Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl Review (Nintendo Switch)

A Remake That’s Not Very Effective


When Pokémon Diamond and Pearl was released for the Nintendo DS in 2007, I was ecstatic. As an 11-year-old who had been playing Pokémon his whole life, everything I had seen leading up to the game’s release spoke to me. New evolutions for the Pokémon I grew up with, new gameplay mechanics like mining in the underground, and, of course, a new generation of Pokémon to discover, all had me counting down the days to its release. In the years that followed my time with these games, I had spoken fondly of Pokémon’s fourth generation and reflected on it as one of the best additions to the 25-year-old franchise. So it was no surprise to anyone how excited I was when their remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, were announced. Not only did I immediately fall in love with the chibi art style, I knew that a return to the Sinnoh region would be enough to reignite my love for these games, especially after feeling let down by Pokémon Sword and Shield.

Pokemon, BDSP, Sinnoh
Welcome to Sinnoh!

The good news is that these are loyal remakes of one of the best Pokémon games made. I picked Pokémon Brilliant Diamond between the two options and found that Sinnoh is still an interesting, diverse region to explore. The chibi art style lends itself well to the overworld, and the music is as endearing as I remember. With familiar yet distinct Pokémon to catch and a plot that’s charming in its simplicity, the source material of these remakes is nothing short of the classic Pokémon experience most fans will be looking for.


However, as I began my adventure, a Piplup in tow, I quickly began to spot the cracks. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is not a bad game by any means. It has the familiar, nostalgic gameplay you’d expect from any Pokémon game. Unfortunately, these remakes are barely more than a facelift of their 14-year-old counterparts. Some modern additions, like a streamlined HM system and Pokémon that follow you in the overworld, as well as updated systems like the now ‘grand’ underground, are all welcome inclusions. However, they don’t achieve nearly the same heights as the additional gameplay elements we got in past remakes like Omega Ruby and HeartGold. The whole package feels underwhelming comparatively. Two-thirds of the catchable Pokémon available in this game is locked until the postgame, contests have been egregiously redesigned, and modern series staples, like reusable TM's and the Global Trading System, are nowhere to be seen. The few new additions presented across the game appear scarcely and are overshadowed by the array of gameplay bugs and outdated features I encountered across the 40 hours it took me to get to the postgame. Don’t get me wrong, Developers ILCA did a great job in recreating the source games, but with its unpolished quality, lack of exciting inclusions and outdated design choices, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is a remake that’s not very effective.

Pokemon, BDSP, Piplup
Piplup, I choose you!

Plot


Anyone who has ever played any Pokémon game before can take an educated guess on what the story of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond has to offer. You begin in a small town. A chance encounter grants you your starter Pokémon, the professor gives you a Pokédex, and you’re off to be the very best like no one ever was. Throw in a couple of gym leaders, some bad guys trying to awaken a legendary Pokémon and a rival who is more bark than bite, and you get a formula that has mostly worked for the last few decades.

Pokemon, BDSP, Team Galactic
Team Galactic wants to battle!

There is, however, something special about the Sinnoh region that makes it memorable. Dynamic gym leaders with distinct personalities, a diverse range of towns to explore, each feeling fleshed out and unique, and one of, if not the best Pokémon champion in the series. While the opening hours are hand-holdy and quite linear, revisiting the towns and battling each gym leader reminded me why I enjoyed this generation so much in the first place. Sinnoh is just a really cool place to explore.


As you enter the game’s later stages, the story picks up epically. The game tests you with challenging boss fights and Pokémon encounters that force you to think carefully about your party setup, and I found these moments to be some of the best of the game. While I wish that some story elements, locations, and additions from Pokémon Platinum made it to these remakes, the postgame has plenty of things to do to keep hardcore trainers engaged for hours. Whether or not the grind to get to the backend of the game is worth it depends on the player, but this is where the game brilliantly shines.

pokemon, bdsp, gym battle
Are you ready for a gym battle?

Gameplay


While the region and characters of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond hold up as they are, I wish ILCA had leaned away from the source games when designing the moment to moment gameplay. While battling trainers and catching wild Pokémon works as well as ever, everything outside of the core gameplay loop just feels outdated. The locations of wild Pokémon are the same as the originals, which is fine in the early game, but as I continued to encounter the same handful of weak Pokémon 20 hours and 5 badges in, it became tedious to explore new areas. The lack of wild Pokémon walking around the overworld, as seen in the more recent Pokémon titles, hindered my desire to grind random encounters knowing the hundredth Geodude or Starly would likely appear. Whether it be the result of the limited main game roster or the Pokémon found in the grand underground, I was baffled to discover that the Pokémon encounter rates and locations weren’t updated to modern standards.


