Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 07/15/09

Let it shine...

You’ve got to wonder about the parents. Who in their right mind lets their ten-year old kid travel unaccompanied around the world? Maybe they think nothing bad will ever happen to them. The worst criminals in the Pokemon realm can’t be Team < insert random theme name here >. What about kidnappers? Murderers? Pedophiles? Not to mention that nearly every square inch of undeveloped land might be hiding some kind of monster. Yet they let their kids skip merrily away into the tall grass, possibly to their deaths. What about their futures? Their educations? You never hear about the trainers that fail, after all. It’s always about the ones that succeed. The ones that build an unstoppable army of Pokemon, take down all challengers, and eventually become the champions. All before puberty.

That’s one Hell of a coming of age ritual.

It starts off so innocently. The first Pokemon you get is a freebie; to the untrained eye, it’s nothing more than a cute little pet for you to raise. But lurking beneath the adorable facade is the strength and will of a beast. Its existence is solely to fight other Pokemon for you; by forcing it to endure battle after grueling, brutal battle, you’ll level up its powers and unlock new abilities. Depending on how badly you’ve damaged your enemy, you can capture it (mercilessly cramming it into a tiny ball in the process) and add it to your ever-growing empire. Get enough under your control, and you’ll have a full party of animals to do your bidding. Do it again thousands of times, and you’ll amass a force beyond reckoning. With this kind of power at your disposal, you can wander the land of Sinnoh, annihilate any rival trainers, and claw your way up the ranks until you become the greatest champion the world has ever known. It’s not a new story by any means (Platinum’s is slightly deeper, but still idiotic), but it gets the job done.

Getting to the top is a simple, but time-consuming process. You’ll spend most of your time leveling your Pokemon and eventually taking on whatever local Gym Leader/ineffectual boss is impeding the progression of the plot. Getting a team of six monsters into fighting shape requires a mind-boggling amount of random battles (or Rare Candies, depending on how cheap you like to play), which means you’ll be in for an obscene amount of repetitive walks through wild Pokemon-infested areas. The battles themselves are the standard turn-based fare they’ve been for the last ten years; you either command your leading monster to attack, switch it with more effective party member, use items to support them, or sling a PokeBall to capture your victim. It’s a very simple system, but it makes the gameplay accessible to anyone willing to give it a spin. Given the sheer number of random encounters, trainer challenges, and all the rest of the potential battles, it won’t take long before you can make the right decisions without having to glance at the screen.

That’s not a good thing, either. Simplicity has always been a double-edged sword for the series; it’s easy to understand, but it gets tedious quickly. That’s probably why Nintendo decided to focus more on the strategic aspects of the combat with its latest titles. Pokemon and their attacks are classified into different elemental types, which determine how effective they are against others. Most are pretty straightforward, like how Fire Pokemon can roast the Grass ones. Others - Steel in particular - have been made stronger or weaker to keep everything balanced. Things get messy once your Pokemon start acquiring attacks that aren’t their type; you might have a dragon that can churn up sandstorms, summon earthquakes, and flash-fry or poison its enemies. The trick is figuring out what moves complement each other; since a Pokemon can only have four moves, a little more thought needs to be put into creating your ultimate killing machines. The same goes with using items; depending on what they’re carrying, your Pokemon could get stat boosts, recover lost energy, and even survive a normally lethal hit. It’s stuff like this that makes the supposedly kiddy series so appealing to older gamers; with so many options and ways to approach a given team, Platinum offers a depth that the original games could only dream of.

While most of the strategic stuff doesn’t come into play for the majority of the game, the hardcore team builders will get their money’s worth in the post-story sections. There are dozens of trainers standing in the way of your quest to become the champ, but their teams are usually just leveling fodder due to glaring flaws in their structures or movesets. You won’t have to deal with those half-assed wannabes in the Battle Frontier, though. In this feature exclusive to Platinum, you can enter several kinds of contests for rare items and prizes. Some of it is fairly straightforward, like getting through a seven-trainer gauntlet with a steadily increasing difficulty level. Another battle might have you dealing with randomized handicaps or status ailments. Others focus more on your knowledge of moves and types by forcing you to rent a team by basing it against your opponent’s lineup. It might sound simple, but these challenges are crafted to keep the more competitive and analytic gamers coming back long after they’ve slaughtered the Elite Four for the nth time. The battle Frontier, combined with several unlockable areas and bonus challenges, gives Platinum considerable longevity.

