Welcome to another edition of For What it’s Worth, where bargain titles are examined to see if they really are worth your bottom dollar. Tonight we take a look at two games from a franchise that may focus on the concept of evolution but ironically, hasn’t done much evolving since it’s birth in 1999. Tonight we take a look at Pokemon Diamond/Pearl and Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, both for the Nintendo DS.
I just wanted to clear the air a little bit before we start things off. I was a big Pokemon fan when it all began back in the day. I played Red,Yellow and Silver obessively (I was in Junior High at this point so I had to keep that fact a secret for the most part). They were my favorite games at the time but as soon as I started growing older and playing better games like Final Fantasy 7, I fell out of love with the Pokemon fad. Now roughly ten years later, I decided to pick up a used copy of Pokemon Diamond for a little taste of nostalgia.
Now was it worth taking another Pokemon journey after a ten year hiatus? Let's just wait and see.
Story: The story is the standard Pokemon fare but this time it takes place in the Sinnoh Region. Professor Rowan (Diamond/Pearl’s Professor Oak) gives you one of three Pokemon (Piplup, Chimchar or Turtwig) in exchange for taking his version of the Pokedex and travelling around the Sinnoh Region to study its various species of Pokemon. While on your journey, you will capture and train Pokemon to become a Pokemon master, as you work your way through the various Gym Leaders until you face the Elite Four and the Sinnoh League champion Cynthia. And of course you will also have to stop the evil schemes of Team Galactic (Diamond/Pearl’s Team Rocket) who plan on using the power of the legendary Pokemon (Palkia in Pearl and Dialga in Diamond) to reconstruct the Sinnoh Region in their own image. For a Pokemon game the story is pretty good but it is rather dissapointing that there only a few minor changes to story based on if you picked the boy or girl character. Two different stories based on the choice between the boy and the girl would have been a nice touch.
Graphics and Design: The graphics are in the same 8/16-bit, anime inspired style that they have been in the previous generations but with the superior graphical capabilities of the DS, it looks a lot sharper, brighter and well polished and we get a few moments that use 3D graphics. The art style can seem rather dated but for a game like Pokemon, it works but Game Freaks could have explored using 3D character models or at least made them non-chibi like when exploring the foreground. And yes, the Pokemon battles are still fought by still images, rather than fully animated sprites. The attacks look prettier and the still images are brighter and are given more detail thanks to the superior graphics of the DS but it still would have been a lot better if the battles were actually animated.
Sound: Not bad. The music isn’t quite as classic as the original entries in the series but it does have its moments like the Lake theme, Team Galactic’s theme, and of course the epic final boss theme. My one gripe when it comes to the game’s audio presentation is that the series is still relying on simple bleeps, bloops and screeches for the voices of each Pokemon. I remember from watching the cartoon back in the day that Pokemon can say their name and name only. Even though this is a rather annoying trait, it is less annoying than playing a game with your head phones on, when suddenly a loud screech blares right in your eardrums. The DS, is more than capable of handling voice acting, so why not have the Pokemon actually say their names in the game if that is what they are intended to do?
Gameplay: It is pretty much the same as it has always been. You go around looking for Pokemon to capture and other trainers to battle. As always, you’ll find new Pokemon in grassy areas, caves, in water (by fishing and surfing), game preserves and even in hunted houses and ancient ruins. The rules for catching Pokemon are again the same as always. Once you find a new Pokemon, you will have to engage it in battle. The battling mechanics have the same RPG elements as before (I’m beginning to see a pattern here). You choose which Pokemon in your party you think is best suited to handle the job and then the battle begins. You choose one of the four attacks in your Pokemon's arsonal and continue to do so until the wild Pokemon’s energy is low. This is when you use your Pokeballs. To throw a Pokeball, choose the PokeBalls option in your battle menu. Then choose the type of Pokeball you want to use and then throw it. Now it may not work on the first try but if you have the right balls on hand, you’re bound to capture it sooner or later. Your team can only hold six Pokemon at a time but fear not. You will still be able to capture Pokemon, it is just that any Pokemon you capture will end up in storage. To get them out of storage, just go to any Pokemon Center (these centers are also good for healing Pokemon and are free to use) and use the PC in the corner to change up your team. Your Pokemon level up with each victory (just like any other RPG). As they level up they will learn new attacks but sadly if it already has four attacks, you will have to remove one of those attacks if you want it to learn the new one. This is lame. If a Pokemon were able to keep each move, that would increase the strategy element of the game. While were on the subject, why can't your Pokemon dodge attacks like in the Mega Man Battle Network series? They are able to dodge in the cartoon so why can't they dodge in the game? And in some cases they will evolve into different and stronger Pokemon. You can also battle against a friend if they happen to have a DS and their copy of the game handy or you can battle them (or anyone else around the world) online, through the DS Wi-Fi.
There are also two new gameplay elements added to Diamond/Pearl. There are the Pokemon Contests which are pretty much just beauty pagents to decide the cutest Pokemon. Basically you can dress up your Pokemon and have them compete in mini games, which basically just have you tapping the touch screen. Lame.
The other is the new Team Battle Mode. Team battles basically pit you and a partner against two other trainers. Two Pokemon from each side are on the screen at the same time and you get to choose which Pokemon one the opposing side that you want to attack. Team Battles occasionally happen in the main story with you and a computer partner battling against random trainers or two members of Team Galactic. It is actually a pretty neat idea and it works well (assuming the partner AI isn't a total nitwit).
