Cash Cow, I Choose You!
Pokémon Platinum is the latest and greatest Pokémon, but it doesn't reinvent the Pikachu. Rather, it's the same exact game as Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, plus several bells, whistles, and wacky monsters. The resulting package is both overwhelmingly large, and underwhelmingly familiar. In case you've somehow missed out on the Poké-nominon, you should know that Pokémon Platinum is the latest in a long line of Japanese RPGs in which you explore, collect Pokémon, and then pit them against other Pokémon trainers and their enslaved Poké-critters.
[image1]The story is the same as it's always been. You're either a boy or a girl who travels around collecting Pokémon and thwarting the evil plan of Team Galactic. The difference between Platinum and Diamond/Pearl is that about thirty hours in, you encounter the Distortion World. This new zone is all topsy-turvy; you run on walls and everything is upside-down, and it contains the new boss Pokémon, Giratina. The Distortion Zone feels tacked on, but you're still just exploring around, solving puzzles and fighting; so it isn't super out of place either.
Other new features include cooperative poffin baking, the Battle Frontier, and Plaza Games. Cooperative poffin production is pretty straightforward; if you and a friend or two put your berries together, you'll make better snacks for your respective pokémon than you could have by yourself. The plaza games are equally asinine and absurdly named. You can enter an online lobby and play one of three different games: Swalot Pop, Mime Jr. Top, and Wobbuffet Pop. In the first, you try to flick more berries into a Pokémon's mouth faster than your opponents. In the second, you try to balance your mime on his ball longer than your opponents. And in the third, you inflate a balloon. Like The Distortion Zone, the Plaza Games also feel tacked on.
You can also unlock the Battle Frontier, which includes five areas that you can fight in for Battle Points. Then you can turn around and spend these on items and cards. The neat thing about the Battle Frontier is that you and a friend can team up for even more points. And unlike many other online portable games, the chances are pretty good that someone you know will have this game.
[image2]The online versus side of Pokémon hasn't changed a whole lot. The big new addition is a Vs. Recorder that lets you save the data from a battle to later analyze how you either won or lost. However, the data restrictions here are pretty gnarly. You can only save one battle at a time, just like you can only have one saved game at a time.
There are quite a few other restrictions. You still have to register friends via friend code if you want to play with them, and you only gain the ability to battle against strangers after many hours of play. But that's Pokémon for you; these games always get off to extremely slow starts. The first four hours, in fact, are incredibly dull as your wimpy Kricketots and Bidoofs slowly whittle away at the health of enemies that do nothing other than repeatedly debuff your attack power; turning what should be a quick and easy battle into a five minute snore-fest.
But alas, those issues are as old as Pokémon itself. And to be fair, a lot of Platinum's best features are also old. The ability to trade Pokémon over the internet is still awesome, as is this game's undeniable breadth and depth. For the money, this is a ton of game.
[image3]The graphics and sounds are fine, although the Distortion Zone bites off a bit more than it can chew. The music is annoying, but that's a series hallmark by now. The one thing that's still missing is good stylus control. If you look at other Nintendo properties on the DS, such as Zelda and Metroid, you'll notice that they took advantage of the touch screen in ways that made their gameplay more elegant and accessible. But Pokémon features no such improvements. The gameplay is basically the same as it was in the 90s, and the only touchscreen functionality is the Poké Watch. With this, you can set the touchscreen to show you the time, the status of your pokémon, a pedometer, and several other things that are helpful, but not new or interesting.
And that's Pokémon Platinum. It's the same game as either Pokémon Diamond or Pearl, but now with a few carnival games, a nice big cooperative adventure area, a battle record option, and cooperative cooking. Beneath those new features lies an adventure that can last at least 40 hours, the ability to battle friends and strangers wirelessly or online, and a Pokedex that spans every other game in the series. That, by the way, is one of the benefits of this game changing as little as it does. As the titles progress, you can keep rolling all your captured Pokémon forward into an ever larger and more impressive Pokémon army. So even though Pokémon Platinum isn't the most breathtaking RPG in recent years, it is part of one of the biggest and deepest phenomena in gaming, and that alone makes it worth grabbing it by the Pokéballs.