Pokémon fans have received three lackluster Pokémon Games since the Nintendo DS launch over two years ago. Pokémon Dash, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, and Pokémon Ranger were poor offerings, almost as if Nintendo had simply slapped Pokémon on some generic games. Finally, four years after Ruby and Sapphire, the fourth generation of Pokémon has arrived. In addition to that, every Pokémon player's dreams have come true: online play. Even after nearly a decade of the same general game mechanics, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl prove to be excellent RPGs that strongly display the series's strengths.
The main eye-catching feature of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl is the touch screen. The game uses the lower screen as a display for your "Pokétch," a device that sports a number of applications. These applications range from a clock, a notepad, a Pokémon happiness checker, an item finder and more. Upgrades are received from various NPCs to add to your Pokétch. A few of the applications are useless (e.g. Pokémon List and Analog Clock), but many of them are useful (e.g. Berry Searcher and Pedometer). During battle, the touch screen is used to select your attacks, items, and other Pokémon. Although the D-Pad and buttons can also be used, using the touch screen is much more quick and convenient.
There are a few other uses of the touch screen, including selecting what moves to replace for your Pokémon, browsing the Pokédex, and entering names for your Pokémon. Touch screen usage is highly inconsistent, however, as the game's interfaces tend to vary from using the touch screen or the buttons. An example of this is the Bag menu: you can use the touch screen to select the Bag category, but you would have to switch to the D-Pad and buttons to select an item. The scattering of the interfaces doesn't weaken the game experience, but a uniform method of control would make it easier for gamers to enjoy.
For those new to the Pokémon experience, the game is basically this: get Pokémon, earn gym badges, defeat the bad guys, and beat the Elite Four and rival. That is the usual Pokémon game on a basic level; of course there are many more activities to perform. The primary storyline is similar to the previous games: you start a new journey in Twinleaf Town of the Sinnoh Region, and you meet a professor who lets you have a Pokemon (fire-type, grass-type, or water-type). From there, you proceed to other towns and beat the gym leaders for gym badges. Along the way, you defeat Team Galactic and help random NPCs.
Pokémon is a turn-based RPG, so battles consist of turns. A Pokémon with a higher speed stat will be able to move first, and a battle is won when the opponent's Pokémon have fainted. You have up to four different moves at once for each Pokémon. With attacks from the third generation and new attacks of the fourth generation, there are many new combinations and strategies that are available. Pokémon and moves have various types, including water, grass, fire, normal, and steel. These factors play a major part in your success against opposing Pokémon. New to Diamond and Pearl are the three categories of attacks: physical, special, and other. Previously, the categorization of moves into Physical or Special types was dependent upon the move type (e.g. Fire). In Diamond & Pearl, Physical and Special moves are dependent on their name. Physical attacks are moves such as Drain Punch, Low Kick, Tackle, and Slam. Special attacks are moves such as Ember, Psychic, and Psybeam. The "Other" category consists of non-damaging moves and attacks that do a specific amount of damage (e.g. Sonicboom does 20HP damage and Seismic Toss does damage depending on the user's level).
Former players will notice a graphical upgrade; the game uses 2D sprites with simple 3D geometry for buildings and geographical features. The visuals aren't overwhelming, but they are refreshing for returning players. Battles, however, look identical to the GBA versions, so it's somewhat disappointing. Besides the low quality of some Pokémon cries, sound isn't an issue; especially not the catchy and enjoyable background music.
Local multiplayer basically remains the same; the Union Room returns from the third generation, and the option for 4 player battles is available. Your character receives an item in the game called a Pal Pad which allows for easy listing of players that you have played or traded with in the past.
Online multiplayer requires a Wi-Fi connection. As with all Nintendo Wi-Fi games, Pokémon Diamond & Pearl requires friend code trading to trade or battle opponents over the Internet. But once that is over with, trading and battling is the same as local multiplayer. Voice chat is also an option with the new Nintendo DS headset, but this can only be done with friends. A great feature of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl is Jubilife City's Global Trade Station. It allows you to place your Pokémon available for trade with anyone connected to Wi-Fi. You can also look for Pokémon you would like (provided you have seen the Pokémon in-game before) and specify their levels and gender as well.
Pokémon Diamond and Pearl has a lot of depth to it: you can catch 445 of the 493 Pokémon between Pokémon Diamond and Pearl alone. There is a heavier emphasis on Contests with the introducing of Poffin, food for Pokémon that will raise their contest stats. Pokémon from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Fire Red, and Leaf Green can be transferred over to Diamond and Pearl as well, although it can only be done after the National Pokédex is obtained. NPCs say more humorous comments as well, including calling you a "noob" and saying that "you got served." The day/night system from Gold, Silver, and Crystal has returned too.
The core Pokémon experience holds up after nine years of existence. Pokémon has received many new additions since Red and Blue's release, and it looks like the series is only getting better. Iwata will no doubt bathe in money with the sales from Diamond and Pearl. These are the greatest Pokémon games ever created, and all Pokémon fans should get one of the two versions immediately.