Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl refresh a Nintendo DS favourite with a subtle but effective spit and polish.
At first blush, the Nintendo Switch remakes of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl feel so bare-bones it’s tempting to think Game Freak, or rather, developer ILCA, is pulling a fast one.
As a remake, it’s incredibly modest. The squat, chibi-like characters and tilted top-down view echo 2018’s update to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The overworld of the 2006 Nintendo DS original is, for the most part, adhered to. It might have received a visual revamp, but just like the original, you’ll see the same limited palette of assets reused throughout the world – and even in exactly the same places – over and over again. A tree is a tree is a tree, no matter how many times you vary the tint and hue.
In a world where remakes like Resident Evil 2 and Demon’s Souls exist, the treatment given to Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl feels like the bare minimum. But in a world where the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy – Definitive Edition is deemed fit for public consumption, the game’s low but easily achievable ambition is also a relief.
As the Pokémon series has grown and contorted over the years, some of its visual coherence has been lost. Predecessor Pokémon Sword & Shield never settles on a perspective, changing viewpoints frequently and according to the requirements of the environment or gameplay. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl is not as polished as Link’s reawakening, but it works nonetheless, imbuing life to the DS original by way of a toddlers toy box.
A jarring visual shift remains, however, in the battles. But oh, how lovely they are. The painterly backdrops, dynamic camera cuts, and kinetic move effects create a tableau of action that is a thrill to behold. Handily so, as random encounters are present and correct just as they were in the original game.
Battles play out as they always did (albeit with the controversial addition of mandatory EXP Share). The familiarity is oddly reassuring and puts to bed the misplaced belief that Pokémon games never change. There’s a simplicity to embrace over Sword & Shield‘s wacky exploits and it’s refreshing to see that change reverted, to an extent.
The adventure, meanwhile, barrels along to a propulsive score which is a series-best. It makes the stately-paced tale of childhood adventure feel like the most important story ever told.
Aesthetics aside, this will be a familiar experience to many, but there are some trims and additions. The forced EXP Share might be controversial with some fans, but few will find fault with the sprawling new Grand Underground. Here, Pokémon roam visibly in the wild. It’s a welcome change from the tall grass encounters up top and one of the game’s few acknowledgements of the franchise’s recent evolutions.
As for the Nintendo DS’s second screen Pokétch functionality? It’s relegated to a pop-up device activated by the R button. It’s a fair compromise, and little functionality is lost in practice. One more keenly felt change is to the game’s contests. What was once a chance to parade various battle moves is now a button-tapping mini-game. What can I say? I think I prefer it.
We’re left with the most curious of remakes, then. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl doesn’t push the limits of its new hardware – even the modestly powered Nintendo Switch is operating well within its comfort range – but it’s also not content to be a pure nostalgia play.
Players looking for a more significant reinvention of Pokémon are likely to be better served by the semi-open-world Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which is due next month. For the rest of us, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl is a comfort blanket of RPG adventuring.
But, we’re not all 40-somethings happy to revisit our youth. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl also works well as a gentle introduction for those new to the franchise, an audience that Game Freak is always careful to court. The game guides newcomers carefully in its opening hours, drip-feeding gameplay mechanics before letting you furrow your own path. And, if nothing else, it’s more approachable than Sword & Shield‘s dizzying confection of Dynamaxing, timed events, and Max Moves.
Playing Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl is the video game equivalent of sitting on the couch at Christmas with a tin of Quality Street on your lap. You’ve been here before. You know these flavours. Each battle is another Pokémon caught, another chocolate gobbled. But that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable or any less addictive.
Game: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: Out now