Monday was the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., Day (and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, for those so inclined), which meant that many folks here in the United States had Monday off for the federal holiday. Yours portly was one of the many societal leeches suckling at the teat of this paid holiday, and I enjoyed it to the fullest.
While I was quietly productive on the day itself, the rest of the weekend saw me lolling about in indolence. For whatever reason, the last couple of weeks left me exhausted, and I indulged in some relaxation Saturday and Sunday. Besides some light housework, I kept myself occupied with an excursion back to my childhood: Pokémon.
I managed to pick up a copy of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond, the 2021 remake of 2006’s Pokémon Diamond, last fall for half-price (around $30). With work and lessons and what not, I hadn’t had time to play it, so I was more than a little excited to rip off the cellophane and pop this little baby into my Nintendo Switch Lite.
I vaguely remember playing some of Diamond on the Nintendo DS, but I know I didn’t finish it, and I’d forgotten a great deal of the game, beyond some of the starter Pokémon. I have not finished the game—not by any stretch—but managed to put about eight hours into over the three-day weekend, and it was much like playing a classic Pokémon game.
That is both a good and bad thing.
I was one of those kids that played Pokémon Red and Blue way back in the late 1990s. When I received Red for Christmas, I was obsessed (it helped that Nintendo rolled out a major marketing campaign ahead of the game’s release to hype up this heretofore-unknown franchise to American audiences), and played it until the batteries on my GameBoy Color died (somewhere in the Pokémon Safari portion of the game). The combination of exploration, JRPG elements, and catching monsters with which one would do battle was addictive and fun.
That formula still holds up—mostly. In playing the game, I love the thrill of finding a new or previously unencountered Pokémon, and then strategizing how to weaken it without killing it (they call it “fainting” when a Pokémon loses all its health—it is a kid’s game, after all) so as to make its capture more likely. The joy of exploration and the rush of catching a rare Pokémon is still fresh and fun, and keeps the game interesting.
It also opens up the endless combinations of teams. Part of the fun of catching a new Pokémon is figuring out how to integrate it into your existing team, or deciding whether or not it might be worth trading. Sometimes I keep a Pokémon on my team long enough to get it to evolve into its next form, then swap it out for a new one to repeat the process. I also like to have a balance of types to face any challenge the game might throw my way.
Here is my current team, although they’re all higher levels now, and Geodude has evolved into Graveler:
Where I find the game gets tedious is with its difficulty level; that is to say, it’s not. Granted, Pokémon games are basically introductory role-playing games for kids with lots mini-games and collectables (“Gotta Catch ‘Em All!”), so I’m not expecting some murderously difficult slog, but most of the battles are easy. In the eight hours I’ve put into the game so far, I’ve faced maybe two challenging fights, and even those were never in question. There are far too many opponents who just use one Pokémon, so the battles are just seeing how quickly I can mash the “A” button. I’m thrilled when I come across someone with three or more Pokémon in their lineup, as it at least gives some variety (although these games also tend to feature trainers with three of the same Pokémon, which is always annoying and boring).
Dual battles, where two of your Pokémon fight against two from your opponents add some spice and variety, but those battles are pretty rare, and it’s easy to turn those into single battles inadvertently. Even then, both trainers tend to have just one or two Pokémon on their team, so the battles are still pretty brisk. I would love to see more of these battles featuring unusual combinations of types, and seeing how they interact together.
I have also found the pace of the game interminable at times. Typically, you roll into a new town to face the local Gym Leader to get a badge (the eight badges let you advance to the final portion of the game). Usually the Gym Leader is not at their gym for some reason, and you usually have to complete some menial task or beat some local baddies before the Gym Leader will return.
These little tasks are where the game can get tedious. Sometimes, it’s unclear exactly where you’re supposed to go, and the game often locks forward progress until you’ve played some silly mini-game or found the one person in town you’re supposed to talk to so you can get the item you need to advance further.
Those kind of telescoping objectives are routine in games—The Legend of Zelda games use them all the time—but here, they just seem tedious, put in more to pad the game’s length than to add meaningful content. It’s doubly annoying because the Gym Leader battles are the few that are occasionally challenging, so throwing up unnecessary obstacles between the player and those fun battles is a pain.
That said, I’m going to stick with this game and try to see it through to the end. I’m having a great deal of fun collecting Pokémon, and that’s ultimately what these games are about. I’m also excited to play with the breeding feature, where you can breed different types of Pokémon to get offspring with unusual move combinations and the like. I’ve caught a few unusual Pokémon that I hope to incorporate into my team, and the presence of a global trading system incentivizes catching duplicates to trade for other Pokémon with players all around the globe.
All in all, it’s a fun little Pokémon remake that is true to the classic Pokémon gameplay, but which suffers from a lack of genuine challenge and too many roadblocks.
Score: 7 Poké Balls out of 10.