Call it Pokédex: Reloaded.
Pokémon is one of those rare video games that has so successfully withstood the test of time that it spans generations. Few parents are playing Tetris or Tecmo Bowl with their kids, but someone who played Pokémon Blue on their Game Boy Color when they were 13 could 100% be showing their own 13-year-old all the best tips and tricks on their switch today. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl arrive at the perfect point between nostalgia and novelty: a pair of games that are an ideal Pokémon adventure for the game-loving kid in your life while also being faithful enough to the original that they might inspire a parent or two to pick up the Nintendo Switch and dive in themselves.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl both follow the traditional Pokémon formula: a young traveler sets out from their small town on a globe-trotting, evil-corporation-fighting adventure, with their trusty Pokémon at their side. These games take place in the Sinnoh region, a mountainous, temperate world inspired by the Hokkaido region of Japan. As you travel across its marshes, mountains, and lakes, you’ll discover and befriend Pokémon, battle a litany of trainers, and eventually do what kids have been doing for 25 years: become the very best, like no one ever was.
The game’s differences from the original Diamond and Pearl are minimal. When Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee! and Pikachu! were released in 2018, they featured a series of quality of life changes that either enhanced or detracted from the experience, depending on your appreciation of purity. This adaptation doesn’t fully remove those changes, but does obscure them from view––the largest, wild Pokémon being viewable in the world of the game, has quite literally been pushed underground.
Instead, the experience hews remarkably close to the original games — the storylines, the locations, even the characters’ battle poses all remain identical to their parent games. The changes that do exist are additional and cosmetic — changing outfits, an additional underground system to explore, more legendary Pokémon to catch after you finish the initial storyline. It’s a smart way to augment without getting in the way of the experience. The original Diamond and Pearl were memorable because of the depth of story and breadth of exploration, and Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl maintain these strengths extremely well.
The biggest and most obvious improvement is in the visual style of the game. The world of Sinnoh is rendered in beautiful, vibrant colors, and the environments are crisp and clear. The chibi character designs can be slightly off-putting, but the in-battle character models are expressive and lively, and the Pokémon and their moves look and feel great. Whether you’re staring at the snow-capped Mt. Coronet in the distance or walking through Jubilife City as the sunset reflects in the windows of the skyscrapers, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl use the Switch’s strengths to breathe exciting life into the experience.
That being said, faithfulness means that these games carry over some of the struggles of their originals as well. Diamond and Pearl suffered from a lack of type diversity among its Pokémon, and a difficulty spike compounded by limitations in team building, challenges that might be acutely felt by younger players who have grown up on wider, more forgiving Pokémon titles. In addition, the game’s non-linear progression and multiple paths and avenues might leave some younger players frustrated or confused. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are rewarding for players looking for more of a challenge than some recent Pokémon titles. But the original games weren’t perfect, and thus neither are these.
There is something bittersweet about playing a Pokémon game all grown up.
I remember as a kid in those first scenes where your mother wished you good luck on your journey sympathizing with the trainer, excited as they were to go explore the world and catch all the Pokémon I could. But this time, I found myself seeing it through the mother’s eyes: that odd emotion of watching someone you love grow up to a point where they may not need you anymore. These games are a great gateway for the little ones in your life to start the Pokémon adventures of their own. But hey, if you pick up the Switch and dive in for a moment, no one could blame you.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are stylish remakes of the original games that don’t try anything new but put a fresh and shiny coat of paint on two games that remain as fun and compelling as they were 15 years ago. Same as it ever was.