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The Pokémon video game series has been one of Nintendo's hottest franchises ever since the release of the first games, for the Game Boy, back in 1996. Created by Satoshi Taihiri, these immensely popular roleplaying games have sold a combined 175-plus million units to date, and it shows no signs of stopping, considering that the most recent editions of the series, Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, sold a combined 15 million copies worldwide. That said, one criticism the series has faced over the years is that it has failed to grow and evolve, offering pretty much the same monster catching and battling experience since day one. Do Diamond and Pearl change that? No, but that doesn't mean that these two DS RPG aren't worth a second look, even from non-Pokémon fans.
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Graphics and Sound
Visually, these games won't blow you away, but they are bright and colorful and fits the games fairly well. The characters and environments look like something fresh out of an early Super NES game, to be blunt about it, but they do have a certain charm about them. Battle animations are somewhat limited, but hey, at least the games have battle animations, unlike earlier games in the series. Likewise, the sound quality isn't overly impressive. Various Pokémon make different noises during battle, but they really don't resemble anything a real living creature would make. Meanwhile, the music is light and lively, but lacks the kind of depth and flow that other composers have proven can be accomplished on the DS hardware. Ultimately, the games look and sound rather average on the whole.
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The core gameplay of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl will instill a feeling of déjà vu for anyone who has played one of these games before. If you haven't, expect lots of turn-based combat as you battle to try to capture wild Pokémon, battle to overcome a rival trainer, battle to win gym badges, battle to overcome a woefully underdeveloped syndicate of villains and battle to become the champion of all things Pokémon -- and once you earn that honor, you can battle some more, because new areas unlock upon completion of the main storyline. It's not all about fighting, though, as collecting as many different types of Pokémon as possible continues to be a major hook to the games, and to that end you'll travel both day and night, to a variety of different locations, trying to hunt down some of the more elusive varieties. As always, the formula is basic but somehow very addicting, and the touch screen controls are implemented fantastically (the large buttons are a nice touch).
Also making a return are Pokémon contests, in which well-trained critters can take a break from fighting and challenge each other is a sort of beauty pageant, where they are judged on their appearance, their dancing ability and their techniques in three different rounds. One of the big gameplay hooks is the multiplayer mode, where you can not only battle against local opponents but can also challenge players all around the world courtesy of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. In addition to battling opponents online, players can trade, communicate, and even establish secret bases in an underground area of the continent, complete with the ability to set traps. In comparison, the two versions are essentially the same, with only a few slight differences in terms of Pokémon that can be challenged and acquired. The gameplay may not exactly be groundbreaking, but the classic Pokémon formula has been refined enough to net Diamond and Pearl a high score in this department.
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Traditionally the weakest area of the Pokémon RPGs, I am pleased to report that the series has made some strides with Diamond and Pearl. In typical fashion, the player starts off as a young boy or girl from a small town who, through an act of fate (in this case, a wild Pokémon attack) winds up needing to enlist the service of one of three different Pokémon for a battle. From there, trainer and Pokémon begin to form a bond and decide to set off to earn gym badges, the marks of a successful trainer in the Pokémon world. As always, there is a nefarious faction with whom the protagonist will eventually cross paths. Thankfully, though, this aspect of the plot is fleshed out a little better in Diamond and Pearl, with the members of Team Galactic having at least a little more of a concrete goal. It's still not the sort of epic quest you'd expect to find in, say, a Square Enix RPG, but it is a step in the right direction.
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Despite the decidedly old-school look and the somewhat stale gameplay, I have to admit that I enjoyed Pokémon Diamond and Pearl more than I had any Pokémon game since Gold. The slight tweaks to the gameplay, the somewhat improved story, the touch-screen features and the fact that I had been on a self-imposed hiatus from the series helped me appreciate Diamond and Pearl for what they are -- a light, fluffy, fun roleplaying game experience with excellent multiplayer modes. If you like the series, there's no question that you'll enjoy Diamond and Pearl. If you haven't played Pokémon in a while, these games are the perfect gateway back into the series, as they have definitely fine-tuned the experience for the better. If you're on the fence, rent first. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.