Extra Features: Besides the ability to battle against other Pokemon masters online, there is also the Pokewatch. It is a little in game device that is given to your character a few hours into the game, which has a few applications that are both useful and rather stupid. There is a calculator, an app that checks the progress of Pokemon that you may have left at the day care center, an app that tracks legendary Pokemon,an app that shows the progress of any berries you may have planted, and so on. Oh and it tells you the time. Once you obtain the National Pokedex at the end of the game, Diamond and Pearl will be compatible with the Game Boy Advance entries in the series. You can upload Pokemon from the GBA cartridge and capture them in Diamond and Pearl.
Replay Value: This can take up to 40-60 hours to complete on the first play through and there is still plenty to do after that, like exploring new areas (although it is disappointing that you can't visit the other regions to battle the other Gym Leaders like in Silver/Gold) and seeing and capturing additional Pokemon, or levelling up the Pokemon you already have and battle friends locally or online. So, even if you only plan on playing the main quest once, you will still be given plenty to do and if you are a hardcore Pokemon fan who likes battling against friends, you'll get your moneys worth.
Overall Value: Retail Price- $30 (used)
What it’s Worth- $30 (if you don’t have any of the previous titles)
The game actually isn't bad, Hell, I actually enjoyed the little nostalgia trip but it severly lacks any type of innovation and for the most part what additions we did get (Contests and Pokewatch) are pretty lame but we did get two solid innovations in online play and team battles. It is a good game but new Pokemon, being able to play as a girl and online/team play are not enough for me to say it is better than any other entry in the main series.
Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia:
There's a story behind this one to. I was staying at my brother's place as I was working an internship for my journalism course back in January and my niece saw that I was playing Diamond ao she decided to give me the copy of Pokemon Ranger she no longer wanted (and she's 10. Not a good sign). I didn't want it either but I figured I could get a review out of it, so against my best judgement, I decdied to play it. So to my niece, I say thank you for the game and I hope you guys enjoy reading the review.
Story: You start off as a young boy or girl attending a special school which trains children to be Pokemon Rangers. Pokemon Rangers use the power of friendship (oh how I wish I was kidding) to capture and befriend Pokemon but instead of using them to battle other Pokemon, Rangers use them to help people and other Pokemon who are in danger. So you work your way through the school (which isn’t very hard or long) and become a Ranger. Once you become a Ranger, you will have to save the Almia Region from Team Dim Sun (this game’s Team Rocket. Are they running out of names?) who are using mind control devices to brainwash Pokemon into doing their bidding. The story is ok…ish but again there is no difference if you pick the boy or the girl, which is rather lame.
Graphic & Design: It looks just like the other Pokemon games except the human sprites are a bit bigger and look closer to their ages. Actually, there is one big difference between this and the games in the main Pokemon series and that is the fact that the Pokemon are actually animated sprites, just like the human characters! Oh and I also like poses that are done by each of the Rangers once they complete a mission. They are animated very well and add a postive bit of fun to the game's light hearted atmosphere.
Sound: It is as if the developers forced the soundtracks of Barney’s Hide & Seek and Final Fantasy IV to mate with each other. This stuff is pretty bad. They made the music a mix of epic and cutesy and it is just awful. Especially the first two hours spent at Ranger School. Oh God. It’s sugary enough to give you diabetes. There are some tracks that are fairly decent but they are few and fair between. But since this game is aimed at younger players, I will give it a bit of a pass. Hell. They might even like the music.
Gameplay: Instead of using Pokeballs, Rangers use top like devices called Stylers, which are powered by friendship (anything is possible now that scientists have invented magic). To use these Stylers, the player must draw circles around the Pokemon until the power bar above the targeted Pokemon is full but beware, the power bar will empty itself if you take too long (which isn’t ver y long at all). The target Pokemon can also break through your circles by attacking before you can complete it. Every time the target Pokemon breaks a circle, it causes damage to your Styler. If your Styler takes enough damage, it will break and then it’s game over. Your Styler also levels up with the more Pokemon you capture.
After you learn the basics at the Ranger School and officially become a Pokemon Ranger, you will be given missions from the Ranger’s Union, which are usually foiling the schemes of Team Dim Sun. But Rangers also have the responsibility to help any regular citizens in need of help. These citizens will assign you Quests. Quests are smaller missions, which will usually either have you befriend a Pokemon or have you destroy some type of obstacle. Completing Missions will give you a higher Ranger rank and completing Quests will give you upgrades for your Styler. Now is a good time to mention that after you befriend a Pokemon, they will join your party, although your party can fill up rather quickly. If your party is full, you can release one Pokemon and replace it with the one you had just captured. All of the Pokemon in your party can be replaced with the exception of your partner Pokemon. The Pokemon in your party can be used to perform special tasks like destroying certain obstacles, flying, putting out fires, dashing to different areas at a faster speed (chocobo style I might add) etc. Once they perform one of these tasks, they will leave the party (this does not apply to the partner Pokemon). These Pokemon can also momentarily power up your Styler in the middle of a capture attempt, which can make things a lot easier. Again, once this is done, the Pokemon that are used to power up your Styler will leave (again this does not apply to partner Pokemon).
Extra Features: None.
Replay Value: I would think none.
Overall Value: Retail Price- $16 (used)
What it’s Worth- $5 (a child player would likely rate it higher)
If you're a younger Pokemon fan you may want to give this a try but be warned. It can get really difficult and annoying. Older gamers will likely find this to be a pretty lame experience. Besides, drawing circles is not just repetitive but it also scratches the Hell out of the touch screen. I would have named it Professor Oaks Mild Ride, that is if Professor Oak were in it.
Until next time: Happy Hunting!
Next on the docket: Punch Out (classic)