In a sense, there are few series that are as predictable as the Pokémon games. Everyone knows that when a new entry comes out, it will come in two versions, they will differ only in which creatures appear in each version, and that you’ll have to use both versions if you want to “catch ’em all.” We also know that after sales have died down, one more version of the game will be released that adds new features, and frequently, new Pokémon. Platinum is the latest of these add-on versions, and it changes things from Diamond and Pearl in a number of ways, some of which are less subtle than others. I’ll talk about some of those differences in this review, but a quick web search will find you a more complete list than you’d want to see here.
So which is the tie-in?
We don’t tend to see them here in the US, but there have been a lot of Pokémon movies over the years. A number of the changes in Pokémon Platinum, including the mascot, Giratina, come to us courtesy of the latest movie. The thing is, I’m not sure if the game would be considered a movie tie-in, or if the movie would be considered an ad for the game. Either way, this game introduces us to an area from the movie called the Distortion World, where gravity doesn’t always point in the same direction. This area works as a sort of maze, and it’s an interesting diversion from the standard gameplay.
The story also changes in a few ways, although I don’t know the movie well enough to say how much is borrowed from it, and how much is a result of tweaking what the developers saw as weak points in the original. In Platinum, the villains are more open about their evil plot, and this isn’t really a good thing in my mind, but it is in keeping with the game’s cartoon counterpart. It doesn’t destroy a masterpiece; it just takes a standard Pokémon story and makes it a little less than it was.
What am I really looking to get out of this collection business?
Given the number of Pokémon games and how many copies of each one have sold, I feel there’s no point in describing the basics of how this game works. We’ve been catching Pokémon, leveling them up, and beating the gym leaders and Elite Four for years now. Actually, given the number of hours some of us have put into the individual games, “years” may be the literal amount of in-game time, not just how long the games have been around for. The series also offers an ever-increasing amount of optional gameplay like Pokémon Contests, which really do require a different approach than standard battles. Platinum’s copy of these core elements is as great as ever.
In any series, fans look for a certain kind of innovation from each new entry: something that takes a familiar game and retains the core, but adds new elements or improves on trouble spots. The developers of the Pokémon series have definitely made strong attempts at this, but somehow, the new elements almost never seem to be anything I want to use. For example, I really like some of the applications in this generation’s Pokétch, but the whole Pokémon Contest thing has never appealed to me at all. (Author’s note: a review isn’t the place for a drawn-out discussion of this topic, but it always makes me wonder if I’m playing the game differently than everyone else.) The main additions in Platinum’s gameplay are focused on the online experience, although two changes will be appreciated by all players: surfing is faster than it was before, and so are the seemingly interminable save times from Pearl and Diamond.
In terms of online changes to Platinum, the thing that is the most notable to me is the addition of the Battle Recorder, which allows you to record, share, watch, and rate Battle Frontier and Wi-Fi battles. If you’re a big fan of battling online, you might really appreciate seeing a tense battle play itself out, but I find participating in a battle far more exciting than watching one. Still, we’re firmly within the age of online content-sharing, and since Pokémon games have been allowing/requiring trades since the very first generation, this is the next logical step. There’s also a new Wi-Fi Square that offers mini-games, but is anyone who’s playing Pokémon really looking for mini-games?
Does it look any different?
Surprisingly, among the changes from Pearl and Diamond are a number of graphical changes. They’re generally small shifts: the health meter in battle has been made a bit easier to read, the presentation of gym leaders at the beginning of battles has been enhanced, etc. In addition, some of the attack animations have been changed up a bit, but if you turn off those animations to speed up the battles, you’ll never notice. (Kudos to the developers for that option. I love not having to watch Tackle for the 837th time.) Small or not, I appreciate the fact that they’re present because they make the game seem a little more polished. Players who have gone through Pearl or Diamond recently may also notice that the towns and some of the paths between them have been changed, but the changes are not so drastic that you’d be thrown off if it’s been a while since you played the original versions. Probably the most notable change graphically is the presentation in the new Distortion World. Shifting gravity necessitates some camera work that has never been required in a Pokémon game before, and I felt like it was handled well.
Now where are my headphones…?
As I’ve noted in other reviews, I tend to play games in noisy places, and as a consequence, I generally play with the sound turned off. This time around, I tried using headphones instead, and after testing the sound with and without them, I was amazed at how much better the game sounds with headphones. The music is nice, it feels very layered, and I’ve always liked that it changes from area to area, keeping things fresh throughout the game. If you’ve been playing this series for long, you will find the music’s “feel” very familiar, even if the individual tracks are new to you. The actual Pokémon cries and battle sounds are exactly as before, which I can’t knock – they sound just fine.
Shoot – I dropped my stylus.
Controls have never really been an issue for the Pokémon series, but I did want to quickly discuss them, mostly to note that I really like the way that they’ve used the touch screen. Whether I felt like using buttons or a stylus at any given moment in Platinum, I never felt like the controls were clunky, difficult to use, or a pain to switch between. Even if you need to use your thumb to push the buttons, they’re all big enough that you won’t run the danger of hitting the wrong thing and deleting Hyper Beam to make way for Sand Attack. The only thing I’m not happy with at all is the way that they gave your bike 2 speeds, then required you to use the faster speed, which is less maneuverable, to get past some obstacles. Non-completionists will be able to make it through the game without going down the paths I’m thinking of, but I will take a wild stab in the dark and just guess that almost all of us who love the Pokémon series are completionists.
But should you buy it?
This is what it all comes down to: if you’ve already played Pearl or Diamond, the only reason to plunk down another $35 or so for Platinum is if you are dying to have the new expanded online presence. If you haven’t played the latest installments, though, Pokémon Platinum is definitely worth the purchase price. The amount of content in these games is insane – I have put at least 1000 hours into the series over the years (that’s a month and a half, 24 hours a day), and from everything I see online, I’m not unusual. Depending on your style, playing this game for 100 hours might not even get you to the main story’s conclusion, let alone through a notable amount of additional gameplay that’s unlocked after you beat the main story. Divide the price tag by 100 hours, and you have long-term entertainment for $0.35 an hour, which is outstanding.