It’s the online multiplayer that keeps it from going stale, though. Nintendo’s in-game efforts are appreciated, but nothing beats going mano-a-Pokemano with a real person. The variety of online gameplay options is staggering. Not all of it is impressive; some of the newer stuff - the touch screen mini-games comes to mind - feels tacked on. It’s the classic one-on-one duels, double battles, and four-person team matches that’ll get your attention. If the Battle Frontier proves too much for a solo run, get a few friends involved and see how you manage. Video playback and voice chatting are pretty good, too. Then there’s the Underground, which lets you explore Sinnoh’s labyrinth of subterranean passageways for treasures and secret bases. The real showstopper, however, is the Global Trade Station. In need of some rare beast or item you normally can’t find? Check there. Want to compare battle records and bragging rights? Upload them. Exchanging Pokemon privately with a friend might be nice, but this worldwide, real-time system is a huge step forward in terms of finding specific trades and exchanging information with gamers.

It’s a good thing, considering how it’s impossible to get every last Pokemon without it. The majority of the full roster isn’t even available in the game; they’re spread out across the vast multitude of other titles in the series, including those on the GBA and the Gamecube. Unless you have access to online trading features, collecting every last Pokemon is an exercise in insanity. Or obsession, which is what you’d need to have to even come close to getting a full collection. This makes Platinum a completionist’s biggest challenge yet. The same goes with gamers who specialize in breeding Pokemon; with more attention placed on a monster’s personality, stat growth, and inherited movesets, farming them effectively is an equally daunting undertaking. Not to mention the berries, scarves, ribbons, stationary, furniture and the countless other collectibles you can grab as you make your way around Sinnoh. You can even purchase your own resort villa and decorate it accordingly. It’s one thing to have hundreds of unique Pokemon to snag, but the sheer amount of items and features makes it one of the most versatile experiences on the DS.

It’s aged, though. This game was built on the foundation of Diamond and Pearl, and it shows. Don’t get me wrong; the graphics of those games were mind-blowing for the time. A Pokemon game with three-dimensional structures and depth? Awesome. The way the color scheme subtly changed with the passing of the day? Brilliant. Updated character sprites and animations? Sweet. It’s a damned good piece of work, and Nintendo deserves some kudos for pulling it off so well. But in the years since those games, other titles - Avalon Code comes to mind - have demonstrated what the DS is really capable of. New standards have been set, and Platinum falls just short of greatness. The caves still feel flat and drab, and the waterways seem as bland as ever. The majority of the newer areas come late in the game, and their designs are underwhelming. The Distortion World might seem cool with its physics-breaking gameplay (walking on walls, shifting perspectives, etc), but it’s little more than a brief path filled with simple platforming and puzzles. As something as heavily promoted as the place is (practically every description of the game includes something about it), you’d think there’d be a little more effort put into its design. Nevertheless, the rest of the game is still as polished as its original versions. Not quite the best, but still impressive.

It’s hard to pinpoint Platinum’s true appeal. It’s an extended version of an older game, which might be a turnoff to everyone who’s already beaten the initial titles. After all, would you want to raise that same Pikachu all over again? Guess that depends on how much of a fan you are. The hardcore faithful have already snagged this, beaten it, and figured out every little angle possible. But for the rest of you on the fence, keep in mind what the game offers: A slightly fleshed-out (but still horribly written) story, tons of extra Pokemon to catch, countless items to collect, several new areas to explore, and arguably the best online multiplayer on the DS. The real star of the show isn’t the Distortion World, but the inclusion of the superb Battle Frontier and the rest of the post-story goodies. Platinum trumps its predecessors in terms of both battling and collecting; with more strategic gameplay and all sorts of ways to approach a given team, there’s more than enough to keep you busy. And for the rest of you that haven’t played Pokemon yet, get this game. It’s best the series has to offer, and that’s saying a lot.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Pokemon Platinum Version (US, 03/22/09)

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