Pokémon Brilliant Diamond, from developers ILCA for Nintendo, was released in November as the latest Pokémon remake. The original game has always had mixed responses from fans. The pixel art was a thing of beauty, but the Gen4 dex was underwhelming. Still, there was plenty of excitement at another Pokémon getting remade to modern standards for the Nintendo Switch.
Remakes of classic games are a tricky thing – do you just update the graphics, or do you also make some little improvements to the general gameplay and story? We saw with Lets Go! Pikachu/Eevee that the update in graphics was wonderful. Seeing wild Pokémon walking around instead of random spawns was an upgrade I never knew I needed. The mechanics like throwing a ball to catch a Pokémon though became quite tedious and the old-school method was just better. So, have lessons been learnt with previous games? I’ll get onto that, but for now, think of the answer as one step forward one step backwards.
The Gen 4 game get’s an update even if the dex doesn’t
As a Pokémon fan, this is one of the games I’ve been waiting for. I’ve played a lot of them and the older games are still the best. Playing Lets Go Pikachu was a delight even if I did get fed up with the catching mechanism. The rest was so much fun with enough differences that it didn’t feel like I was just replaying a game from my youth. So other games in the series getting the same treatment is what I like to see and still hope that some others will be redone in the future.
Let’s address that one step forward one step backwards comment. When it comes to catching Pokémon, it should be simple. Select the ball you want to use so that the game throws it at the Pokémon that you’re beating into submission. It doesn’t need any more steps. We’re playing on the Nintendo Switch, not a phone where it’s all touchscreen. Catching Pokémon on Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, particularly when playing docked, could be painful. A frustrating experience like they were trying too much to tap into Pokémon Go’s success. Thankfully, Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl has reverted to the simple method of just selecting the ball and the game automatically throws the ball for you with you just waiting in anticipation of the catch being successful. They might have reverted to the older system, but it is definitely one step forward as it’s an improvement.
Then there’s the disappointing step backwards for the franchise. Pokémon no longer spawn in the overworld as we’re back to random battles in grass patches or in caves. This was a real highlight of Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee which was then repeated in Sword and Shield. It gave me hope that we’d moved on from the old spawning system which quite frankly was outdated. Seeing what Pokémon are about is one of the best improvements the franchise has ever made. It’s one that really makes sense as if you’re in the Pokémon world you’d really be able to see them walking around, even in the long grass. I mean, how long as the grass got to be to hide an Onix? I’m walking in grass, not a jungle. A disappointing step backwards.
Overall, the core of the game hasn’t changed much in the 15 years since its original release. You travel from town to town collecting badges whilst trying to foil a plot to harness the power of a Legendary Pokémon. There’s also hints about finding shiny Gyarados. Team Rocket is replaced by Team Galactic and is just as incompetent. Beat gyms to earn badges to open up new pathways and the occasional battle against your rival who is always a step ahead of you in gameplay. Has anyone ever lost to their rival? I name mine Martin, not just because he’s a good friend, but because he’s an avid gamer. It’s also likely to be the only time I’d get to say that I played against Martin and absolutely smashed him. Martin doesn’t stand a chance against my overpowered Turtwig.
Throughout the Pokémon games, there have always been funny interactions. The funniest by far though is right at the beginning, where you are told not to go into the long grass because that’s where the Pokémon are. Only to then go into the long grass and act shocked that there’s Pokémon. Seriously, I laughed way more than I probably should have. Definitely one of the benefits of replaying these games as an adult, because that would have just flown past me as a child.
Graphics & Audio
The graphics is the one area that might cause some controversy. The original game on the Nintendo DS looked stunning with colourful pixel art that made the game one to remember. Whilst Lets Go Pikachu/Eevee was a massive improvement over Pokémon Yellow, this upgrade isn’t the same. It’s certainly an upgrade and if you’ve never played the original DS version of Diamond/Pearl then it’ll look nice. It does lose a lot of the nostalgia feeling though because the pixel art was borderline perfection in the originals,
The characters have kept their oversized heads which now make them look like Funko Pop figures. Whereas with pixel art you expect heads to be bigger otherwise there’d be no detail to the faces. The updated look is fine though, and you can have a little laugh at the wild hairstyles that the game has.
