As the sun rises over the Sinnoh Region, children are leaving their homes by the hundreds. They aren’t attending school, nor are they running away from tough family situations and domestic abuse. In fact, their parents are waving goodbye from their doorsteps, secretly wiping tears from their eyes and hiding their emotions. They know that they may never see their sons or daughters for months, years, or ever again. Yet they allow the children roam free across the land, exploring every dank cave, wandering through the bustling streets of distant cities, and hopefully learning about life. These kids, many of whom have yet to reach their teens, are starting a coming-of-age journey of a lifetime. They are ambitious, naive, and idealistic. As these eager children sprint merrily out of the humble villages and venture into world, they never suspect the hardships they will face as they fulfill their quest to become Pokemon Masters.
Wait a minute. Why are a bunch of ten-year-olds allowed to ditch their families and put their put their futures on hold? After reaching a certain age, adolescents are obligated to undertake a journey that will supposedly define their place in the world. Forget about an education and getting a summer job; for these kids, their only goal is to become the greatest champions the world has ever known. In order to meet that goal, the kids will have to capture a bunch of animals called Pokemon. Using a bit of high-tech devices and a little bit of luck, they’ll be able to snag one of the critters, train them into fighting beasts, then sic them on any other trainers stupid enough to challenge them. Rinse and repeat a few hundred times, and your character will amass an army of these fearsome pocket monsters, wield enough power to smite even the strongest trainers in the land, and become the champion of Sinnoh.
That’s assuming, of course, that you can even catch one of the little monsters to add to your team. After obtaining your first Pokemon as a freebie, you’ll have to venture forth into the untamed wilds, searching for a prospective target. After a brief flash of light and an onslaught of pulse-pounding music, a feral Pokemon will let out a guttural snarl and attack you. Instead of running away like a little wimp, you summon your loyal pet and command it to attack. After your Pokemon ravages its prey with a flurry of turn-based attacks and whittles its health to the breaking point, you can snatch a PokeBall out of your backpack and fling it toward the enemy. Should the target be weakened enough, it’ll succumb to the ball’s powers and get crammed within it. Congrats, you’ve just snagged one of the 480+ Pokemon species in the game! With a new monster enslaved and ready to do your bidding, your six-member team will eventually grow into an empire more formidable than anything ever seen. Indeed, those pathetic Pokemon Gym Leaders (aka wannabe bosses in disguise) won’t know what hit them.
Oh, if only it were so easy. While much of this will sound familiar to the veterans of the original Pokemon Red and Blue games, things have changed since the series’ humble beginnings. Upon receiving experience points and leveling up enough, your Pokemon will be granted access to a slew of different elementally based moves. See that little monkey with a flames flickering off its ass? It’ll eventually evolve into a super-powered primate that can roast his enemies in a hail of firebombs or pound it into submission with a bunch of fighting maneuvers. But if he comes up against a Pokemon that can spray water or use telekinesis, he’s screwed. Such is the basis of the combat in Pokemon; each monster’s abilities are lethal against one type, but ineffective against another. Following the tradition of the last few Pokemon installments, the monsters in Diamond feature dual elements to mix up the combat even more. Each beast comes with different personalities and stats; some will have higher health ratings, while others can take more punishment. Considering that a Pokemon can only have four moves at once, you’ll have to raise your team carefully to make it truly effective.
It’s not always about competitive battling, though. With nearly five hundred species of the critters roaming throughout the land, you’re going to have your hands full if you just want to snag all of them. Accordingly, Pokemon Diamond provides you with a massive continent to explore; you’ll get to walk along deserted forest trails, wander aimlessly through nigh endless fields of tall grass flanked by looming hills, explore the dark recesses of a several caves and ruins, and visit more cities and towns than you should probably shake a stick at. Though the progression of the game revolves around you leveling up your Pokemon and defeating the local Gym Leader, the game has plenty of ways to distract you from the adventure. Certain areas will hold Pokemon Contests, allowing you to dress up your Pokemon with a bunch of accessories and have them perform in front of judges. If you don’t care about winning the meaningless prizes, you can buy entire sets of furniture and create your own hidden base underground. If all else fails, you can link to Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, and the rest of the GBA games (after beating the majority of the adventure, anyway) to import your hard-earned Pokemon from the other games.
