While features like wireless online gameplay and a touchscreen interface are fairly ubiquitous these days, this was not necessarily the case in 2006—the year Pokémon fans first dove headlong into the Sinnoh region. Steeped in myth and mystery, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl marked the series’ first game for the Nintendo DS, a little handheld gaming platform that had an outsized effect on the shape of the franchise moving forward.
Now, a decade and a half later, Pokémon trainers are once again flocking to Sinnoh, this time for Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl, reimagined versions of the early-aughts classics beautifully translated for the Nintendo Switch. And whether you’re a frequent visitor or a first-time traveler to the world of Pokémon, you’re sure to find these games utterly enchanting.
Like most games in the traditional Pokémon mold, your journey begins with a professor, a partner, and a perfect frenemy. In this case, it’s Professor Rowan who sends you and your rival off on this world-spanning adventure.
The Sinnoh region has long been renowned for its top-tier starter Pokémon, and they still don’t disappoint. Whether you choose grass-type Turtwig, water-type Piplup, or fire-type Chimchar, they’ll doubtlessly serve you well as you make your way across the beautiful and varied environments or Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.
The level of graphical polish—especially on the new Nintendo Switch OLED Model—is awe-inspiring, even as you skirt the narrow paths between the game’s first few major cities. While the overall chibi presentation of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl may be off-putting to some, I found it wonderfully evocative of the big heads and blocky bodies found in the earliest Pokémon games.
In fact, this can make the shift to the more realistic proportions of the battle screen animation even more of a shock, as your chubby little avatar becomes a long and lean anime tween tossing Poké Balls to summon the waiting troops.
The 3D Pokémon models displayed in battle, however, are spot-on. Attack animations are varied and visceral—and, at least in the case of my Gyrados’ Waterfall attack, downright brutal. And you get plenty of opportunities to see them in action thanks to Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl‘s old-school approach to random encounters.
In addition to gym leaders and other trainers, you’ll do battle with countless wild Pokémon from the mountaintops to deep underground. Plus, there’s Sinnoh’s own resident baddies, Team Galactic, to contend with.
But before you think that combat’s all there is to Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl, rest assured that there are many, many other diversions as you make your way across Sinnoh.
Collectible stickers can be used to decorate capsules that cover your Pocket Monsters’ Poké Balls. These provide cool visual effects like flames, smoke, and sparks as your chosen creature emerges from its tidy confines—nicely switching up the series’ go-to animation sequence.
Capsule decorations also help out in Hearthome City’s Super Contest Shows, themed Pokémon competitions based on categories like Coolness, Cuteness, and Toughness. Each Show’s evaluation is broken down into three phases: Visual, the rhythm-based Dance phase, and the bonus Move evaluation, wherein your Pokémon can perform a special move to collect even more points.
For more solitary trainers, Sinnoh’s famed underground areas have been nicely updated as the Grand Underground. Within this subterranean world, you can mine for jewels and Pokémon fossils, discover hidden environments called Pokémon Hideaways, and even build and decorate your own Secret Base.
Not that there isn’t plenty more to do aboveground. Green-thumbed players can grow and harvest helpful berries and slather honey on special tress to attract rare Pokémon. You can also make edible Poffins via a cooking mini-game, or just take your cutest ‘Mon for a fun frolic around Amity Square.
Most impressively, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl stand out as perfect examples of how to reinvigorate an older game title without wholly reinventing it. Obviously, the story is much the same, focusing on the Legendary Pokémon/local deities Dialga and Palkia respectively. Old hands will also notice the return of Diamond and Pearl‘s all-purpose tool, the Pokétch.
This on-screen watch has a memo pad, a dowsing feature for finding hidden items, and a Friendship Checker to see how well you’re bonding with your Pokémon. But that’s not to say the developers were afraid to modernize this contemporary Sinnoh experience.
For example, gone is the old and agonizing convention of deciding which of your party Pokémon should sacrifice a valuable slot to a Hidden Move, a special maneuver needed to advance in the game. Now, you simply use your Pokétch to call a nearby Bidoof to break a troublesome rock or cut down that tree blocking your way.
Other quality-of-life updates include a helpful autosave system and a nicely simplified menu. Bring up your menu with a quick press of the X button, then you can use hot buttons + to check your town map and R to manually save your adventure. Oh, and Pokémon Balls are mapped to the X button in battle too, which is a relatively new practice that’s always appreciated when I’m just trying to make a quick catch.
For me, though—and I realize I am likely in a positively miniscule minority in this regard—my favorite thing about this new take on Diamond/Pearl is… the music. You see, while the original was long adored for its inspired blend of rock, jazz, and funk, the Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl soundtrack straight-up slaps!
In pitched battles with Team Galactic, you can hear the urgency. The traveling music on Sinnoh’s roads practically powers you along, and even the game’s later more stressful and somber moments are expertly accompanied in musical form.
It’s no surprise that I, of all people, enjoy a new Pokémon game, but I was delighted to discover that this particular in-between chapter—in its original form neither a distinctly early iteration nor a particularly recent affair—appealed to me like never before. Classicists and newbies alike will surely find a lot to love in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl, and it’s more than deserving of a spot on your holiday gift list for the family’s resident Pokémaniac.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. Chimchar is number 1!