Today I find myself sitting down to pen this review for a third time, having scrapped my first two drafts since I already mentioned much of what I wanted to say in Episode 2 of this season’s Toronto Thumbs Podcast.
If you haven’t listened to it, here’s a brief overview in one sentence: Pokémon Platinum may be targeted at a youth audience but the game has so much depth in it that even adults can appreciate it. This general idea was prefaced with Adam and I reminiscing about the first Game Boy Pokémon titles, and how much we were into them despite being well outside of the core demographic of the series.
The concept of Pokémon games may seem a little obscure and perverse to outsiders. That is, people who somehow still have no idea what Pokémon is despite them being a large part of our popular culture for the last decade or so. To their credit, the world of Pokémon is a very strange one wherein odd terms are oft defined by even odder ones. The resulting language ends up being something easy for adults to write off as children’s entertainment.
Despite what some might think, however, the series is based upon a very simple premise – that the world is inhabited by both humans and Pokémon, and these Pokémon are akin to this world’s animals. In the game, humans and Pokémon form friendship bonds, live together, play together, and even fight together. At the start of your adventure, you are a young child who is about to embark on an incredible adventure exploring the world of Pokémon.
While you’ll take on this quest in single-player fashion, there’s so much interaction within the narrative of the game that you will never actually feel alone. Your best friend in the game starts on this adventure at the same time as you. Both you and your friend venture off into the world without any Pokémon to your name (something warned against, as you never know when a wild Pokémon will attack you), but soon come into contact with a helpful doctor who allows you both to choose one of three Pokémon he happens to have with him.
To put this into some sort of context, there are hundreds of different Pokémon in the world, and they come in many varieties. They fall under different types, and some can even crossover these type classifications. The Pokémon you choose from at the start are the three starter Pokémon for the game: Chimchar (who is a fire type), Piplup (water type), and Turtwig (plant type). Are you with me so far? Good.
Different Pokémon types are strong and weak to other types. For instance, in the aforementioned group, fire is stronger against plant, plant is stronger against water, and water is stronger against fire. This rock-paper-scissors-style element plays very heavily in the game, as the types of Pokémon encountered in each area will need to be carefully countered by the Pokémon on your team if you intend on being a successful trainer. After all, each type of Pokémon has its own unique moves based on the elements the character falls under. And those are not just limited to fire, water, and plant. There are normal, bug, ghost, rock, fighting, electric, steel, ice, poison, ground, flying, psychic, and so forth. Truth is, there are so many different types that I can’t recall them from the top of my head.
Once you and your best friend choose your starter Pokémon (and take note that your friend will always choose the Pokémon which is “super effective” in battling the one you choose), the adventure begins. Professor Rowan, having started you on your life of Pokémon training, employs you to go out and catalogue every Pokémon you come across. Since there are hundreds out there, he gives you a Pokédex, which is a device that will store the details of each new Pokémon.
Your adventure takes place in the Sinnoh region, which is also the setting of Pokémon Diamond Version and Pokémon Pearl Version. But rather than be a port of these two previous games with an updated rosters of findable Pokémon, Platinum Version introduces a few new narrative elements and settings.
For one, there’s the introduction of the Distortion World, which warps both space and time and makes for some trippy game-play scenarios. More importantly, however, is the introduction of new characters that affect the narrative. The game also introduces new forms of Pokémon seen in the two previous games.
Pokémon can either be encountered in battles with other trainers or in the wild, where Pokémon without trainers attack you at random while you’re traversing through the environment. It’s in the wild battles that Pokémon can get caught (using Pokéballs) and added to your team. I mainly play, during breaks at work, I work on resume edit service, it's great, that job give me that change. I always try to add new Pokemon to the team and pump a little, but there are always three of the strongest. Once you catch one, you can choose to give it a nickname and then choose whether it gets a place in your active roster of six Pokémon. Since you can only carry six around with you at any given time, and because there are so many to see and collect, the possibilities for game-play decisions are endless. If you already have six Pokémon with you and you capture another one, it’s automatically transferred to a storage box on “Someone’s PC” – yeah, I know, it’s very strange that you can electronically store an animal. Yet at the same time, it’s no less weird than befriending wild animals and also forcing them to fight their brethren.
