It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a Pokemon game. Over a decade, in fact. I haven’t played since college (What? We were young and curious, those things happen at college…) and even then I think I ended up watching more of the cartoon show than playing the game. So when I had the chance to try out the latest and greatest edition of Pokemon, I decided I’d give it a shot.
Before I even started playing, though, I thought I’d get a sneak peak and check out the strategy guide for Pokemon: Platinum. Or should I say strategy phone book? I believe it weighed in at around 2000 pages and 50 pounds. Seriously, I saw a small child’s arms snap in two as he tried to carry a copy up to the checkout. No game should have an unabridged dictionary for a guide, it’s unhealthy. But there it was, in all it’s sparkly glory. Flipping through the book, I felt mixed feelings of horror and relief. Relief in that the 500 or so Pokemon in one of the indexes were not all in this game (I’ve mentioned my game-based OCD before) and therefore would not have to be caught in order for me to sleep again, but horror in the insane amount of detailed information this guide provided. Paths, moves, items, contests, eggs. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just say that there was certainly a lot more to the game than there was the last time I played.
The first thing I noticed when I started playing was that there were 3 new Pokemon to choose from; a turtle with a sprout, a flaming monkey, and a penguin. No question here. Always go with the flaming monkey. Sadly, his special attack wasn’t what I thought it would be, but then this is a kids game, so I guess that’s fair. Right away I could tell what 10 years of development had wrought. Better graphics, obviously, and the sound was pretty good too. The chirps of the critters left me wondering if my DS was dying, but it seemed to be part of the game so I shrugged and moved on. The gameplay felt the same; wander, fight, repeat. My Pokemon still had various moves to choose from, leveled up, and evolved just like I remembered. It was mostly new creatures at the start, and to be honest, they felt a bit watered down. The rat-thing had been replaced by a fluffy hamster-thing, for example. Same concept, but rounder and cuter. Everything seemed rounder and cuter, come to think of it. But I suppose when you’re pushing 500 different pocket-sized monsters you start to feel the creative burn a little bit, so it’s understandable.
As I started to fiddle with the menus and options, I really took notice of how much had changed. The setup of everything was much more polished, from the pokedex to the selection screen. And there was much more information, too. I could find out the gender, height, weight, personality and eating preferences of my Pokemon, as well as equip them with an item and discover their special ability. Both of these, by the way, are great advances that really add to the strategic experience. Your Pokemon can now take items into battle with them to allow them to attack faster, or heal, or whatever. They’ve also got unique abilities like automatically lowering enemies defense or having a complete immunity to certain enemy attacks. I have to say, I really liked this addition. It felt like a natural progression and anything that adds to the levels of strategy really increases the overall value and playability of a game. Of course, this wasn’t the only change they made.
Remember, I haven’t so much as looked at a Pokemon screen since Red, so I was a bit surprised to see the screen change from day to night to match when I was playing. Nor was I expecting the ability to breed Pokemon. Both of these were nice additions, nothing special, but cool nonetheless. The dress-up addition, on the other hand, kind of hit me out of the blue. We already force these poor creatures to live inside some kind of hyperdimensional space in a spherical cell and battle for our own amusement and monetary reward; do we really need to put a wig on Machop and make him have a tea party with our other dollies? I understand that there are contests and whatnot later on in the game, but putting forth the time and effort to get accessories, trade items for more accessories (and backgrounds), dress up your Pokemon and take pictures of them feels a little… I dunno… creepy? I keep picturing Steve Buscemi in Con Air singing with a dirty trailer-park Clefairy. *shudder*
Anyways, back on to happier topics. The wifi connection is a great addition for the series. Making the trade of Pokemon an almost necessary part of the game was a brilliant marketing idea, but not so practical the first time around. Not everyone had a friend who had a GameBoy, let alone a copy of Pokemon and much less was willing to trade something you actually wanted. Now, you can find trainers from all over and trade with them. If your wifi is working. Which mine isn’t. So no trading for me. But thumbs up for the idea!
But all the little details don’t really mean so much in the big picture. At the end of the day, Pokemon: Platinum is a solid, enjoyable game, perhaps ever more so than it was the first time around. Sure there’s a lot of stuff in the game I won’t use/don’t care about, but it plays better than the first and still has that ridiculously addictive appeal. Seriously, in the course of writing this, I probably took 5 or 6 breaks to play some more. In the interest of journalism, of course. Pokemon: Platinum is a great addition to any gamer’s library, and if you haven’t bothered with the series since ye olden dayes, now is a great time to get back in.