What do we typically expect from a remake of a beloved game? It’s a divisive question. Fans will typically expect nothing short of a faithful recreation while bemoaning any changes. On the other hand, there’ll be those who want to see improvements accompany any modern visual upgrades.
Maybe even drastic changes that radically alter a title’s very core to create a whole new way of engaging with it. We already have an example of the latter in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Pokemon Shining Pearl (reviewed) and its counterpart Briliant Diamond sit squarely in the former camp, their feet firmly planted in the nostalgia they were meant to fuel.
There are merits to recreating a classic game for a modern gaming generation, namely that its soul, the thing that makes it special, remains intact. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that all titles can pull off.
The Pokemon franchise has a long-standing history of stubbornly sticking to what it’s always done. When every iteration of a title has remained the same, there’s not much appeal a faithful remake can add. So, what does Shining Pearl bring to the table?
For one, there’s the visual upgrade. The original DS game sported 2D sprite-based graphics, while the Switch remake brings the game to life in full 3D glory. However, some of the choices made in this area are questionable at best.
When taking your Pokemon into battle, the character models all feel like they came from the Sword and Shield games, the latest titles in the franchise. Nothing wrong so far. However, once the fighting is over, you’re met with chibi-like character designs that feel entirely out of place with the nicer battle models.
In other words, there’s a fairly palatable difference in visual design, and it’s not flattering the game at all. In fact, it cheapens the whole experience. There are some genuinely brilliant moments with the game’s graphics. Water effects, for example, have a nice cartoony flow to them. Lighting effects are also of a high calibre and nearly on par with those found in Link’s Awakening.
Then, you encounter certain models that look stiff and unrefined, as well as messy textures that clearly indicate the game may have needed more time in the oven. Suffice to say that the visuals of Shining Pearl are a mixed bag and not in a good way.
Of course, it’s essential not to forget that this is a Pokemon game. Being cute with a chibi art style is to be expected. Just like how everything else in a Pokemon game rarely comes as a surprise anymore.
Shining Pearl is, naturally, yet another game in this long-standing franchise about collecting monsters and making them do battle with each other. You take on the role of yet another starry-eyed youngster off on an adventure to find glory, battle rivals, and, of course, collect Pokemon.
You compete against Gym leaders for badges, take on Legendary Pokemon, thwart the plans of the evil yet ridiculous organisation Team Galactic, then challenge the Elite Four before being crowned Pokemon Champion. You’re likely wondering why I’m saying all of this about Shining Pearl.
It’s a remake, of course it’s going to be pretty much the same game as the original DS version. I agree with this sentiment, and it’s precisely for this reason that I don’t understand the reason for a faithful Pokemon remake to exist. When we consider that pretty much every Pokemon game that has launched is, to some degree, a remake of Red and Blue, the development of Shining Pearl is devoid of any meaning beyond nostalgia powered profit generation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As a diehard FFVII fan, I initially lamented the changes to combat the Remake made. But that game was incredibly well-made. It essentially launched as an alternative version of the original PS1 title.
They exist side-by-side as two separate ways to enjoy the same universe. Shining Pearl is like Pearl went for a facelift and came out lopsided. They could have literally called these Pokemon Stone and Pokemon Wood, changed up a few names and characters and packaged it as an entirely new game, and nobody would blink twice.
This isn’t to say I didn’t have some fun playing the game, but it’s by no means because of its own merit. Pokemon has always been carried by its chilled vibes and straightforward mechanics.
The franchise has a way of tapping into that inner desire we have to play a turn-based RP. It executes the formula with simplicity while also serving up a surprising amount of depth. There’s barely ever a need to grind levels for your team. You don’t ever even need to do some hardcore breeding in order to build the perfect team. Beating a Pokemon game can be achieved in many different ways.
After all, these games are designed to be played by children. As one could expect, Shining Pearl carries on this tradition to significant effect. You get exactly what’s written on the tin, and that’s just fine.
If there’s a genuine saving grace I could find in this remake is that it’s perfect for gamers who’ve either never played a Pokemon game or have never played the Gen 4 titles.
Either way, this game is a definitive title to pick up. Pearl and Diamond both are arguably the most refined state the series has ever reached. You get drip-fed a host of new features through the Poketch that acts as your personal smartwatch within the game. Unlocking alternate routes leads to some exciting new adventures off the beaten path.
There are also a ton of characters and stories to experience that has a fair amount of quirk and charm to the Sinnoh region. For instance, there’s a Cowgirl who’s got a near-endless supply of Bidoofs she tosses your way.
Finally, there’s also the Underground, an endgame-like area that allows you to collect Pokemon that aren’t native to the game’s region. Here you can also build a secret base, a feature many fans wish would simply become a staple across the Pokemon series.
What’s incredibly head-scratching about Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond is that they’ve been based on their direct predecessors when a better version was already available. Pokemon Platinum is the authentic Gen 4 experience as it does a lot of what I expected these remakes would already.
It refined the story, corrected a lot of the frustrations found in Pearl and Diamond and was an overall better game. With all of these fixes already in place, it’s baffling how the developers behind these remakes didn’t want to use Platinum.
Frankly, it feels like a missed opportunity, a conservative approach that chose to be overtly faithful instead of giving the world a genuinely refined Pearl and Diamond experience.
What I consider my biggest highlight playing this game was when I was sharing a controller with my 3-year-old child. If there’s one thing I can bank on is that Pokemon games will captivate the young ones almost instantly.
We had a lot of fun exploring the Sinnoh region together, with her walking us around, talking to people while I handled the “scary” battles. Because of how tightly built Pokemon games are, they’re perfect for a young child to get to grips with using a game controller.
There are no ledges they can fall off of. Wandering into tall grass only leads to benign battles they can ultimately choose not to partake in if they’re not ready for such experiences. It can also be a lot of fun narrating what the on-screen characters are saying to add a level of immersion to your little partner’s experience.
What it all boils down to is quite simple. Pokemon Shining Pearl is a remake of a Pokemon game. It does what a Pokemon game is expected to do at this point and does it well enough.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you, dear reader. If the comforting embrace of this warm and fuzzy unchanging franchise is something you crave, then do not hesitate to pick this remake up, for it does what it says on the label. However, if you’re fed up with getting the same experience from every passing Pokemon title, this recreation will not afford you any recourse
Pros & Cons
- Faithful recreation of the Gen 4 titles launched on the Nintendo DS
- Some genuinely brilliant moments of graphical fidelity
- A few good tweaks to quality of life and features from the original games
- A positive and colourful experience that can be shared between parents and children
- Barely any meaningful tweaks and improvements made to the formula of the original games
- Predictable experience that squanders the opportunity to bring in the improvements from Platinum
- Feels like a game released just to have a Pokemon game release in 2021
- Mixed art style feels lopsided and odd