Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl review: Still sparkling

The Pokemon Diamond and Pearl remakes are a great romp for fans of the originals, but newcomers might walk away unsatisfied.

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Remakes have been a staple of the Pokemon franchise since the early 2000s when we first revisited the Kanto region with Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green. Several generations later, the series of remakes have finally brought us to Diamond and Pearl, the games that kicked off Generation 4 and introduced the monster-collecting franchise to the Nintendo DS. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl re-capture the magic of the original games, even if there isn’t much else going on.

Gorgeous gems

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl take a bit of a different path than past series remakes, as these games are nearly 1:1 recreations of the original games. From every story beat, to dialogue, and even the way text boxes and HP bars look, BD/SP are quite faithful to the source material.

As a major fan of the original games, I loved getting to re-experience that story on Switch with some improved graphics. The games use a 3D chibi art style that threw me off at first, but I warmed up to it over time. It’s essentially what you would get if you took the sprites from the DS games and made them 3D. When in battle, the chibi design is gone and the characters look much more in line with Pokemon games of the modern era. It was neat getting to see creatures that missed out on Sword and Shield, like Infernape and Staraptor, with a fresh look in the new engine.

I also quite liked the camera work done in these games. It’s still fixed, but will zoom in during dialogue and cutscenes, or will catch unique angles in certain areas. It’s a nice touch that adds a cinematic feeling that was absent from the original experience.

Seeing old locations and characters made new again was more moving than I expected it to be. Hearing the Twinleaf Town theme for the first time in years is one of the most impactful gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time.

On Victory Road

Battling in Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remains unchanged from the core formula, and doesn’t include any of the added features from recent generations, such as Dynamaxing, Z-Moves, or Mega Evolving. The traditional experience is serviceable enough, and benefits from lively new character and move animations.

When battling, players will also notice realistic, detailed environments. When fighting inside of a school, you can see bookshelves and desks in the surrounding area. Light shines through the windows, reflecting the real-world time of day according to your Nintendo Switch’s internal clock. It’s a welcome visual update to the battle environment.

Revitalizing Sinnoh

For as faithful of remakes as they are, there are some pretty notable changes in Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, several of which are quality of life changes. This includes the removal of the Exp. Share item in favor of rewarding all party-members with Exp., regardless of if they participated or not. The constant hot potato of moving your Exp. Share around after every battle in order to ensure none of your party-members fell behind is not missed.

Players can also access their Pokemon storage just about anywhere in the world, no longer having to stop at a Pokemon Center. This feature was first introduced in 2018’s Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee! and also returned in 2019’s Sword and Shield.

Easily the biggest quality of life change in Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl is the removal of HMs. Gone are the days of wasting a spot in a Pokemon’s move set on Strength or Rock Smash. Now, an app on the Poketech allows the player to execute these moves in the overworld with the assistance of wild Pokemon. The HM moves that were once used to cut down trees, smash rocks, and traverse the environment are still present in the game, but now as TMs that are completely optional, rather than requirements for progression.

One of my favorite changes in the game is entirely cosmetic. Players can now select from a handful of different skin tones at the beginning of the game, and can also purchase new clothes to change up their look. For as much as I love the classic design of Lucas and Dawn, it would have felt like a step back to not continue the personalization and customization options that came to the series later on.

When players get to Hearthome City, they’ll once again be able to participate in Pokemon Competitions, which provide a way to compete with other trainers outside of battling. The tournaments feel much more authentic in 3D, with all of the creatures prancing around on stages, their moves fully animated.

Down in the underground

Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl see the return of The Grand Underground, where players can travel the network of mines that lie below the Sinnoh Region. Here, they can create Secret Bases, decorating them to show off to friends and other passerbys. In the remakes, The Grand Underground further expands with Pokemon Hideaways.

Pokemon Hideaways are dungeons that can be found underground. Here, players will be able to discover and catch Pokemon that may not typically appear on the surface. The type of dungeon that you can access depends on what statues you decorate your Secret Base with. For example, placing a Rapidash Statue increases the likelihood of finding Fire-Type Hideaways. Placing a Vespiquen statue increases the likelihood of Bug-Type Hideaways, and so on. It’s a feature that’s actually building on top of what was there in the original games, which is a bit rare in BD/SP.

All that glitters…

Though there’s a good deal of fun to be had in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, the games aren’t without their head-scratching moments. Though Secret Bases are back, the ability to decorate them with different furniture is gone. The only items that players can put in their bases are statues, which are neat, but only really serve to help discover Hideaways. Buying/collecting furniture and thoroughly designing a base back in Diamond and Pearl was really fulfilling, and it was fun to show off designs and see what other people came up with.

Even as a die-hard Diamond and Pearl fan, I sometimes found myself longing for more ambitious remakes, something that would make these games feel like the definitive Sinnoh experience, a title that may still belong to Platinum. There was an opportunity to take a swing or two and mash up one of Pokemon’s middle generations with a lot of the new systems that came after it, but that isn’t the case here. The games are 1:1 remakes, for better or worse.

An ode to the past

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are faithful remakes, to a fault at times. While it’s incredibly powerful to hear some of my favorite tunes and re-meet favorite characters, I can’t help but feel like Diamond and Pearl got the short end of the stick in terms of Pokemon remakes. They weren’t developed by Game Freak, so I wasn’t expecting them to be as robust and revitalizing as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, but still hoped for more on top of the foundation laid back in 2006.

There are some much-needed quality of life improvements, and the games are well polished and run really smoothly on the Switch. It’s hard to see newer fans finding much to appreciate here, but those that have fond memories of the original Diamond and Pearl will have a lot to love about Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.


This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will be released on November 19th, 2021 for the Nintendo Switch and cost $59.99 USD.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Pros
  • Chibi art style works surprisingly well
  • Quality of life changes brought over from recent games
  • Remixed themes are excellent
Cons
  • Doesn't do much to build upon original games
  • Removal of Secret Base furniture
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