Pokémon is a game ultimately based on the outcomes of your decisions. Your choice of team members must be thought out carefully if you want to do well throughout the different areas of the game. Additionally, the members of your team will constantly level up as they are used in battle. When this happens, they learn new moves. The trick is, each Pokémon can only ever have four moves in its repertoire. To learn a new move, one must first be forgotten. So it’s important that you choose a move you don’t think that character will need any more.
And if that wasn’t enough, throughout the game you’ll come across items that can be used to teach Pokémon specific moves that they won’t normally learn throughout the course of their lives. As they grow, most Pokémon eventually evolve into larger/stronger forms. Each of these new forms count as new Pokémon and are added to your ever-growing Pokédex. At the same time, there’s a whole sub-narrative happening. You’re not just out and about trying to catalogue every Pokémon in the world, you’re also on a quest to become the world’s best Pokémon trainer. Yes, it’s ambitious! But it’s not impossible. The game-play is fairly open, and you can spend as much time as you want doing whatever strikes your fancy. You can pick berries, ride your bicycle, plant trees, have your Pokémon participate in beauty contests, and even bake muffins to feed to your Pokémon.
However there are key milestones within the game that ensure the plot is progressed. To become a better trainer, you will have to take on gym leaders in different cities in Sinnoh. In total, there are eight leaders, and each one is fond of a particular type of Pokémon. The trick is to meet them in battle with Pokémon that are super effective against theirs. Defeating the leaders rewards you with badges, which in turn allows you to do more within the world.
Along the path to become the top Pokémon trainer, you’ll come across characters that you’ll have to help out. In most cases, this involves you standing up to bullies for them. In other situations, they join you for a short time and participate in battles side-by-side with you.
You may recall that Pokémon was often promoted by the slogan “Gotta catch ‘em all!” As the series has grown, this slogan is still a major part of the game-play but so many new elements have been introduced that it’s easy to play the game without the obsessive-compulsive desire to complete your Pokédex. This is a good thing, since collecting them all is seemingly more difficult than ever before; certain Pokémon can only be found in specific areas at specific times of the day, while others can only come about through certain care techniques and others still only through trades with other players.
Role-playing games tend to be very demanding of the player. To best enjoy them, one must spend a lot of time with them to explore everything they have to offer. In Pokémon Platinum, the top screen of the DS serves as the main screen while the touch screen is used to input battle commands, organize inventory, and access the Pokétch (which is a watch that has several programs on it, from calculator to GPS-like apps). As the story unfolds you’ll come across characters who will supply you with new apps for the monochrome Pokétch, and these certainly come in handy throughout your travels.
Unfortunately, there isn’t just one input method for the game, meaning you’ll be pulling out the stylus repeatedly to take care of certain tasks unless you’re okay with getting thumbprints on the touch screen.
In terms of how it stacks up Pokémon Platinum is arguably the best of the franchise’s games, and that’s based upon game-play alone. Luckily, this very important aspect is complemented by the other reasons people enjoy videogames, namely the categories of graphics, sound, and fun factor. The world of Sinnoh is depicted in the genre-standard 3/4 overhead view, but is interestingly presented in a somewhat 3D fashion. Terrain, buildings, and plants are rendered in three dimensions while character sprites and some indoor environments are still 2D pixel art. Everything melds together nicely and the characters look like they belong in the world they’re placed in. The time of day in-game corresponds to the time of day according to the DS’s internal clock, and this is depicted in-game with different colour tones. The time of day changes aren’t as subtle or aesthetically pleasing as those found in Animal Crossing games, but it is a great effect nonetheless.
Furthermore, Pokémon Platinum utilizes multiplayer modes both over local wireless connection and via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. The single-player side of the game is driven by a sense of exploration, intense battles, and a strong narrative while the multiplayer angle is heavily skewed towards battles and Pokémon trading. In fact the only way to get a complete Pokédex is to make use of the social aspects of game, namely trading with friends or by attending special events where Nintendo gifts ultra rare Pokémon to attendees.
I earlier mentioned that Pokémon is based on a simple premise, and it’s something I still believe despite all the frills and detours that Pokémon Platinum offers. I’ve been a fan of the series since first playing a friend’s copy of Pokémon Blue while driving around in his van as a teen looking for things to do, and I’m glad I can say that Platinum captures the feel of its predecessors while adding in new play mechanics and plot details. The narrative of the underdog rising against all odds to save the day is as old as mankind, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing in the context of this game. The series is often written off as being for children, but there’s so much to see, do, and appreciate that Pokémon Platinum stands up as one of the most compelling RPGs in recent memory.