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The Bottom Line: Pokemon Shining Pearl reminded me of how irritating these games can be, and why I still enjoy them.
Pokemon Shining Pearl is difficult to enjoy at first, but there’s a lot of fun to be had if you can push through the early frustration and tedium.
The original Pokemon Pearl has been my favorite game in the series ever since it came out in 2007, so of course I was excited to find out we’d be getting a remake on the Switch. Said remake doesn’t exactly get off to a strong start, though. In fact, it took several hours before I started to have fun with it, thanks to all the running around you have to do at first. But I’m having a much better time now that I can quickly travel to previously-visited towns and have most of my favorite pokemon in my roster, something Pokemon allows for later in the game.
The Pokemon world has always been an odd sort of mirror of our own, with creatures that are both fantastical and also mundane. Pokemon are considered pets and friends, but wild pokemon (pocket monsters) can also be captured and join your ranks for more organized bouts with rival trainers (these are in-game characters, not other real humans). It’s bizarre if you try to think about it too much but the point is you get to collect and train a large variety of the cute creatures, then compete for dominance via RPG-like turn-based combat against other (computer-controlled) opponents.
Pokemon Pearl casts you as a young wannabe pokemon trainer just as you begin your journey. Along the way you’ll explore the region of Shinnoh, encounter new pokemon, and capture wild pokemon to use as your own personal combat team. You can then pit your team against other trainers as you fight your way up the ranks—eventually taking on the best: the Elite Four and the reigning Pokemon Champion.
Shining Pearl is essentially the same game as the original Pearl with the same story, but now it’s on the Switch instead of the DS. As a remake, it does about what you’d expect it to do with some modern updates, the same core elements as the original, and not much else, really.
If I’m being honest, I couldn’t tell if I actually liked Shining Pearl at first. It could be due to my having not played anything in the series since Pokemon X, which was released in 2013, but the current title felt like a chore pretty much from the start. Wild pokemon battles happen so frequently that simply getting from A to B can be obnoxious, even if you try to run from most battles to save time. I knew to expect this, but it feels particularly egregious in the early game when you can’t easily overpower or avoid most battles and are also trying to capture every new type of critter you encounter. It all gets just a little tedious.
The frequency with which you encounter wild pokemon can be a big problem, too. You have to wander around the world to follow the story, discover different types of pokemon, and find secrets, and sometimes you’ll randomly run into trainers or wild pokemon looking to fight. Once a fight begins, everything shifts to a turn-based battle system, where you can take your time deciding what pokemon or ability is best suited to deal with what’s in front of you. In the case of other trainers, your teams go head-to-head until all of the members on one side are knocked out. Conversely, wild pokemon can be weakened via battling, then caught by using small spheres designed to contain and carry pokemon, called pokeballs. This is generally fine—expected, even—except here it can be obnoxiously inconsistent. Sometimes it will take several seconds of running around for a pokemon to show up. Other times I’ll have just finished a battle and can’t even take one full step before I’m fighting something else.
Certain conditions can also cause the beginning of a battle to drag on. When you aren’t trying to catch pokemon and just want to progress, these small delays can add up. Other times, battles tend to drag on. This can lead to some frustratingly long bouts that don’t pose a danger to your team but feel like they take forever to finish.
I know this doesn’t paint the best picture but I did eventually start to have fun. The classic Pokemon combat involves multiple types of attacks (ex: fire, water, grass, etc.) and works well. It’s still very satisfying to pull off an attack that your opponent is weak against and watch their health bar drop significantly. Opening up fast travel so I can basically portal instantly to any town I’ve already visited has also been a massive help, as well.
There are a lot of smaller features that work well, too, like color-coded battle menus, easy-to-read battle information and quick button shortcuts that help lessen the impact of all the early tedium.
Most of the time, you’ll see a top-down perspective as you explore the world of Pokemon Pearl, and the visuals aren’t super captivating, to be honest. The character models are small and cutesy, which is fine, but they’re fairly basic and not particularly expressive.
Battles do look a lot better, though, with much more detailed characters and significantly more complex animations than the smaller counterparts featured in the top-down portions of the game. It’s a small detail, sure, but I’ve really been enjoying the way each of your pokemon will move while idle. It helps to sell the idea that they all have their own temperaments.
I also love that you can have one of your pokemon follow you around outside—it’s mostly a cosmetic thing but it’s cute and, again, sells the idea of them having personalities.
Ultimately whether or not Shining Pearl is worth a purchase comes down to what you want or expect from it.
For me, the nostalgia of playing Pearl again after so many years made it an easy purchase (which I don’t regret despite any grievances). Your mileage may vary, but if you’re looking for a fun Pokemon game on a modern console, this is a great place to start.
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