When a game that essentially formed your childhood is remade and re-released when you’re an adult, it takes more than a month to sit down and write a review for it. All the thoughts and feelings and excitement that little Kara in 2006 would’ve felt have come back and ignited my initial love for the Pokémon franchise. I have spent almost every day since release on Shining Pearl. And upon completing the Sinnoh Dex, almost crying over my third attempt at Cynthia, and spending an ungodly amount of time smashing into walls underground, I can say I think I’ve just about seen enough to sit down and finally be able to write.
As I mentioned, when I was younger, I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Pokémon Pearl. I’d sit up at night with my DS under the covers, chasing mesprit around the map without a care in the world. Having maintained my adoration for the franchise for over 14 years, my excitement absolutely could not be contained upon the announcement of its re-release on Nintendo Switch. So what’s Sinnoh looking like almost two decades later?
Let’s begin at the beginning
The start of this game almost brought a tear to my eye. From your first encounter with Professor Rowen, to running into your nemesis (and also best friend despite how irritatingly they show up at incredibly inconvenient times) it just screams Diamond and Pearl. Initially I was really skeptical about the new art style. I loved the original, pixelated art style.
So the 3D animation was a new change I wasn’t sure if I was ready to accept. It felt too much like Let’s Go, which I really didn’t enjoy. But after a while you seem to fall in love with the chibi style. I don’t know if I really like it, or if I just got used to it after sitting in front of the TV for so long. Obviously I want to claim I am in love with everything that makes this game a reality, but the art style is what holds me back.
At times it feels slightly unfinished. When the challenge animation during gym battles spans across the screen it seems almost… blurry? Rather than the sharp, manga-esque style from the first release of the games. As I said, the art style is my only downside. I understand it shows phenomenal progression in terms of graphic and animation but it doesn’t feel quite right. If they had used the same style as Sword and Shield I probably would have massively preferred it. But due to how happy this game made me as a whole, I’ll have to forgive it this one time.
We are the champions, my friend
I swear they have made this battle sequence far more difficult in this game than the original. I am almost certain that I did not struggle this hard when I was younger. And I didn’t think anywhere near as strategically then as I did now. On my first attempt I managed to reach the second member of the elite four without struggle, but after that things just went rapidly downhill. After breezing through every trainer battle, every galactic encounter and everyone on victory road, I thought the elite four would be a slice of cake.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
The elite four in Shining Pearl is unlike any trainer battle I have experienced in any Pokémon game. It’s knuckle-whiteningly frustrating. Groaning through gritted teeth. Threatening to snap your switch after angrily putting it down and having to walk away from it for an hour or so. Honestly, it really is a challenge. Sure, at the time I was angry enough to declare I was never going to pick up the game again, but I welcomed the challenge with open arms. It was about time we were given something that trainers actually struggled with. But Cynthia’s Garchomp is another level of difficulty.
But nothing quite compares to taking that last pinch of HP from your opponent’s Pokemon. Nothing feels as enlightening as being announced the champion. It’s a feeling unparalleled by anything for all my fellow Pokémon fanatics. It’s glorious. All your hard work finally pays off. And then you return home and your mum mentions nothing about it and you just continue your adventure with no further recognition. Obviously…
Sound of the Underground
I feel like The Grand Underground deserves a special mention. Despite carrying many traits over from the original game, there are so many new features which have been implemented to make it feel refreshing and if anything, far more interactive. When you first visit, you’ll notice how massive the map is, and question all the tiny boxes with question marks in. That’s what I did at least. What I didn’t expect to find was room after room of different biomes – much like the Wild Area in Pokemon Sword and Shield. The excited squeal that left me when I first stumbled into these rooms is something I can’t even begin to explain in this review.
It’s a breath of fresh air for anyone who is hoping to fill out their dex. Gone are the days of sitting with a guide open. Describing when and where these Pokemon spawn at what time of day. Sure, it makes it easier which some people don’t enjoy. But seeing Pokemon in the wild rather than hidden in tall grass is something which any inner child would adore.
There are several other elements to the underground which are new to this game. Thus supporting the many hours you will spend down there. Such as the huge amount of diglets following you around the map, gifting undisclosed pink sparkles when you run past. It took me a shameful amount of time to understand why and what these do. But you’ll notice that a bar underneath the minimap fills as you collect. Once this bar is full, a whistle will sound and things will start flashing. It’s all very exciting, but unless you know what’s happening you’ll probably just ignore it. I wish this element was explained in more detail because for all my shiny hunters out there – this is an extremely useful element!
The sweet sounds of childhood
The soundtrack to both Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is basically nostalgia in a parcel for me. If you played these games when they first came out, you will recognise the majority of the soundtrack and it is honestly joyous. Every time I booted up the game I found myself singing along. Even hearing it coming from a housemate’s room at night brought a smile to my face. There’s something about it that just feels special and I am so glad they didn’t change it for the re-release. From the gentle tune of Eterna City to the tense, piercing sounds of encountering a legendary, it’s all there.
As a whole I don’t think I will ever be able to fully express my love for this game. I’ve played too many hours to declare it as subpar or not worth playing. If you were a fan of Diamond and Pearl back during their initial release then for nostalgia sake you will love this pair. It’s brilliant from start to finish. And there is enough new and exciting content that it doesn’t feel like you’re just replaying a game that hasn’t aged well. I personally think it is fantastic, and will continue to sing its praises for as long as I can.