Review: Hey baby, what's your twelve-digit Pokemon code? *wink*
Unless you've been stuck under a rock or an extremely large geo-dude, you've undoubtedly heard of the Pokemon series. Beginning in 1996 with the releases of Pokemon Red and Green in Japan, Nintendo has taken players on poke-journeys through the regions of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and now Sinnoh. Every installment has led to minor tweaks in gameplay that has ultimately culminated in Pokemon Pearl for the Nintendo DS.
As always, players get the option to choose between a male or female trainer along with a starter Pokemon. In this edition these starters are Turtwig (grass), Chimchar (fire), and Piplup (water). On your way to your eventual trouncing of the Elite 4 (who happen to be much harder this time around) and becoming the newest Pokemon Champion, players have the ability to capture various Pokemon around the region and level them up through battling other Pokemon. Although this has been a gameplay staple since the original Game Boy versions, Nintendo has managed to add something new by tweaking the move system.
Each attack can fall into secondary categories: physical, special, and status moves; slightly changing the ever-popular rock-paper-scissor battling from the series. This slight variation in attack types has ultimately led to people changing and re-organizing their third generation Pokemon teams due to an even deeper ?strategy' element of gameplay. Although most casual players won't notice the difference, poke-fanatics will. Prepare to say goodbye to your level 100 Blissey special-wall sponge when a zen headbutt heads its way. It's these little tweaks that give Pokemon's gameplay its depth.
The game retains the same EV (effort-value) and IV (individual-value) points from the earlier installments. This time it's easier to check your Pokemon's IVs as Nintendo has been kind enough to include it with most of the Pokemon. Hence it's never been more frustrating to try and breed a near-perfect 30-30-30 Pokemon.
The game is laid out as you would expect. The top DS screen shows your Pokemon and the bottom yours moves/inventory. Graphically, the game borrows heavily from the layout of the previous installments. You'll still be looking at a top-down model while your character moves about the Pokemon world. Many of the sprites look nearly identical to those found in the Game Boy Advance versions. Around the world however, there are spots that show the power of the DS. There are pseudo-3D trees, windmills, and bridges scattered throughout the lands. The color palette has also been bumped up a notch from the GBA versions.
The night/day cycles from the Gold and Silver editions return to this installment. The game uses the DS' internal clock to read the time and day of the week. As such, you'll see specific Pokemon during specific times. (And before you ask, no, you cannot force an event by messing around with the clock/calendar.)
The game doesn't sound significantly different from the old GBA tunes. Once again it uses MIDI audio rather than any sort of CD-quality audio for music. While the game does provide some rather nice ambient music and intense battle tunes, both get old after a while. Many may be disappointed by the fact that Nintendo didn't include any of the Pokemon saying their names when they attack/feint. Instead they decided to stay true to the original games and use the same old Pokemon cries.
While the battle system has largely remained static there are several additions that players will enjoy. The PokeNav allows players to use the bottom-screen of their DS while they're in the field. It acts almost as a mini cell-phone as it has the time, a calculator, a memo pad, etc. Aside from this, its most useful features are a friendship-level checker for your Pokemon and a counter for breeding.
Most of the game's additions are via the Nintendo Wi-Fi system. This game was built for online play. The most awesome feature of the DS Wi-Fi system is the use of the DS' mic. You'll hear the other person when you battle/trade with them. This turns the DS into a cell-phone of sorts. On the downside, it would have been nice to battle random people across the globe. Nintendo developed the game so you can only battle people you know in real-life. This helps maintain a sort of ?kid-safe' atmosphere.
Fortunately, Nintendo has included an online trading GTS station for people to trade with others around the world. Before any parents freak out about six year-old Timmy communicating with 28 year-old Ando the Otaku from Japan, keep in mind that the most communication you'll do is stating what Pokemon you want and what you're willing to give away. An interesting feature of the GTS system is that it tells you where in the world your Pokemon came from (my first trade was for a female Scyther from Tokyo).