A lone figure stares wistfully across Lake Verity. “The flowing of time…” he mutters. “The expanding of space… I will make it all mine one day. Cyrus is my name. Remember it. Until then, sleep while you can, Legendary Pokemon of the lake bed.”
Unfortunately, this scene is missing from Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl on account of the fact that they are bafflingly based on the original pair of Gen 4 games, ignoring approximately 100 percent of Platinum’s objectively better enhancements. I am not exaggerating when I say that we got a better Gen 4 remake 13 years ago.
Pokemon Shining Pearl – which is the version I’ve spent the last week playing – is an excellent, clever, and tightly designed game in many ways, but this is mostly because of the excellent, clever, and tightly designed game it’s based on. Sinnoh is a gorgeous region teeming with fascinating characters and creative Pokemon designs, to the extent that it would be difficult to reimagine Gen 4 in a way that made it seem anything less than very good. The biggest problem with Shining Pearl is exactly that: it’s very good, but after having beaten the Pokemon League and completed my Sinnoh ‘Dex, 2008’s Pokemon Platinum is still noticeably better.
Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are faithful remakes of Diamond & Pearl, so the fact they’re not based on Platinum isn’t necessarily surprising. Still, this course begins with a misstep and never turns back. Platinum improved on the original Gen 4 games in every conceivable way. It gave Sinnoh’s best characters more prominent roles in the story, completely revamped how the narrative was structured, and made the region itself feel more like a real place and less like a video game setting. Despite the relatively techy pizazz of the Switch and unanimously enduring reverence of Platinum, Shining Pearl is distinguishable from normal Pearl primarily in terms of aesthetic, which isn’t ideal when your art direction is questionable at best.
This is as good a time as any to get into the Weedles of each and every element of what makes Shining Pearl shine and, perhaps more often, lose its lustre. Despite initially being ambivalent towards the game’s artistic choices, the more time I spent with it, the more perplexed I became. It’s not just a matter of whether you find chibi to be cute or kitsch – Shining Pearl’s art direction completely alters the entire tone of the game. Without going into too much detail, it’s easy to disengage from the story when characters you know to be austere start smiling with their full teeth. The vibrant colours also do the harsh snowscapes of Sinnoh no favours. I feel like I parrot this once a week, but bigger and brighter is not always better – at the very least, it’s never conducive to preserving intent.
This is especially apparent when the visuals are slightly more stylish. Battles and their accompanying animations exist in a sort of halfway house between Let’s Go and Sword & Shield, while gym layouts have been tastefully refined to make use of the more powerful hardware. These enhancements only serve to accentuate how garish a lot of the core design is by comparison. I’m not trying to say the art style is awful – hell, I’m not even trying to say I actively disliked it. It’s just inconsistent with Sinnoh and its stories, which is more than a little disappointing.
This is another area where ignoring Platinum really comes to bite Shining Pearl in the Arceus – I will never say “Ar-kee-us,” in case you missed the joke there. When the original Diamond & Pearl were reimagined as Platinum, Game Freak doubled down on all of Sinnoh’s best characters, giving more screen time to people like Dawn, Cynthia, and Cyrus. As a result, it’s hard to play the new remakes if you’ve already played and loved Platinum. I know so much more about these characters than Shining Pearl is ever willing to acknowledge. Sure, they may be 3D and all-chibid-up, but they’re paradoxically flat – it’s tough to take the weight of Cyrus’ nihilism seriously when he looks like a character pulled from an off-peak Nick Jr. show.
The art also isn’t conducive to the controls, especially when you’re cycling. It’s as persnickety as – if not even more than – Let’s Go. On several occasions you’ll likely push the tenth Strength boulder in a puzzle the wrong way through no fault of your own and have to start over. Even just getting through a door requires the directional precision of jumping through a flaming hoop. It’s never particularly egregious, but it’s a constant annoyance throughout the entire game that could have been avoided by making slight dimension changes to objects that already add precious little to the overall aesthetic.
There are lots of other residual issues from the original games that are for some reason not smoothed out here, too. The battle system, which was relatively new back in 2006, is either just as slow or faster to such a minor degree that it’s imperceptible. Put simply, battles, especially wild ones, go on for way too long. When you consider this alongside just how easy Shining Pearl is, this lengthiness quickly becomes draining. You get ten Potions instead of one at the start, regularly enjoy Let’s Go’s status condition expulsion and nonsensical provision of Sturdy to all of your Pokemon just for increasing their happiness, and have pretty much every intriguing mystery signposted in neon billboards for you. Halfway through the game, I started spending all of my money on Max Repels – the return to wild encounters after Sword & Shield is infuriating, by the way – and ignoring trainers despite having a pathological inclination to battle everyone I see in every other Pokemon game. Oh, and aside from the Grand Underground, there are still no catchable Fire-types other than Ponyta – unless you’re a Rapidash stan or an avid miner, you’ll probably want to pick Chimchar.
What’s particularly intriguing about Shining Pearl is that on top of making aspects of the original games slightly worse, it also introduces problems they didn’t have. The all-new Hideaways in the aforementioned Grand Underground – essentially dens where you can catch Pokemon from the National ‘Dex (including Fire-types!) – are hardly distinguishable from Mystery Dungeon levels despite being marketed like miniature Wild Areas. All of the Pokemon that reside here are programmed to be immediately alerted by your presence and would give Usain Bolt a run for his money. The Grand Underground itself is just as lovable as its original iteration – in fact, it could even supersede it when online functionality is added later this week. Hideaways, though? Nuisance. It’s also worth noting that the catch rates seem… weird. I had a red-HP Beldum Struggle itself to death after over 60 failed Ultra Ball attempts, which… what?
I feel obliged to say that I’m not trying to needlessly dunk on Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl here. These games tell a fantastic story regardless of whether you’re a returning player or a newcomer. The team I put together – which consisted of Infernape, Staraptor, Luxray, Gyarados, Roserade, and Lucario – is one of my favourite PvE squads in recent memory, largely on account of how enduringly stylish and thoughtful the designs of Sinnoh’s native Pokemon are. I love how stupid Team Galactic grunts are and how comparatively clever the mythology-steeped world around them is. The reason I’ve spent so much of this review pointing out issues is because every non-issue is a victory. We all know Gen 4 is good – what you might not know at the time of writing is how Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl stack up.
Outside of all the weird design decisions, there are admittedly some cool improvements here. Rather than having to waste a party slot on the infamous four-HM Bibarel, hidden moves are managed by a Poketch app that allows wild Pokemon to use Surf, Rock Climb, Defog, and so on. The music, in true Gen 4 fashion, absolutely slaps. While it might seem minor, the UI is also significantly easier to navigate, meaning you don’t need to spend inordinate amounts of time navigating clunky menus. I can’t stress enough that Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are not just half-baked, cash grab remakes of an excellent Pokemon generation.
The problem is that these are very good remakes of Diamond & Pearl and excellent games in and of themselves – they’re just nowhere near the best Gen 4 remake. Given that Platinum is still superior to Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl in almost every conceivable way, it’s difficult to comprehend why these games even exist aside from making them available on a modern console, in which case… just port Platinum. That’s the main takeaway I have from my time with Shining Pearl: it’s brilliant and it shines, but not quite as brilliantly bright as a game that came out 13 years ago.
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