Some of the initial reviews described Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl as incredibly workmanlike, and they were correct. These games are serviceable recreations that seem to do the bare minimum when it comes to adding anything new, let alone surprising. And yet for all of their mediocrity I can’t stop playing them.
Diamond and Pearl were two of the best games in the 35-year long series, and while the Nintendo Switch remasters aren’t nearly the glow-up some fans wanted, or that the 2007 DS games deserved, they’re a welcome dose of the classic Pokémon experience I’ve been craving.
Wander into the tall grass, happen across a new Pokémon, capture it, level it up, and smash the leader of the nearest Gym with its most overpowered move.
I grew tired of this formula years ago. But then more years went by, the series tried to evolve, and now I’m ready to go back to basics again. I’ve played Brilliant Diamond for about seven hours and just completed the third gym. Yes, I’ve been taking my good ol’ time strolling down memory lane. After all, I’ve been away for a while. I’m not proud to be mashing the A button while my Alakazam ripps the opposition to shreds with the most basic psychic attacks, but I am having a lot of fun. Polygon’s Ryan Gilliam made a similar pitch in his review, and so far I’ve come away agreeing with him.
I was so put off by BDSP’s Chibi art style when it was first revealed earlier this year, but in motion it’s a perfectly fine marriage of top-down graphics and 3D sprites. It’s not nearly on the level of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake’s beautiful toy-like homage to the original’s 8-bit world. But it’s enough to keep me immersed in Gen IV’s Sinnoh region on a modern platform without completely sacrificing the cute and cosy warmth of the original games. The day and night cycle in particular, as well as environmental flourishes like the shadows of clouds passing overhead, are just plain lovely.
BDSP also has a handful of big quality of life improvements. EXP Share, that most controversial of Poké-mechanics, is automatic. Grinding is streamlined, almost to a fault. Are these remasters too easy? Probably. Do I care? Not really. Hidden Moves, like breaking apart obstacles or surfing through water, can now be initiated from an in-game watch and don’t require you to take up precious slots on your Pokémon’s move list. Most welcome of all: you can access Pokémon Boxes anywhere, anytime. No more trekking back to the Pokécentre to keep your burgeoning collection of Pokémon in order.
But otherwise, outside of the expanded Grand Underground area, it’s pretty much Diamond and Pearl exactly as they were over a decade ago. Those games marked the end of an era for the series, with the subsequent Black and White games kicking off a more experimental phase, at least relative to how much Pokémon usually sticks to tradition. Maybe that’s why X and Y, Sun and Moon, and to some extent even Sword and Shield never scratched a reptilian itch deep inside my gamer brain the way earlier games did.
Diamond and Pearl’s first Gym leader specialises in rock types. There’s a tunnel early on where you can only catch Geodudes, Zubats, and the occasional Psyduck. After the second Gym you make your way through a mini-Team Galactic dungeon by fighting a bunch of trainers in a row. Doing so frees an old man who then gives you a bike so that you can ride down the bike trail to the next city on your journey. All of which is to say that Diamond and Pearl are often a permutation of familiar hallmarks from the early games.
Pokémon BDSP’s world is small and circumscribed, stitched together with short snippets of dialogue that barely tell an overarching narrative, but I’ve found more peace roaming its low-key, overhead mazes than I was ever expecting to. It’s just the layover I needed in-between Pokémon Sword and Shield and next year’s Monster Hunter-inspired Pokémon Legends: Arceus. I can’t say I’d recommend the $64 re-packaging of a 13-year old DS game to the average person, but for anyone who’s been looking to come back to the series after years away, Pokémon BDSP is as good a reason as any.