‘Pokémon Brilliant Diamond’ review: a semi-triumphant return

Spectacularly unspectacular

We got off to a rocky start. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond isn’t the remake many expected. Pokémon‘s Generation four was my favourite growing up, so the idea of the generation coming back was enormously exciting to me and many other fans whose childhoods happen to sync up with the Sinnoh region’s debut. At first, I wasn’t impressed.

Admittedly, my time with Pokémon Pearl and Platinum is looked upon with a strong helping of nostalgia. It’s unavoidable. The first time my Piplup and I stepped out of Twinleaf Town for an adventure with that annoying blond kid who kept bumping into me was special. It’s impossible to divorce the feeling from the experience.

I can freely admit these days that the games are far from perfect. It’s the carefree days of youth I miss, not trudging back and forth through Mt. Coronet because I forgot to bring a Pokémon with Rock Climb with me.

At the start of the game, I began to feel the inconveniences of gaming back in 2006. 15 years later, I don’t have the patience to walk around without running shoes or sit through tutorials for a game I played to death throughout my childhood.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond. Credit: Nintendo

This is where Brilliant Diamond started to lose me. It didn’t last long, but Pokémon games have evolved in recent years in many ways, some positive, some not. Quality of life tweaks are my favourite thing about modern Pokémon, such as being able to run without having to traipse through a few routes and help the professor. I had the fear. Maybe Brilliant Diamond would change too little and go down in history as a lacklustre attempt to capture the magic of its original.

This was further drilled home by control being taken from the player a few times early on in the game. Sure, new players need as much of an introduction as possible, so it’s completely understandable for an NPC to show the way to the first gym. There should also be an option to decline this kind service for those of us who just want to beat up Team Galactic and evolve our starter into a penguin with a fork on its face.

The art style can’t be ignored when talking about Brilliant Diamond. It’s not really a ‘love it or hate it’ thing either. I despised the look of the overworld characters in the game from the very first trailer to the moment I booted up the game onward. The giant heads on the characters just felt silly to me, and compared to both the classic pixel-style of the DS titles and the new cartoony vibe of the likes of Sword And Shield, I was far from impressed. The whole feel of the game felt like a step back from the 3D Wild Area of the newer Pokémon games and not nearly enough of a step forward from the pixel art of the originals.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond. Credit: Nintendo.

It grew on me though. Despite the cutesy style, it really did add personality to the characters in the story. You see Team Galactic’s boss become increasingly power-drunk towards the climax of his story, and Professor Rowan and Dawn react to frightening events with facial expressions which, whilst far from cinematic, do exactly what they need to do. The presentation made me care about the characters in the story, at least a little bit. Angry Team Galactic boss man with his giant head and little grumpy frown was a treat to behold.

There are other changes I enjoyed too. From different trainers having different Pokéball throw animations (hikers calmly throw them underarm whereas youngsters absolutely yeet them) to the earth-shattering overhaul that means you no longer have to keep a designated HM-user (I wouldn’t have forgiven the game if that change wasn’t made), Brilliant Diamond does make a few really nice tweaks that benefit the experience as a whole.

The Underground is another feature that received a significant update for Brilliant Diamond, and it’s one I appreciated a lot. Catching and battling Pokémon is the name of the game, and in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, the Underground was a place where you couldn’t do those things. You could dig for fossils, create a secret base, and play capture the flag with friends – all fairly fun activities – but none of which get into the core of what Pokémon is all about.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond. Credit: Nintendo

Thankfully, the Grand Underground, as it’s now called, adds new features which make it the kind of place more trainers will actually want to visit. The secret bases and fossils still hide in the walls, but Pokémon Hideaways are now present deep beneath Sinnoh. You can head into these little themed rooms and catch Pokémon you previously wouldn’t have been able to get quite as easily – I got a Togepi for my team down here. Their levels scale to your current badge total too, so you’ll be able to add new team members easily to fill out your Pokédex a bit or obtain a touch of type coverage.

This does bring to light a disappointing lack of change though. There’s still not enough type diversity readily available to trainers. Things aren’t going to be completely balanced, but I found myself absolutely inundated with water-type Pokémon on my team. Having picked Piplup as my starter, I then had a Marill, Wooper, Tentacool, Gastrodon, and Buizel kicking about. Conversely, there’s a choice of just a few fire-type Pokémon prior to accessing post-game content. If you didn’t pick Chimchar, you’ll need to take your pick and stick with it if you plan on using a fire-type. It’s a problem that didn’t have to exist either. There are mountains of fire Pokémon in the world of Pokémon – players shouldn’t have to beat the Elite Four to have access to them. It just makes the game more monotonous in team building.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond really did grow on me a lot. I’d struggle to go back to the old version thanks to the way the new one gets around HM usage, and it definitely feels like the way to play Pokémon‘s fourth generation if you have a hankering for it. Tougher trainers actually feel tougher, using berries and some semblance of strategy against you, and despite the relics of older Pokémon titles sticking to this game like limpets, it’s the best this generation has to offer. Just don’t expect miracles.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is available on the Nintendo Switch. A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Verdict

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is a surprise. Despite some teething issues, it came through as a decent if uninspired showing for fans of fourth-generation Pokémon games, and an enjoyable return to the Sinnoh region. Some issues could’ve been ironed out better, but for old players and new, this is probably the ideal way to experience Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.

Pros

  • HMs are no longer needed
  • Grand Underground is a significant upgrade
  • The art style is actually good, I promise
  • More challenging battles than previous instalments

Cons

  • Relics of old Pokémon titles make it clear this is well and truly a remake of a 2006 game
  • Not enough Pokémon variety pre-completion
  • Far from a step forward for the franchise
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