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary

Pokemon Platinum is a superior game to Diamond and Pearl in all ways. If you haven’t picked up a Pokemon game in a few years, then this is the one to go for. It’s nowhere as revolutionary or ahead of its time as Gold/Silver/Crystal, but it’s pretty close. Even if you have D/P, Platinum is worth getting for the new story points and catchable Pokemon. It’s also the only way to obtain the new forms for Giratina, Shaymin and Rotom – if you’re into that sort of thing. Even six months after thoroughly defeating the Japanese version of this game, Pokemon Platinum remains one of the best RPG’s for the DS and a nice way for Pokemon fans to kill time until the 12th movie and Explorers of the Sky come out.

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