Last month, The Pokemon Company continued its tradition of remaking earlier Pokemon games with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Fifteen years after their original release, these remakes of Pokemon’s fourth generation seek to catch the zoomer nostalgia wave and re-establish the Sinnoh region ahead of Pokemon Legends: Arceus. But do these highly anticipated remakes live up to the originals, and were those originals even worth revisiting in the first place?
Central to discussion of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the unique conditions of their development, namely The Pokemon Company’s decision to outsource these entries to studio ILCA as their first non-supporting project. This makes BDSP (as I’ll call them from now on) the first “mainline” Pokemon games to be created without Game Freak’s involvement.
I put the words “mainline” in quotes because this new approach to BDSP, and Game Freak’s new focus on Pokemon Legends: Arceus, suggest that Pokemon’s taken-for-granted generational remakes may be sidelined as the series moves forward. The transition from Nintendo 3DS to the exponentially beefier Nintendo Switch has left Pokemon in a state of uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong,the Pokemon series isn’t going anywhere, but higher development costs have necessitated a shift in ideology – and BDSP is the result.
It gives me no pleasure to report that BDSP is a shockingly unimpressive remake, especially for one funded by the world’s most successful multimedia franchise. The Pokemon Company is rolling in cash, and yet this fourth remake (which has been on the cards since the previous remakes released seven years ago) feels unceremoniously rushed and astonishingly cheap.
While previous Game Freak developed remakes iterated on the current generation’s features and ironed out mechanical shortcomings, BDSP walks back all of Sword and Shield’s best additions and does little to justify its own existence. Some fans may appreciate ILCA’s decision to remain “faithful,” but my experience with BDSP shattered any illusions I had about the originals.
This may be controversial, but Diamond and Pearl might not have been very good Pokemon games to begin with.
Sinnoh is Pokemon’s fourth region to be inspired by Japan, and does little to differentiate itself from Kanto and the comparatively diverse Johto and Hoenn. Its most striking geographical feature, Mount Coronet, is a colossal mountain that dominates the skyline – and yet Diamond and Pearl, and now their remakes, are from a top-down perspective.
The result is, I’d argue, Pokemon’s least interesting region to date. Thankfully, Pokemon Legends: Arceus seeks to remedy this very concern with its 3D perspective and grand vistas. Until that game releases, however, my interest in Sinnoh is as flat as its “mountains.”
BDSP also fails to address one of Diamond and Pearl’s oldest sticking points, the lack of overworld Pokemon. On paper, Sinnoh’s roster of 151 monsters give it parity with the first generation, but the lack of type-variety and overrepresentation of certain Pokemon within early areas make the practice of team-building, the series’ bread and butter, a real hassle.
Certain types such as fire and electric are limited to only a couple of monsters each, whilst others have massive power disparities that strongly favour one Pokemon over the rest. This causes most end-of-game teams to look eerily similar, and strips the adventure of its individualism.
With that said, BDSP does expand the roster of catchable Pokemon through the addition of The Grand Underground. This expansion to Diamond and Pearl’s cave system gives players access to mining and, more importantly, a number of Pokemon that can’t be caught above ground. Through this system I was able to catch Houndoom, which fulfilled my need for a fire-type without needing to pick Chimchar as my starter. It’s a bandaid solution, but at least it’s there.
More perplexing, though, is the decision to cut Pokemon that were previously added to the overworld through Pokemon Platinum (Diamond and Pearl’s souped-up rerelease). For the most part, this problem was already solved by Platinum, and the decision to ignore these additions just doesn’t make sense. It communicates a lack of concern for making BDSP the definitive version of Pokemon’s fourth generation, barely reaching beyond the bare minimum.
I’ve been putting it off, but Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are just plain ugly. The decision to adopt a chibi art style was controversial from the jump, but what kills BDSP’s art design is a lack of cohesion and ambition. Small details such as reflections and depth-of-field are appreciated and contribute greatly to the overall presentation but poor quality models, boring textures, and flat lighting make BDSP an ugly duckling within a franchise that is already criticised for its lack of fidelity.
In battles, trainers and Pokemon are given more realistic proportions (and likely share models with other recent entries in the series). In older games this transition feels natural, but the difference in art direction between ILCA’s new chibi characters and Ken Sugimori’s original style feels jarring. This is made worse with BDSP’s implementation of Pokemon followers, who use their in-battle models on the overworld. Ultimately, these are two fundamentally different art styles and the lack of cohesion between them is unpleasant.
BDSP’s saving grace is its battle system, which maintains all the improvements made between generations and is still a fantastic entry-level introduction to turn-based combat. Despite their many shortcomings I can at least say that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are fun to play, but with other Pokemon games already on the Switch, and another to come in just over a month, there aren’t a lot of compelling reasons to pick up this entry in particular.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl may be the weakest entries in the series yet, and it’s a testament to the franchise’s solid foundations that I liked them at all. Their cheap graphical presentation is salvaged by a combat system that, despite its lack of innovation, has been steadily refined over twenty-five years. Thankfully, there are two other Pokemon games on the Nintendo Switch, so you can play one of those instead.
Pokemon Shining Pearl
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release date: 19 November 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.