Battles are stunning with some incredible backgrounds that change depending on the area you are in. There’s nothing over the top, no one has overthought it or overdeveloped it. It’s the simple battle metrics and format that fans of the older games love all in a lovely new style. This is one area where I feel that the game has improved graphically from the original games. The pixel style looks great when wandering around towns and other areas. When you’re in battles though the games lacked a bit with the more detailed up-close images of Pokémon. Now, in battles, they’re detailed and look fantastic. Some might disagree, but the overall redesign of the battle screens are a vast improvement. If the battles against Team Galactic kept to their environment instead of getting their own special arena no matter where they are, it’d be borderline perfect.
The game plays smoothly and I can’t remember a single stutter the whole time I played it. It’s a huge graphical upgrade and the Switch handles it perfectly. I’m still using the original Switch which is underpowered now, especially compared to the OLED Switch. It is quite nice to see that even my antiquated Switch can handle the game with zero problems. The docked mode looks great, although, like most Switch games, I think they look better in handheld mode. Docked or not though, everything runs as it should which is more than you can say for a previous game I played – looking at you Pokémon Sword!
Music is your typical Pokémon jolly tune with sound effects that fans have grown to love that will hopefully never be changed. Is the music the same as the original? I don’t know, far too much time has passed for me to remember that – if you can, let us know in the comments. It certainly doesn’t sound like it’s 15 years old so if it’s the same music, it’s definitely had an upgrade to sound modern. Classic sound effects like when you catch a Pokémon remain and will always be my favourite sound effects for any game.
Like all Pokémon games, there’s longevity there if you want it. Some just want to complete the story which is always enjoyable even if they do follow a similar pattern to ones before. How long that takes you depends on how you want to play. Do you complete as fast as you can? go for pure power wins by grinding, to power up your Pokémon to be overpowered beasts? Or whether you have a select six Pokémon in mind for the final battles and so will play until you not only have the ones you want but also make them powerful enough to use?
People play with different aims in mind for how they want to progress, which is handy in a game like this. For me, it’s all about keeping my original choice Pokémon and making him as powerful as he can be. It’s always the grass type and I want that Pokémon to beast everything in its path. I’ve been like this since Pokémon Yellow and I’m not going to change now.
The real longevity though is the usual completing of the dex. The Gen 4 dex isn’t the best or the biggest. The Sinnoh region has 107 Pokémon, which isn’t the shortest but it’s pretty close to being so. Having said that it’s also not the worst – that would be Johto. Thankfully the previous generation Pokémon are available, even if you do see more of Gen 4 Pokémon than others for certain parts. If you’re a collector, there’s plenty to catch in order to complete your PokéDex.
There are also so many people to talk to, so if you’re inclined, you can talk to them all. That’ll take some time, but for the completists out there it’s worth it. Why is it worth it? Well, like with previous games, some will give you gifts, like rare TM’s for moves. Have you really completed a Pokémon game if you’ve not collected all the TM’s that are available? And for new players, there’s a load of handy gameplay tips such as putting honey on a tree in the hopes of finding a rare Pokémon.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond feels like a slightly missed opportunity to really kick off the reimagining of older games in the series. If they’d kept the ability to see Pokémon wandering around in the overworld it would give the same feeling as Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee which had the bonus of a radical upgrade in graphics. Some will wish that they’d stuck with the original pixel art aesthetics that fans of the series loved. I don’t mind the move on from that as it gives the game its own style separate from the original. Sure, there are some questionable choices like keeping oversized heads but that’s certainly not a deal-breaker.
Despite missing the overworld Pokémon that I wanted to see, the game is a nostalgic hit of a game I’ve not played in a very long time. I much prefer the camera angle used to that of Pokémon Sword. It’s Pokémon how I remember it being, just upgraded. And as someone that still prefers the older games to the newer ones, I found it fun and kept finding myself picking up my Switch regularly to play a bit more.
It’s not perfect, but it’s still a really enjoyable experience. I like the art style and the gameplay, so it’s a shame that the overshadowing problem is something as simple as not having Pokémon walking around in the overworld. And honestly, if it wasn’t for the previous 2 Pokémon games, it wouldn’t even be an issue. They’ve set a precedent now though and so it’s a shame to see the step backwards in this regard.
I give Pokémon Brilliant Diamond the Thumb Culture Silver Award!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.