Fans of the last few titles won’t probably think much of Pokemon Diamond; despite the extensive layouts of roadways, higher difficulty, and expanded features, it plays nearly identical to Ruby and Sapphire. This title, however, has an ace up its sleeve: the multiplayer. In previous games, you were forced to seek out other gamers (or anyone willing to admit to playing Pokemon in public) and buy a connector cable if you wanted test your skills against someone. Yeah, it was tedious. This game eliminates such problems by making full use of the DS’s WiFi capabilities; now you’ll be able to battle your friends and foes online with ease. The game also boasts a wonderfully crafted trading system. Aside from exchanging Pokemon and chatting with your friends via the DS’s microphone, you can use the Global Trade Station to make trade requests on a worldwide scale. Pining after that little dragon creature? Search the database for it. Some kid in Tokyo might trade you one, given that you have what he’s looking for. Your DS doesn’t even have to be on to do the transaction, either. Indeed, the multiplayer is straightforward, efficient, and quite possibly the greatest improvement in the Pokemon series.
That doesn’t mean that Pokemon Diamond makes full use of all the DS’s capabilities, though. While the majority of the truly awesome features were focused on highly competitive team building and Wifi multiplayer, the game designers overlooked one of the most fundamental aspects of the DS: the Touch Screen. Thankfully, there are no “draw the runes” or “rub the target” gimmicks here. In fact, you don’t need to break out your stylus to play the game. Instead, the Touch Screen is dominated by a bunch of extra computer applications with varying importance: you’ll get to toggle among a digital clock, calculator, Item Finder, VS Seeker, Pokemon happiness gauge, and plenty of other features. For all of you breeding-obsessed trainers, the Raising Checker and pedometer can work wonders in helping you hatch some eggs. Despite such useful items, the utter lack of PC storage controls and bland display hinder it from being truly great.
The game tries to distract you from such shortcomings by featuring plenty of details on the top screen. While Pokemon Diamond retains the birds-eye camera perspective from the previous games, much of the surroundings have been converted into 3D. You can disappear behind skyscrapers, watch the windmills rotate as they power the local electrical plant, and even talk to NPCs that are a bit more rounded out than their pixilated GBA brethren. As the game shifts from day into night, the color palettes will gradually change, showing off different shades and even causing the streetlamps to give off a luminescent glow. Such little details don’t hide the blocky shapes and sharp angles, though. Thankfully, the 2D graphics have been given their own facelift; many of the Pokemon sprites have been retouched with brighter colors and sharper contrasts. Several of the animations have been upgraded as well; what used to a bunch of blinking pixels are now scathing flames, flowing water, and plenty of other flashy graphics. Even the music has been updated; fans of older Pokemon games will recognized a few remixed tunes included in the game’s upbeat soundtrack. Unfortunately, the same nostalgia applies to the Pokemon battle cries; you’ll still hear the same ear-splitting screeches and incoherent babble featured in all of the other games.
But hey, don’t let that deter you from picking up this game. Pokemon Diamond is easily one of the greatest titles on the DS. It features the tried and true gameplay established by previous entries in the series, but builds upon it with more moves, extensive strategy options, and tons of extra stuff to keep you busy. Between exploring the massive towns, wandering through the multi-tiered wastelands, and challenging legions of trainers, you’ll enjoy a lengthy adventure that no other DS game can boast. The countless collectibles and extra contests add plenty more content some already beefed-up gameplay. The online multiplayer allows you to trade with and play against thousands of other gamers around the planet, allowing for tons of competition and interaction. Indeed, Pokemon Diamond does not merely cater to the fans of the series, but provides enough addictive gameplay to keep any DS owner hooked. Besides, there are nearly 500 of the little critters to catch now; that alone ought to keep you busy.