Review: Pokémon Diamond (Game for Nintendo DS)

Game Cover

Game Cover

I first played the original Pokémon Red and Yellow versions for the old Game Boy system many years ago and fell in love with the simple RPG style game play, cute Pokémon creatures, and the ability to link up with my brother to trade and battle Pokémon. I felt that 150 different species Pokémon were more than enough though, and stayed away from the subsequent iterations of Pokémon games out of a fear that the addition of more Pokémon and more things to do would complicate things and take away from the elegant simplicity of those first Pokémon games. Plus, I grew up and decided that the whole Pokémon thing was a little childish.

For anyone who hasn’t played Pokémon before, see below for an in-depth look at what is so fun about it (for adults and children). If you’ve played older Pokémon games but aren’t sure about this one, you’re in the same position I was when I got my DS.

In Diamond (and Pearl) there were many new ideas for me: berries and poffins (not new to those who have played Pokémon on the Game Boy Advance), seals to decorate Pokéballs (I guess, though I haven’t gotten into it much), more in-depth relationships with your Pokémon, contests (kind of like beauty pageants, but for Pokémon), an underground cave system for use with wireless multiplayer, and many other things I can’t even think of because I don’t use them. That’s right, even though they went and complicated the game by adding stuff, you can still enjoy the basic game the same way you could back with the first games. These additions only add to the experience for those who wish to participate in them.

There are other enhancements as well. The interface for navigating menus, viewing information, and battling has improved drastically (especially since there are two screens on the DS), and they have finally incorporated some true 3D elements (mainly just in the environment, the characters are all still 2D sprites).

While this version may not represent a huge leap forward in the Pokémon series, it certainly does take a few steps forward, and no steps back. Anyone who has ever enjoyed another Pokémon game will appreciate Pokémon Diamond (or Pearl), and anyone who has never played a Pokémon game would do well to give this game a chance. Pokémon may not be for everyone, but many have fallen in love with these simple RPGs, including me.

If you’ve never played Pokémon, allow me an opportunity to sell you on the idea. It turns out many adults can enjoy this sort of thing as well as children (even if the story is a bit childish).

Pokémon are creatures that inhabit the land in the Pokémon games. In Japan, the game is called “Pocket-Monsters” (I believe). The first generation of Pokémon came around the time that virtual pets were becoming popular, so essentially these Pokémon were modeled after the virtual pet concept (just without the little buttons for “feed” and “clean up mess”).

In the Pokémon games, you become a Pokémon trainer – someone who catches and trains Pokémon to battle. Though the monsters battle, the loser simply runs out of energy (measured in HP – health points) and faints – nothing ever happens that is graphic or unfriendly to children.

As you wander around the game (not aimlessly, there is always something to do), you encounter more and more monsters and use special capturing balls (Pokéballs) to catch more Pokémon (you may recall the catchphrase – “gotta catch ’em all”). You battle your Pokémon against other wild Pokémon or against those of other Pokémon trainers and any Pokémon on the winning team that participated in the battle gets experience points (and the trainer gets money to spend on stuff for the Pokémon). As they grow in experience they level up, learn new moves, and sometimes they evolve into more powerful Pokémon. In this way you raise the most powerful team of Pokémon to win every battle and become a Pokémon Master (lame, I know).

The trick is that you can only carry six Pokémon with you at a time (the rest are stored in a computer system), so you must assemble a team that is diverse enough to tackle any foe. There are many kinds of Pokémon (flying type, fire type, water type, electric type, etc) and some are more effective against others. Most of the time, these pairings make sense – a water type Pokémon does very well against a fire type for example. The same goes for the individual moves they know (one Pokémon can not know any more than four moves to use in battle at a time).

The basic formula is simple, easy to understand, and allows for a lot of strategic consideration. The execution in the game is challenging (but not too hard), fun and great for multi-player experiences. From the beginning, the franchise has focused on allowing game pack owners to trade Pokémon and battle them with friends. These days, on the Nintendo DS, trading and battling other Pokémon players has never been easier. There are no cables, and you can even connect over the Internet.

A lot of people criticize that the story in every Pokémon game is basically the same, but that is what I love about them (not that I wouldn’t enjoy a departure from the formula). You start out some place where there is someone that wants you to go out and see/catch all of the local kinds of Pokémon and you are given a starter Pokémon. There are side missions, caves, an evil group/entity at every turn, other trainers, and of course your rival to deal with, in addition to gyms, badges (earned by defeating gym leaders) and the Elite Four. The above description is good for basically every Pokémon game (as I understand it, though I haven’t played ALL of them).

A final note for those who are not familiar with the Pokémon franchise: You may be asking yourself what the difference is between Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Simply put, there isn’t enough of a difference for you to worry about it. Since the first two were released (Red and Blue) they have always released Pokémon in pairs (with the exception of an occasional special edition – Yellow was a special Pikachu edition, and Platinum is a special DS version with even more side features than Diamond and Pearl). Each version has a few things here or there that are marginally different, most notably there are usually a few Pokémon you cannot catch on your game pack so you must find someone else with the sister game pack and trade them for it (especially since you have some on yours that they can’t find in their game). Don’t worry though – you don’t actually have to catch all of the Pokémon to win the game – you can do it without having both game packs.

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