Review: Pokémon Shining Pearl (Switch OLED)

8

Great

Back in 2006 and 2007, as millions opened up their dual-screened, clam-shell-shaped Nintendo DSs many were playing either Pokémon Diamond or Pokémon Pearl (or, madly, perhaps both!). The fourth Pokémon generation had arrived and the world was introduced to the Sinnoh region. Of course, while Pokémon had always been primarily targeted at kids, considering that Diamond and Pearl were released some 20 years after Red and Blue had debuted on the Game Boy, the series then had to not only attract new, younger gamers but also continue to appease some long-time fans that had essentially grown up with Pokémon. A quick look at how well the game was critically received (a high 85 on Metacritic for example) and the staggering sales showed that once again Game Freak had succeeded. The formula remained much the same, but the game showed off enough new elements to appeal to the masses and their one-size-fits-all, easy-to-pick-up but hard-to-put-down RPG phenomenon was another hit.

Probably the most fun I’ve had in a Pokémon game since Red and Blue…

Now, around 15 years later, Diamond and Pearl are back with a Brilliant/Shining coat of paint and a few new additions – hoping to once again appeal to new gamers on the Switch, as well as tick all the right nostalgia boxes for the multitudes that look back on the originals with great fondness. While those hoping for something revolutionary may continue to be disappointed (let’s hope the upcoming Pokémon Legends: Arceus fills that role), a ridiculously charming aesthetic, some modern conveniences and a tried-and-tested formula of addictive gameplay mean that despite the huge number of sequels we’ve had since then, Shining Pearl is probably the most fun I’ve had in a Pokémon game since Red and Blue.

Returing to a big adventure…

If like me, you missed out on the original Pearl and Diamond games but are familiar with the trademark Pokémon formula – you’ll probably not be surprised to know that the story remains pretty much the same. A young child who dreams of becoming a Pokémon Master meets up with an eccentric professor-type who bestows on them one of three darling creatures to start their adventure. As they head off into the tall grass, aiming to capture as many Pokémon as they can along the way and develop a well-balanced team. The overall goal of the game is to acquire eight gym badges in different cities around the region and eventually take on the Masters in the Pokémon League. As usual, there’s a crew of (mostly bumbling) criminals who want to collect Pokémon for their own nefarious goals. This time around, ‘Team Galactic’ actually intends to end the universe as we know it and restart it all. It’s actually a pretty insane story – but as with most Pokémon narratives, it’s probably best not to dig too deep and the game keeps things generally quite light and enjoyable for everyone. For those that played the originals and/or watched the anime series this will all be quite familiar. However, whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned veteran, there’s likely still something to look forward to…

I was struck by just how adorable everything is.

Right from the start, I was struck by just how adorable everything is. Now I know the cutesy aesthetic is not for everyone. However, for people who don’t like it, I’ve got a feeling Pokémon is probably not a series they’re that into anyway. Of course, even some fans of the games would no doubt have preferred art direction to follow more closely what we started to see in the Let’s Go or even the Sword and Shield games. Instead, these remakes went a different route: keeping the general overhead perspective of the older games but brightening them up with more details and vibrant colours. It kind of reminded me of the recent The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake and I’ve got to admit I’m a bit of a sucker for that style – particularly when bringing back a game that’s etched into so many childhood memories. The humanoid or more realistic-looking Pokémon (particularly the plain-looking Ponyta) don’t always stand out in this style but any of the more caricature-styled cute ones (I’m looking at you Pikachu) look ridiculously charming. However, even for those of you that are not completely in love with the general look, you’ll be happy to know that the music is beautiful and a lot of care has once again been taken in the animations. Sure, the actual battle moves still mostly involve a few themed sequences and Pokémon shifting back and forth, or shivering due to electric or poison effects. However, after customising my Poké ball, seeing Pengz (as I named my Prinplup, and later Empoleon) burst into battle in a flurry of ribbons, confetti and bubbles was really cool and thanks to these tweaks, each Pokémon seems to have more personality this time around. And, each NPC you meet along the various routes and waterways has their own unique animation for throwing their Poké ball too – while these already exist in other more recent titles too, I was really impressed by them during my playthrough and couldn’t wait to battle someone new: to see what cool mannerisms they had. Of course, entering areas where you can see Pokémon in the overworld (rather than just appearing in tall grass and such) and having my own Pokémon follow me around (once I finally figured out how to do this thanks to help from a friend) brought me great joy.

I remember this…

In terms of basic gameplay, not much has changed. In fact, barring the somewhat controversial permanent Exp. Share which makes a return and how the game deals with HMs, the basic formula of the game remains the same. For many, that will be disappointing. I do think that if you’re an ardent fan of the series and have played every single iteration – the lack of big changes is probably something that is definitely worthy of critique. That being said, people love Pokémon games because that classic loop is wonderfully addictive. I constantly found myself saying: “Let me just do this one more thing…” and then suddenly a couple of hours would go past. And personally, I think the additions in Shining Pearl really allow the game to move more quickly while highlighting the features that the majority enjoy – particularly those that consider themselves more casual players. First, let’s tackle permanent Exp. Share. This allows all Pokémon in your party to share in the XP gained in battle regardless of whether they participated or not. This may really frustrate the players who appreciated the grinding nature of the original games. And I know there is a big community of more professional Pokémon players who prefer that more directed approach which allows them to painstakingly mould the perfect Pokémon for their specific competitive playstyle. However, for me, someone that dislikes the incessant grinding, I love that this is here. Now, I don’t have to spend hours upon hours trying to get my weak original form Magikarp to evolve into Gyrados by starting him in every battle and then swapping him out immediately – hoping it avoids a killer first blow. Of course, I do wish there was an option for players to toggle off this new feature. Knowing that there are those who would prefer the more classic style, and considering the number of other options that are provided, it is a bit surprising that this isn’t. Another feature I enjoyed (which again, others may not) was that HMs (like Cut and Surf) are now handled within the Pokétch rather than having to be taught to a specific Pokémon. I found this was very user-friendly and opened up an ability slot for the other Pokémon in my party. Even the Pokétch itself (a little smartwatch-like device with various Apps (like a step-counter or item radar) which appeared on the lower DS screen in th original – is fun to play around with and can be accessed/hidden with a simple tap on the R shoulder button.

