This year's selection of Pocket Monster-catching video games has been a point of contention for fans since they were announced back in early 2021. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are from-the-ground-up remakes of the 2006 Nintendo DS games that fans have been begging for for years, so what’s the issue? Shouldn’t most people be fairly thrilled? Some fans are absolutely head over heels for the chibi art style and the game’s simplicity, although others wish these remakes took things to the next level, tried something different, and gave us a more of a graphical showcase.
For us, though, we fall somewhere in the middle. Last week Nintendo invited us to attend a special preview session to check out the games ahead of the November launch, and while we weren’t able to go hands-on just yet, we were able to gain a lot more insight into what to expect from these Gen 4 remakes. Since The Pokémon Company currently has its hands full with next year's Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are being outsourced to a third-party company known as ILCA. They’ve worked with TPC in the past on the app Pokémon Home, but are now being given the chance to show their stuff in the Sinnoh Region.
If you’ve played a mainline Pokémon game before, you’ll know what to expect here. You’ll travel the world on a mission to complete your Pokédex, collect badges and become the greatest Pokémon Trainer there ever was. If Sword and Shield are the only games you’ve played in the series, you may be a bit surprised to see the overworld laid out in a fairly 'stiff' manner, but that’s part of the charm here as these remakes are staying as faithful as possible to their original vision. The buildings, plant life and NPCs have all been designed with a toy-like aesthetic, somewhat reminiscent of the art style of the The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Switch remake from 2019, although we’re not sure it works as well here.
Other than the occasional NPC walking around, we’ve yet to see much overall life in the set pieces. Trees and bushes will sway back and forth with the flow of the wind, and clouds will cast shadows down from above. All of the terrain and structures fit together nicely, but Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl look almost as if you gave a kid a playset of toys and they rearranged them as close as they could to the maps of the original Diamond and Pearl and said “What do you think?” Everything works but in some places it feels like there could be more detail to pull it all together, some tweaks or additions that would provide a little more cohesion for a modern day Pokémon release. We were only shown a few select areas during our preview, but we’re curious to see what other areas of the game has to offer.
However, things become a bit different once you pop into a battle. Pokémon battles ditch the chibi-aesthetic found in the overworld for something more modern and familiar, a look that likely utilizes the same 3D models found in the more recent mainline games. Battles feature some nice graphical flair here and there, the quick over-the-shoulder flash that happens at the start of each battle is directly inspired by the classics as well. Beyond that though, it seems like battles are largely unchanged. Some new quality of life improvements that were non-existent in the originals are included, like the ability to share EXP between all of your Pokémon and the fact each move will clearly state if it will be effective against the opposing Pokémon or not.
Plenty of Sinnoh Pokémon will also be making their mainline Switch debut in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl as well, including the starters Chimchar, Piplup and Turtwig, everyone’s favorite Bidoof and many more. We’re unsure if some of the event-only Pokémon from the originals like Darkrai and Shaymin will be making a return, but we’ve been told that the story is staying true to the original tale, so hopefully they’ve found a way to include them without the hurdle of Mystery Gifts.
Most mainline Pokémon games have some sort of additional activity to keep you busy beyond just collecting and battling Pokémon, and Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are bringing plenty of these features back from the days of the DS. The most improved of the bunch seems to be the Super Contest. This is essentially a rhythm game where one of your Pokémon will head on stage for a dance off against other Pokémon in a contest of cuteness. The actual gameplay seems fairly simple, tasking you with pressing different buttons in time with what’s displayed on screen, but you’re also able to dress up your trainer in different outfits for the occasion too.
You’re also able to roam around Amity Square park with up to six of your Pokémon alongside you, as long as they meet the required cuteness criteria. This will help raise their bond with you and you can also cook Poffins for your Pokémon to munch on here, too. We've been told you'll have some limited camera control here as well if you’d like to take a few snapshots of you and your party of Pokémon.
If you think you’re more of a rough-and-tough trainer who prefers something a bit more gritty, you can head into the Underground to dig for rare gems and even rarer statues of Pokémon. You’ll also discover Hideaways underground, which are areas that offer you chances to catch a slew of specific types of Pokémon. They'll even roam around the map much like in the Let’s Go series. These Hideaways will be themed around different types, so you can expect to find Fire-type Pokémon in an area that looks like an active volcano, or Grass and Bug types in a wooded forest. We’re not entirely sure how the underground supports such a vast ecosystem, but we're talking about a fictional world full of monsters that can fit in your pocket anyways, so let's not get hung up on mere details.
You can also affect the type of Pokémon that will appear in Hideaways. The statues you discover in the mining portions can be placed all around in your Secret Base anywhere you like and if you place down a batch of Water-type Pokémon statues, you’ll encounter more of those types of Pokémon in the Hideaways. Those of you hoping to deck out your Secret Base with Pokédolls, trophies, rugs and furniture will be a little disappointed to hear that, to our knowledge, statues will be the only items you can use to decorate. It’s definitely a bummer to see this section of the game scaled back in comparison to the Secret Bases found in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire on the 3DS, but the added practicality of the statues may be a fair trade off.
There are plenty of other quality of life improvements that have made the jump from past games in the series. You’re able to have a single Pokémon follow you around on the overworld map, you can now change the skin tone and clothing of your player character, and your Pokémon box can be accessed from anywhere in the game.
From what we’ve been shown so far, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are shaping up to be faithful but extremely safe remakes. If you’ve been curious to learn more about the story of the Sinnoh region but don’t have access to a DS — or you're just itching for a different Pokémon game to play on Switch — then there’s a lot to look forward to here. However, considering what Pokémon Legends: Arceus is looking to offer at the start of next year, it’s yet to be seen if there’s enough in these remakes to entice someone who’s looking for something fresh and new.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl launch on Nintendo Switch on 19th November.