The past week or so has shown just how challenging the concept of a remake or remaster can be, whether we’re talking about games or TV shows. The remastered Grand Theft Auto trilogy, for instance, seemed like a slam dunk but has instead turned into a meme factory. Netflix’s take on Cowboy Bebop, meanwhile, has had to thread a tricky needle of remaining true to the anime while also standing on its own. So, while it may seem like faint praise, it’s important to say this about Nintendo’s latest Pokémon releases, which bring the classic Diamond and Pearl to the Switch: they’re perfectly acceptable.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, as they’re called, are slightly upgraded versions of the games that first graced the Nintendo DS in 2006. The new versions follow the same simple story — you’re a budding pokémon trainer who ends up having to thwart a mysterious organization known as Team Galactic — in the beautiful Sinnoh region. You once again start out by choosing between a penguin, fire monkey, and a turtle with a twig growing out of its head. When they first came out, Diamond and Pearl really tested just how far the Pokémon formula could stretch. They didn’t add all that much, and the story wasn’t particularly memorable, and yet… I couldn’t stop playing. What they lacked in originality the games made up for with a rock-solid adventure and lots of cool creatures to collect.
This all remains true with the remakes. I’ve played through the first few hours of Brilliant Diamond, and it feels a lot like what I remember from the DS days. The most notable difference, of course, is how the game looks. Things are fully 3D, but instead of following in the footsteps of the Switch games Sword and Shield, these remakes introduce a new chibi art style reminiscent of World of Final Fantasy.
One the one hand, the graphics actually feel pretty true to the originals; characters have big heads and teeny tiny bodies while running around the field, and then inexplicably are perfectly proportioned once you hop into battle. But it’s also a bit of an acquired taste. Personally I’m not all that into the super-deformed character designs, and there are some other visual quirks, like flat textures and strangely shiny floors inside just about every building. It looks alright in handheld mode, though I found it pretty ugly blown up on a television set. I was also struck by how small the towns and routes felt compared to more recent entries. But hey, at least the pokémon look normal.
If the visuals don’t bother you, the good news is that gameplay-wise this remake is great — and that’s because it changes very little from the original. If you’ve become bored by the Pokémon formula over the years, you should probably wait for next year’s Arceus, which looks to introduce something of an open world to the series. But if the standard Pokémon structure is still enough to excite you, there are few better options. The game even adds a few more modern quality-of-life improvements, most notably having EXP share — an item that lets all of the pokémon in your party, not just the one battling, earn experience — as a built-in feature from the get-go. This massively reduces the tedium of building a team and makes things like evolving a Magikarp into a less frustrating experience. There’s also an improved smartwatch that lets you use moves like Cut — necessary for bypassing certain obstacles — without having to teach them to a pokémon, which was always a pain.
In a world where remakes, remasters, and reboots are both ubiquitous and often quite bad, it’s nice to have a game that doesn’t mess with things too much. Sure, I could’ve done with a different visual style. But there’s something really comforting about slipping back into a familiar experience and losing a few hours to the pleasant routine of catching them all.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl launch on the Nintendo Switch on November 19th.