I constantly found myself saying: “Let me just do this one more thing…” and then suddenly a couple of hours would go past.

On top of all this, the new games also include the Super Contest Show, Poffin Making, Amity Square and the (now Grand) Underground. I have to admit that neither the Super Contest Show, the Poffin Making nor my stroll through Amity Square blew my socks off. However, what they do do is provide a welcome change of pace. The Contest Show is nothing but a one-button, simplified rhythm game (especially at the lower levels). Poffin-making is basically a timing-based, swirling-the-analogue-stick mini-game. And Amity Square is mostly just a place where you can roam around the overworld with your Pokémon and whistle for them as music notes and hearts glitter across the screen. But after hours and hours of: Meet, battle, improve, move on… Meet, battle, improve, move on… having these distractions is quite enjoyable. The Grand Underground even goes a step further. Not only do you get to find hidden statues and gems by playing a kind of Minesweeper-lite game (if any of you remember that old PC title), but certain themed areas of the Underground actually have Pokémon roaming about in them. So, you’ll know what you’ll be catching before entering a battle, and, because their levels are seemingly determined by the average level of the Pokémon in your party, this is a great place to look for higher levelled Pokémon near the end of the game when you see you are lacking a certain type. I spent way too much time in there and now that I figured out how to build my own Secret Base, I suspect it’s going to be somewhere I keep jumping back to. I loved this addition in particular. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to all the features of Grand Underground and that brings me to the few caveats I must discuss…

I clearly had a great time with Shining Pearl. However, this doesn’t mean that it didn’t have its issues: some of which I spoke briefly about above. However, I also want to mention the lack of online functionality at the time of review. And, while I understand that it’s never fun to test when only a few players are online – it does mean that I really can’t tell you how it performs. For someone like me that mostly enjoys these games as a single-player experience, this isn’t a huge issue, however, I know that many buy these games specifically for battling online. Considering that this is generally one of the games that you don’t hear many complaints about online stability – I am hopeful that once it does go live you can expect more of the same. That being said, some of the new content (including some features in the Grand Underground, Super Contest and even the upcoming Ramanas Park (where you can catch Legendaries)) is tied to the online functionality. And although I used the latest software update – the online features just did not work. I will therefore try to write something in the coming weeks (after launch) to fill this gap – however, it’s pity that I couldn’t even try some of these online features in some form now. And so, if you’re interested in the online component of those features it may be best to wait until they’re tested.

A twitchy menu, no online funcionality prior to launch and somewhat hidden new content were disappointments.

Additionally, in terms of content, there’s quite a bit that the Shining Pearl offers that is quite hard to find or only available near the end of the game. Not speaking to the right NPC, or not visiting the right area can eliminate a whole section of the game. And while that’s not necessarily a massive problem (and really encourages exploration) it does mean you really need to become a pedantic adventurer and expert players may have to wait until quite late into the game to really find a proper challenge. A final small bugbear I had was with the menus. It being an RPG, you do tend to spend quite a lot of time within the menu system – toggling between Pokémon, their attacks and the various items. I found the analogue stick to be very sensitive and if you even slightly moved diagonally when going down a list, you would immediately shift into the next column. I can’t tell you how often I accidentally selected the incorrect thing. The in-menu UI doesn’t help much either; as it’s quite tough to see exactly what you’ve highlighted before selecting. This made the whole process more frustrating than it needs to be – especially if you were trying to do things quickly, like when I accidentally sent out the wrong Pokémon at a critical stage in a tough battle… only to wake up later at Pokémon centre cursing the menu.

Polished…

While definitely not revolutionary or perhaps in step with expert players’ expectations, Shining Pearl is a quintessential Pokémon game with a few modern conveniences wrapped in an updated package perfect for the Switch. There is so much content, and even though some of the additions will speed up gameplay you’ll still be able to spend hours upon hours in this ridiculously charming world. I loved my trip to Sinnoh and think even players making the return trip will find lots to enjoy too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUOlZBxdrTA

Good

  • An adorable aesthetic | Modern conveniences like Exp. Share | Fun additions to main gameplay loop | Lots of content

Bad

  • Some additions only available post-game or even post launch | Twitchy menus | Ponyta

Summary

While definitely not revolutionary or perhaps in step with expert players' expectations, Shining Pearl's ridiculously charming aesthetic, modern conveniences and new additions not only alleviate some of the repetitive grinding but package the addictive Pokémon RPG formula in a way that means it's still loads of fun to play and perfect for the Switch.
8

Great

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

Lost Password