Speaking of the grand underground, this new inclusion takes the fossil finding gameplay from the original games and expands it by including biomes scattered around the underground map, filled with wild Pokémon. At first, exploring these areas was exciting. Discovering rare Pokémon walking around their natural environments alleviated my issues with the tall grass in the overworld. I did, unfortunately, find that it didn’t take long to see everything the grand underground had to offer. While the Pokémon you encounter here scale to match your level, the selection of Pokémon that appear barely change throughout the game. As you get towards the end of the main story, as well as once you enter the postgame, these areas do repopulate with new Pokémon spanning the first 4 generations. But after playing 40 hours of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond to unlock the expanded roster of Pokémon, I didn’t have the need, nor desire, to catch them.

pokemon, bdsp, grand underground
Wow, this underground area sure is grand!

The rest of the game’s mechanics are confusing in their implementation. For every positive modern inclusion, there are aspects of the originals that should have stayed in the past. HM’s are now streamlined, where instead of assigning them to your team, they are used with the assistance of a wild Pokémon. TM's, on the other hand, are back to being consumable after becoming reusable in recent games. You can have a Pokémon follow you around the overworld, though it is more of a pleasing aesthetic choice than any real game-changer. The experience share tool is available from the get-go and helps your whole party level up and stay balanced. Those who never liked this tool, however, will be frustrated to learn that it cannot be switched off at all. While you can enter an online room to trade with or battle trainers, the Global Trading System, a series staple introduced in the original Diamond and Pearl games, is absent from these remakes.


One of the most baffling changes made for these remakes is how the Pokémon Contests were redesigned for the Nintendo Switch. What was a fun minigame that oozed in charm is now an uninspired rhythm game that lacks any personality whatsoever. It smacks of something that was just thrown together and speaks to the rushed nature of this whole package.

Pokemon, BDSP, Contests
There's nothing super effective about these contests.

On top of all of these frustrating choices, moving around the Sinnoh region can be annoying thanks to strange hitbox design and some gameplay bugs. I constantly bumped into everything around me, from buildings and signposts to rocks and trees, when it seemed that there was plenty of room. The unpredictable nature of these environmental hitboxes constantly took me out of the moment, forcing me to carefully restep to keep moving.


While I did not experience any game-breaking bugs in my playthrough, some that I did encounter made what would have been really fun segments into lacklustre moments. Disappearing character models and choppy music just added to Pokémon Brilliant Diamond’s overall lack of polish.

pokemon, bdsp, drifloon
I don't like the way you're looking at me Drifloon.

Visuals and Audio


While Pokémon Brilliant Diamond doesn’t set any bars visually speaking, its chibi art style suits the Sinnoh region well. Paired with the wide variety of environments and the excellent remaster of the original score, this world is a peaceful place to explore. When entering a battle, the game trades in your cute little character model for one more akin to Pokémon Sword and Shield. These more proportioned models look great despite their simplicity, and battling in each unique location brings in environments that look alive. Encounter a wild Pokémon in a cave? Battle them in a luminous cavern with small waterfalls and shards of stone protruding from the ground. A trainer wants to fight you up in the snowy mountains? Experience a snow fallen forest adorned by the sparkling night sky. This game doesn’t push the limits of the Nintendo Switch hardware, but thanks to its cute overworld and a smattering of beautiful scenes, it does a nice job of presenting this region well.

pokemon, bdsp
Hmm, I wonder what's in this tree...

Conclusion


Pokémon Brilliant Diamond isn’t a bad game. A flawed game, sure. But it is still a good Pokémon game. The Sinnoh region holds up, with diverse environments, interesting characters and heaps of things to do and places to see. You won’t, however, get any surprises or new mechanics that make this a must-play and the lack of any exciting inclusions until you reach the postgame can make for a long-winded experience. Poor design choices, gameplay bugs, and missing modern mechanics make this game feel unpolished. Those looking for a Pokémon remake of the same calibre as past generations will be disappointed. But if you’re new to the franchise or looking to get that classic Pokémon experience on your Switch, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl captures the essence of the games they are based on.


So, why should you play it?

  • You love the original games, flaws and all.

  • You’re a new or returning Pokémon player.

  • You’re looking for a cute and simple Switch Game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You're used to modern mechanics in your Pokémon games.

  • You want something new and exciting in your Pokémon games.

  • You want a challenging RPG.

  • You don’t like Pokémon.

 

Written by

James Grech

James is a writer and absolute dork who is as passionate about making puns as he is about video games. From Melbourne, Australia, when he's not playing Dungeons and Dragons or rocking out at karaoke, you can usually find him engaged in some kind of story.

Keep up with James on Twitter or check out his Folio for more game reviews!