Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Pokemon Platinum for Nintendo DS

It's finally time for me to review a game that has already taken Japan and the US by storm, and more recently, Australia, since its release about a month to six weeks back: Pokemon Platinum!

Now, before I get into the guts of the actual review itself, allow me to wax lyrical and take a trip down memory lane and share with everyone my Pokemon experience and journey thus far.

Pokemon hit me like a yawn; it came out of nowhere but it was highly contagious (and addictive). I remember my first exposure to the 151 Pokemon creatures (yes, there were only 151 of the little critters over a decade ago) when I saw some interesting and odd animal figurines being sold in some hobby shops in Singapore.

Those turned out to be Pokemon, which I discovered a few short months later. I had read about this "fad" that had taken Japan by storm and was becoming increasingly popular in the US as well as a result of the cartoon. So I just had to find out for myself what was so popular about this fad which many people would say would only last for a short while (over a decade on and it's going stronger than ever, so take that, naysayers!).

It was around this time I was "experimenting" with other types of gaming that wasn't on the PC; console gaming in short. I had been playing games all my life but my only real exposure to any console games was playing Super Mario Bros and the original Legend of Zelda on my friends' NES when I was a kid, playing Streets of Rage and Ice Hockey (or was it NHL?) '93 on my cousin's Sega Megadrive when I was in my teens, and also borrowing and playing that same cousin's Game Boy...the really old one "greenscreen" LCD.

So I didn't have much console gaming experience. Sure, I knew some of the more popular games because I had seen or heard of them, but I certainly never tried any out and I was more keen on playing either video games from the arcade or PC-centric stuff like Starcraft, Unreal Tournament and Quake 2.

But I was about the enter the Army and wouldn't really get a chance to play any of these PC games, so it occured to me, it might be a good idea to get a portable console. The only ones around at the time were the Game Boy systems and Sega's Game Gear, which wasn't very popular and didn't have as many games as the Game Boy had, so it was an easy choice for me to go down to Sim Lim Square and purchase my very first console, a purple Game Boy Color.

Of course, I couldn't just get the Game Boy without a game, so the very first game I purchased was Pokemon Red:

I can't remember whether it was a conscious or spontaneous decision to purchase Pokemon. I could have purchased Pokemon Red because subliminally, I had been exposed to it or heard about it so often that something "convinced" me to give it a try. But I just could have as easily decided on my own that I WANTED to give Pokemon a try, without needing that extra push. I can't remember anymore.
I played the game through without needing to refer to any walkthrus, without any cheats or hints or referring to guidebooks. To say that I was hooked to the game is a MASSIVE understatement. I must have clocked up in excess of 60 to 70 hours during the first run of the game!

Something about the game just drew me into it. I certainly enjoyed the RPG elements and training your Pokemon so they'd grow bigger and stronger...I equated Pokemon to virtual pets back in those days (since we were not too far off from the cessation of the Tamagotchi fad). Those little Pokemon had certainly grown on me!

What was amazing was that for such a simple concept where you "grew" your Pokemon for the purposes of battle, it was so thoroughly engrossing! There was this whole huge backstory as well and I just absorbed as much of it as I possibly could. Or so I thought back in those days during that first run.

So I played the game a second time around, this time checking the walkthrus online and I found out there was so much I had missed. I tried my best to collect all 151 Pokemon (gotta catch 'em all!) and it was a pretty futile attempt, considering that I didn't have Pokemon Blue in which it had the other half-set of creatures in the game. Needless to say, I clocked up even MORE game time the second time around.

But while I didn't get Pokemon Blue, I certainly did get Pokemon Yellow when it was released:

Pokemon Yellow wasn't that much different from Pokemon Red/Blue! In fact, it was pretty much the SAME GAME, with a few different tweaks. Instead of choosing between Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, you were given Pikachu right at the start in Pokemon Yellow and he'd follow you around for the whole game. Guess it made marketing sense for a Pokemon game to be released where you started off with Pikachu, given Pikachu's popularity in the cartoon.

I watched the cartoon too in the first season and even though it was fairly juvenile, I'd still watch it because I was addicted to Pokemon! I even played the Pokemon Trading Card game released by Wizards of the Coast (in place of Magic: the Gathering as I had quit the game by then) and I still have many of the original cards from the first base set and the following two expansions, all of which are now worth nothing since all cards printed by WoTC are now defunct and unplayable outside of a casual environment.

I was so into Pokemon that I got myself a SECOND Game Boy Color, in Pikachu Yellow (though I think the officially named colour was "Dandelion") and I also got myself a yellow Pokemon Game Boy pouch to hold that Game Boy Color and my games:

Yes, I certainly was addicted to this "fad". But I was also convinced that it would end after only a few years. Who knew how strong the appeal for Pokemon would be that it's still going strong over all these years?

