Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Editor's note: For this review, we evaluated Pokémon Brilliant Diamond primarily. Pokémon Shining Pearl offers a slightly different collection of Pokémon to catch; otherwise, the two games are identical.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are almost one-to-one remakes of the original Nintendo DS games that came out back in 2007. The story is rather simple. As in every other mainline Pokémon game, you’re a kid who gets his first Pokémon from the local professor. You then go on a journey to collect all eight badges and stop a villainous organization along the way. Then you fight the Elite Four and the Pokémon Champion to become the strongest trainer in the region.
The games stay on the safe side rather than taking any large creative risks. But these were good games back then, and they're still good ones now. However, there are some caveats to Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl that hold them back. Read on for our full Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl review.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl review: Gameplay
If you’ve ever played a Pokémon game before, the gameplay in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is pretty much the same. You send out your Pokémon critters against your opponents', and you engage in turn-based combat until you defeat them, or vice versa. Each Pokémon has an elemental type, such as fire, water or grass. Each type also has different kinds of weaknesses. Hitting an opponent’s weakness is the key to winning each battle.
One thing to note is that because Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are practically one-to-one remakes of the originals, the games don't have any battle system gimmicks. Compare and contrast with the third generation of games: 2003’s Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. Game Freak remade these in 2014 as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
Those games incorporated the battle gimmick, Mega Evolutions, from Pokémon X and Y. The developers even had an entire explanation about how the remakes were on a separate timeline from the original games, where Mega Evolutions never existed before.
It’s a bit disappointing to see Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl developer ILCA leave out the Dynamax system from Pokémon Sword and Shield, even if that mechanic was divisive among players. Including it would have definitely helped Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl forge identities of its own.
As it stands, I think those who played the original games might get more of a kick out of these remakes than newcomers. Those who started playing Pokémon with the more recent entries may consider Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl to feel a bit stripped-down.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl review: Quality of life changes
Some of the most significant changes in Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are their new quality of life features. These help streamline the games considerably.
As an example, consider the removal of HMs, or Hidden Machines. In the past, these HMs taught Pokémon moves that were essential for navigation, such as Surf to cross bodies of water, or Rock Smash to smash boulders in your way. The issue is that not all of them were useful in battle. In particular, Rock Smash was a weak attack, but you had to keep it just in case you needed to use it outside of battle.
Pokémon Sun and Moon were the first games to remove HMs. Instead, you could simply call a random wild Pokémon to use Surf or Rock Smash for you. I’m glad that this feature carried over into Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, as it allows for more flexible team building.
Another welcome addition is the ability to access your PC to swap your Pokémon in and out at any time. Other recent Pokémon entries also offered this feature. There’s no need to go all the way back to the Pokémon Center. The EXP Share feature is back, too. All of the Pokémon in your party receive EXP, whether they battled or not.
While I felt ambivalent about EXP Share at first, I eventually warmed up to it, as it helped me level up my weaker Pokémon quickly. However, it does remove some challenge from the game, and I wish there were at least an option to turn it off.
When you bring up your menu, there’s text on the bottom that tells you what your next objective is, as well as a flag on your map that pinpoints where to go. While I have fond memories of playing the original Diamond and Pearl games, I definitely didn’t remember everything, including where to go for each objective. As a result, I certainly appreciated this new feature.
The autosave feature from Pokémon Sword and Shield comes back, too, but the implementation still doesn't feel good enough. Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl autosaves whenever you accomplish objectives, such as moving to a new area or catching a new Pokémon. The problem is that the game doesn’t have a separate save file for autosaves. As such, if you do something you don’t like and the game autosaves, then you’re screwed. Thankfully, you can turn autosave off.
Now, my biggest complaint is related to TMs, or Technical Machines. Like HMs, they teach your Pokémon new moves. HMs had unlimited use while TMs were single use. But in the fifth generation games, TMs were changed to become unlimited use.
In these remakes, however, TMs have been reverted back to single use items. This is more in line with the original games, but it's certainly a backwards step. What if I wanted to teach two of my Pokémon the same TM move? Well, now I have to choose between them whereas in the recent games I could teach both of them. It’s a really baffling decision to go back to this.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl review: Content
Aside from the main game itself, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl offers a plethora of side quests and post-game content. In the Sinnoh Grand Underground, you can create Secret Bases and decorate them with statues that affect the types of Pokémon you encounter in the optional Hideaway dungeons.
Hideaways are new additions in these remakes. These caves contain Pokémon that you normally wouldn’t be able to find or catch above ground. More Pokémon are available in Hideaways as you progress through the game, and it’s great to have more options for team building.
You can also dig up items to trade with various vendors throughout the Grand Underground. You can acquire things like TMs (which teach new skills) or pedestals for your statues. Multiplayer is enabled as well. You can explore the Grand Underground with a friend, and visit their Secret Bases, too. The Grand Underground is an incredibly fun distraction, in case you’re looking to do something other than fighting.
The post-game content is nothing to sneeze at, either. You can catch more legendary Pokémon at new locations in Sinnoh, or even catch previous-generation legendaries at Ramanas Park. Additionally, you can also conduct rematches with the Elite Four, and their Pokémon will become stronger each time (up to a certain point), which makes for an exciting challenge.
The Battle Tower is also a great post-game activity. Winning consecutive battles can earn you powerful TMs, as well as held items. It has the strongest trainers in the game, so it’s great for players who want to test their skills.
However, the lack of Pokémon Platinum content is disappointing, since Platinum was the definitive version of the fourth-gen titles. The evil organization in Platinum, Team Galactic, felt like a real threat compared to the original Diamond and Pearl games, due to a revamped story. Additionally, areas like the Distortion World, which debuted in Platinum, aren’t in Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl either.
Most notably, Platinum replaced the original game’s Battle Tower with the expanded Battle Frontier, offering even more challenges and post-game content. Unfortunately, this is another instance where Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl being almost one-to-one remakes really holds them back from being great.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl review: Verdict
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are faithful remakes of the originals. The original Diamond and Pearl were already good, but the new quality of life features make it an even smoother experience. However, those same features feel inconsistent. The decision to not use the definitive Pokémon Platinum game as the foundation is puzzling, at best. This would have obviated the need for two versions of the same game, while also incorporating Platinum’s additional content.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are still a fun ride, especially if you’ve played the originals. However, more creative risks might have helped the game really stand out.