Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are as faithful of remakes of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl as they come, carrying forward all the triumphs and the warts of those original games to a new generation of fans. For years, Pokemon fans have clamored for "Sinnoh remakes" on just about every video, tweet, and social media post made by The Pokemon Company. It's been 15 years since players have taken a trip to the Sinnoh region, an area based on the Hokkaido region of Japan and defined by the massive Mount Coronet that divides it into two. And so, fans rejoiced when The Pokemon Company confirmed that Sinnoh remakes were on the way in the form of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. These new games are a deliberate throwback to the Pokemon games of yore, for all the good and bad that entails.
Developed by ILCA, the small game studio behind Pokemon Home, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl lean hard into nostalgia. Almost every building, every NPC, and every route is recreated from those original games. In fact, the games even bring back the Pokemon teams used by the gym leaders and trainers, right down to their moves and original levels. The skeleton of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is exactly the same as its predecessors; you will be getting an "authentic" Sinnoh experience by playing through these games.
The strict adherence to the original Pokemon Diamond and Pearl is actually the root cause of many of the games' noticeable flaws. Many consider the original Pokemon Diamond and Pearl games to have one of the most tedious storylines of the game. All Pokemon games have a pretty linear storyline, but both the layout of the Sinnoh region and the storyline itself are overly long and bloated. Some of these issues were addressed in Pokemon Platinum which switched the order of gyms around to give players a more streamlined experience, but Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl ignore those fixes in the name of replicating the original games step by excruciatingly long step.
Of course, some parts of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are different. The Poketch found in the original games has received an upgrade, replacing the need to equip Pokemon with Hidden Moves. Additionally, the Underground area of the games has received a major upgrade, with rooms filled with various Pokemon that meander around the map -- the only place in the game where wild Pokemon appear outside of tall grass. Players can manipulate which Pokemon appear in rooms by placing statues in the Secret Base, adding more chances to find rare Pokemon that don't appear elsewhere. Contests also get a makeover of sorts with the addition of a rhythm minigame.
These are fun additions and good ways to kill time, especially when needing to get through the slog that is the first half of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl's storyline or wanting to expand your Pokemon collection past the relatively modest 151 Pokemon found in the Sinnoh Pokedex while still completing the main storyline. Seriously, I cannot stress how wonderful it is that the Grand Underground gives players an option to include a Fire-type Pokemon besides the Chimchar or Ponyta lines during the initial playthrough of the games.
One of the upgrades to Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl does bring about unintended consequences during the initial playthrough. As with other newer Pokemon games, the Exp. Share is now a default feature that causes your entire team to gain experience with every battle. While this is intended to reduce the grinding you need to complete to bring a new Pokemon up to a competitive level, it has a rather unintended consequence in Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. If a player sticks with a relatively small collection of Pokemon while playing through the storyline, and players don't have much of a choice due to a limited selection of Pokemon, they will quickly become over-leveled in comparison to the wild Pokemon and trainers they meet throughout. Past Pokemon games were hardly a challenge to players, but the designers probably did not intend for a player to enter a mid-game gym with Pokemon 10 or more levels above their NPC opponents. Players received the Exp. Share about a third of the way through Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, but adding it from the start and adding access to high-level Pokemon via the Grand Underground seems to have thrown off the scaling balance.
Despite some of the design issues, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are at least fantastic to look at. The chibi-esque art style works really well for the game and gives it a retro-feeling aesthetic without sacrificing the bright colors or the more modern Pokemon models seen in newer games. Frankly, ILCA deserves credit for making such a bright and vibrant game that really stands out in comparison to the somewhat drab and dreary Pokemon Sword and Shield. The graphics feel so much cleaner than they have in past Nintendo Switch Pokemon experiences and the soundtrack really slaps as well. Honestly, these could be the best-looking Pokemon games ever made.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are good remakes of an inherently flawed Pokemon game. The games lean a little hard into recapturing the experience of the originals, which is a detriment and somewhat negates the fantastic visual and quality-of-life improvements. Honestly, it feels that Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are a preemptive olive branch to Pokemon fans ahead of Pokemon Legends: Arceus, in that it provides a decidedly retro experience as an alternative option to what is sure to be the most envelope-pushing Pokemon game made since the franchise launched 25 years ago. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are made for those looking to celebrate the past of the Pokemon experience. For the rest of us, it's a nice distraction to hold us over until the launch of the next Pokemon game in a couple of months.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will be available for the Nintendo Switch on November 19th. The publisher provided a game code for the purposes of this review, which is specifically based on Pokemon Brilliant Diamond, and it was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch OLED.