Review by Mikaga

"The "DS generation" improved, but in the right places?"

After Yellow, Crystal and Emerald, the main line of Pokemon series titles is quick to receive criticisms for being "cash-ins" for its "third versions" of each generation.

Whether or not you agree with the view, it's difficult to argue that care doesn't go into making these versions worth an additional purchase for owners of one of the first two, or a first purchase for people who decided not to buy them. This is achieved by both adding interesting new features (such as the Pikachu follow or Battle Frontier) and addressing areas of the game that were not originally received well, or simply flawed (for example, Psychic was mistakenly immune to Ghost in Red and Blue).

So ultimately when judging third titles, or in this specific case the Platinum Version, we need to both consider its strengths and weaknesses as a game in its own right, and its alterations from the Diamond and Pearl versions of around two years prior.

As a stand-alone game, Pokemon Platinum Version should be widely regarded as a cut above the majority of DS titles. The core of its storyline remains a solid "30+ hour" adventure and the amount of additional playable content is staggering. Between "catching 'em all" and completing many alternate activities such as fashion contests and battle towers there is clearly no shortage of things to do, much of which its largely entertaining throughout. For that alone it deserves to be considered "a good game", and definitely a recommended buy for those who didn't own either of its DS predecessors.

Many Pokemon fans however are owners of the original DS releases and will of course be more interested in what this title has to offer over the cartridge they already have.

Feature-wise, its offerings are very favourably comparable to those of Yellow, Crystal and Emerald. The new battle sprites are there, the additional creature "entering battle" animations are there (this time for the critters you throw out), the rebuilt and overhauled Battle Tower is there. A lot of unexpected and appreciated additions have been made as well - just one that looks particularly good in writing is the player being given a customisable house in which rivals and (for the first time) gym leaders can visit on occasion for a rematch.

It is however worth noting that the series addition of online notification for a GTS trade is something of a letdown - after the original Japanese version of the game allowed players to provide an e-mail address, American and European versions of the game only allow players to give a Wii code causing many of them to question the point - it's about as easy to check Wii messages as it is to check the GTS from Platinum in the first place so the convenience is lost.

Finally we get to fault-fixing, and as a reviewer I shall apologise in advance as much of this section - far larger than the start of the review which was largely obvious to the point of being a formality - may read as a whiny rant especially as I feel the faults of Diamond and Pearl mentioned below escaped criticism to begin with.

The pacing of battles in the original titles could arguably be much better - the sequence of an attack is for text to announce the attack's name, for the attack's animation to play, for a sound effect to indicate attack effectiveness, for the health bar of the target to decrease, for text to announce attack effectiveness, and then potentially for the animation for a secondary effect (such as paralysis from Thunderbolt) and then for text to explain this secondary effect in detail.

The sizing of that paragraph above was deliberate - each of the parts of the sequence as detailed happens one by one. This may have been a necessity for the original games given the technological limitations of the original Game Boy, but twelve years later on a console far more capable, the same setup feels like an unnecessary stretching out of the attack process. After Diamond and Pearl, the Wii saw tie-in title Pokemon Battle Revolution which addressed this pacing - everything from the attack's announcement to the resulting damage to the HP bar happens during the attack's animation.

As such it is disappointing that Platinum returns to the format offered by Diamond and Pearl. Of additional criticism, the movement of HP bars due to damage or healing is based on absolute numbers, which has always been the case for handheld titles in the series. So while a one-hit KO on a level 4 wild opponent with 20 HP may seem fine, the use of a Full Restore on your near-KO'd level 100 Blissey for over 800 is significantly (around 40 times) slower. Again, Battle Revolution addressed this by making all "HP bar" changes take the same amount of time, an improvement unfortunately not carried through into Platinum.

For its part the new version did take the opportunity to shorten a few attack animations, though much of these were generally unused mid-level attacks. Staple attacks, particularly in high-level and vs play such as Flamethrower and Thunderbolt, remain unaffected.

A similar generally unmentioned complaint about the handheld titles is their lack of an "instant" option for text display. For a modern-day RPG on any console this was surprising on Diamond and Pearl, and remains the case on Platinum. Further to this, the persistent problem of the series' English localisation is that since the speed of text display is defined per-character and that there are 2-3 times more characters in English than there were in Japanese, all text displayed in the game takes that much longer than their designed intention. Platinum didn't fix this either (which isn't as obvious as it may seem - in Emerald, text changes in the English localisation were made, most notably the font itself).

Other common complaints of the series as a whole (such as poor balance for "competitive" play rendering ~450 of the game's ~500 creatures all but pointless) aren't looked at, and neither are core differences specifically in DS versions of the game (such as the removal of a PC "item box" in favour of letting the player's bag store all items). The latter may seem like a strange example as it is essentially an improvement, however the speed of scrolling through the item list in Diamond or Pearl can be described as "laggy", strangely much faster if you press select as if to move an item in the list, and Platinum leaves this untouched also. Overall fixes for these can't be expected though, so as an improved version of an existing game Platinum can't really be faulted for that.

On a positive note, two oft-criticized elements of the first DS games have been addressed. The movement while using Surf to cross water has been changed from "walking speed" to "running speed" which is a very welcome change. The "Poketch" bottom screen now also has a "back" button which is very useful in the event of scrolling through the 20+ applications and accidentally going one too far. It could be argued that a button to open up a separate menu listing all applications would be faster still, but perhaps that would not fit into the setting of being a simple LCD-type device.

Ultimately Pokemon Platinum Version remains a welcome addition to the generation for owners of its earlier games, and stakes a firm claim for "a game you should buy" for everyone else.

By the time of this review, the generation is set to expand with remakes of Gold and Silver. While we're not aware of much of its development progress, I think we've reached the point where I'd rather see a gameplay overhaul than shiny new features. I would love a handheld version of the games where I could use Flamethrower and see the HP bar of my enemy decrease at a good pace - while the attack animation is still happening.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/24/09

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

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