Joystiq Review: Pokemon Platinum

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Joystiq Review: Pokemon Platinum

The structure of releases in the Pokémon series has always stood defiantly in the face of reason. Installments in the series aren't games, they're "Generations," each of which include two simultaneously released, nearly identical titles, and a third nearly identical title which launches a couple of years after the first two. On top of all of this, the gameplay, story and core mechanics of the game remain extremely similar throughout these "Generations." As a cynic would likely remark, Nintendo has released the same game about 14 times now.

Pokémon Platinum is the companion piece to 2007's Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Following in the vein of other third wheels in former generations (such as Pokémon Yellow or Crystal), it leans heavily upon the framework of its predecessors, marginally improving the game's overall aesthetic and adding a handful of new features. But are these minor tweaks enough to justify purchasing an updated RPG that many of you likely purchased two years ago?

Unfortunately, the bulk of these changes are tenuous at best, and unnoticeable at worst.

For the severely and inexcusably uninoculated, Pokémon is a turn-based RPG in which players catch, collect and battle the game's titular critters. It's a formula that's as deep as it is nefariously compelling -- as of the current generation, there's 493 monsters to collect, each of which possess their own strengths and weaknesses. It takes a remarkable amount of strategy to build a team that can stand up to the game's toughest trainers, and even more know-how to hunt down or trade for the pokémon you're hoping to recruit.

The series' success derives largely from the social engagement it demands. All 493 pokémon can't be caught in a single cartridge -- completionists are required to trade with others to bolster their respective Pokédexes. If zoological pugilism is your thing, battling other players can create a surprisingly intense (or demoralizing, depending on the strength of your team) multiplayer experience. These two aspects are aided by the Wi-Fi capabilities introduced in the current generation -- though trading or battling face-to-face with a friend is ultimately more rewarding (or, again, demoralizing).

The game can stand on its own two feet as a single-player experience as well. Pokémon Platinum's campaign will probably run you 40+ hours, a length rarely achieved by handheld titles. With 210 different pokémon species available on the cart, completing the series' secondary "catch 'em all" objective will elongate your playtime even further. Platinum's insubstantial plot isn't exactly gripping, but the game's tried-and-true core mechanics allow it to deftly avoid tedium throughout its lengthy duration.

However, all of these accolades can be laid upon Pokémon Diamond and Pearl as well. The main point worth considering when adjudicating Platinum is whether the improvements it brings make it worth the hard-earned dollars of those who've thoroughly delved into its forerunners. Unfortunately, the bulk of these changes are tenuous at best, and unnoticeable at worst.

The most lauded addition featured in Pokèmon Platinum is a new area known as the Distortion World. Available near the end of the game, the area depicts a 3D alternate universe with wonky physics, where players will solve puzzles whilst traipsing along walls and ceilings, leading up to a climactic battle with the game's featured pokémon, Giratina. It's disappointingly brief, the puzzles are a tad laborious, and the gravity-shifting mechanic doesn't really control as well as you might hope.

Other new features just feel tacked-on -- the Wi-Fi Plaza, an online meeting room for trainers, doesn't really give many entertainment options outside of a few simple mini-games. The Vs. Recorder, which allows you to save footage from an online battle, is a neat concept, though storage limitations prohibit you from saving more than one battle at a time. You can now cook Poffins with other players over Wi-Fi as well. I'm not sure of the type of person who becomes excited over something like that, though they could ostensibly be out there, somewhere, presumably alone.

There are a few aesthetic changes that hardcore Diamond and Pearl players might appreciate, including a few revamped gyms which include some neat gameplay mechanics -- for instance, the third gym you fight through has you playing flashlight tag against its inhabitants. There's also a few tweaks to the game's overall plot, with a few often comical revisions to the game's dialogue. Despite the additional chatter and new characters, the game's story arc remains, for the most part, completely unmodified.

Despite the weakness of these new offerings, Pokémon Platinum is definitely the most addictive and entertaining entry in the long-standing series. It's probably not worth the $34.99 if you fully entrenched yourself in Diamond and Pearl -- purchasing Platinum based on the strength of its additional features will just leave you disappointed. However, if you've yet to dive into the series, the compelling gameplay, lengthy single-player campaign and seemingly endless endgame offerings make Pokémon Platinum well worth the plunge.
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