Pokemon Yellow started the trend with Pokemon games that have been released over the years; there would be a simultaneous release of two Pokemon games that were essentially the same game except with different available Pokemon in the game. And then an updated version of the game would be released about two years later, which had all the available Pokemon from the first two games, contained pretty much the same storyline, but with some additional tweaks to the story and gameplay.

This was the case with Pokemon Red/Blue which had Yellow as the "updated" version of either game. Gold/Silver had the Crystal "update", Ruby/Sapphire had the Emerald "update" and now Pokemon Platinum is the updated version of Pokemon Pearl/Diamond.

So let's get this warning out of the way: if you already HAVE played Pokemon Pearl/Diamond and are pretty satisfied not shelling out money for essentially the same game (albeit with nifty new functions and updates), then DON'T purchase Platinum. From what I've heard though, even those who have already completed Pearl/Diamond, went right out and purchased Platinum anyway. Such is the marketing and appeal of the Pokemon games that Nintendo doesn't really need to twist one's arm to get you to go out to purchase a second copy of essentially the same game you already have or played before!

Of course, having never played Pokemon Pearl/Diamond before (but hearing so much positive stuff about it), I felt it was finally time to dip my toe back into the Pokemon waters, after a decade since I originally purchased the first game. It helped that the cartoon is still going strong (though I never watched more than a few random episodes of the later series) and that I had played Pokemon Red all over again from scratch about 2.5 to 3 years back when still living in Geelong!

So my love affair with Pokemon started again. And boy, the changes between the fairly blase LCD graphics from the Game Boy Color (with minimal colours) to the bright and colourful graphics of the Nintendo DS was staggering! The music was greatly improved too, but the general gameplay is pretty much the same.

There were quite a lot of new options I hadn't been exposed to before which took some time for me to get used to. With the Game Boy Color, there was only one screen and two action buttons. But with the Nintendo DS, there were the dual screens AND four action buttons, not to mention the shoulder buttons (which I don't think are used anyway)...and of course, the touchscreen and stylus.
I'd only been used to one-on-one battles but got my first exposure of two-on-two battles with Platinum. And there were only a handful of Pokemon creature types in the original Red/Blue games whereas there seems to be a multitude of creature types now...thankfully it's fairly straightforward to use one's common sense to work out which creature types are stronger/weaker to specific opposing types.

The gameplay is more fluid with the DS dualscreens, since you can have the action one the top screen and anything else on the bottom one. There's this nifty Poketch watch which you are given during the game which has heaps of different applications you can obtain from talking to people in the game and it's nice to have that level of customisation to determine what you want to appear on the touchscreen; the time, the current Pokemon in your party, a Pokemon "screensaver", a pedometer, etc etc. Intuitive and fun!

The game also takes into account which day it is and what time of the day it is. When it's night time, the game becomes "dark" as it simulates night. Only certain Pokemon come out at night which means you can only catch them within a specific period; same works for Pokemon that only come out during the day. There are weather patterns during the game itself, which will hinder or aid you during Pokemon battles.

From what I've read, Platinum is the "ultimate" update of Pearl/Diamond and having read what differences there are in Platinum to Pearl/Diamond, I can understand why people who already have Pearl/Diamond go out to purchase Platinum anyway.

Platinum introduces Giratina, a legendary Pokemon that was featured in its own movie (and there are 12, yes 12! Pokemon movies to date) and a new area called the "Distortion World" where natural physical laws don't apply. There are also more Wi-Fi connectivity features and facilities like a Wi-Fi plaza and an arcade area where players can play minigames against each other online.

But probably the best part about the new features is the Vs. Recorder which allows players to record their greatest (or worst) battles between Pokemon and then share the battles with friends and other people via Wi-Fi. Sort of like YouTube but specifically for Pokemon battles!

I've probably played only 1/4 or 1/3 of the game but have already clocked up in excess of 20 hours (which is the reason why I haven't been blogging of late, other than being extremely busy at work). But there is still so much of the game to explore, so many more battles to be fought and so many more secrets to discover.

I'm glad I've rediscovered Pokemon and am reliving the (new) experience all over again!

1 comment:

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ohh man, You're story is very similar to my own. My first dabble into the pokemon real was a borrowed version of red a friend let me try. I was instantly hooked, so i went out and bought yellow and was fully infatuated with the small pixelated pikachu following me everywhere. When i was back in the real world i always looked back and was thoroughly dissapointed to see no pikachu.

From then on its been a life long affair. I played the games, I watched the show (though not the most recent series) and i collected the cards. Although after the third series i slowed down, I didnt get into
diamond and pearl, but whe platinum came out I figured, I've plaed through every region up untill this point, what kind of man would i be if i skipped this one. SO i pickd up platinum and i loved it.