Pokemon 20th Reviews: Pokemon Platinum

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I was really excited to replay Platinum – I haven’t played it in ages, but I have some fond memories of the Gen 4 games, specifically of the Sinnoh region. Luckily, my playthrough did not disappoint; aside from a few areas I found lacking, Pokemon Platinum is exactly the game I remembered it being, and that game is really damn good.

The biggest strength of the game is also what makes it unique among Pokemon games; its atmosphere. Platinum succeeds most in the quieter explorative moments, and Sinnoh as a region is built to support that. Areas in the game exist for seemingly no reason other than to offer quite respite for the weary trainer or build up the game’s extensive (for a Pokemon game) lore. The church in Heathrome city remains the prime example of this, but the Canalave city library is another, and one that’s explicitly pointed out to you as an area for quiet research. Other games have had areas like this, museums or buildings that serve little in-game function, but Sinnoh has the most memorable. It’s not just these buildings that are the nooks and crannies of the region; the routes are also designed to service Sinnoh’s greater emphasis on exploration and atmosphere.

Like in Emerald, Platinum also has a story focusing on a team of fancifully dressed but ultimately silly and annoying bad guys trying to create some kind of new world. Also like Emerald, this plot forcefully guides around Sinnoh, moving you from one location to the next without letting you decide in what order you want to explore the region. Unlike Emerald, Platinum has learned that this removes the explorative element from a Pokemon game, and so seeks to find some other way in which to recapture that spirit. It does this with its intricately designed routes; the best in the series. Route 210 has multiple sprawling paths; different weather patterns and Pokemon encounters, as well as water and bicycle areas, to give just one example. Sinnoh is also refreshingly light on water routes, which have a tendency to be bland and samey, but it keeps surfing useful and important by still having an abundance of smaller rivers and lakes on which to surf, as well as the three great lakes. For the best example of how Sinnoh uses its route design for both explorative and atmospheric effect, however, look no further than the ascent into Snowpoint City. After emerging from Mt. Coronet you find yourself in snowy Route 216, the plinky music signaling the icy path ahead without being too forceful. Here, you’re given a choice of two paths (three with Rock Climb) to reach a small cabin, a final place to heal before tackling Route 217. On this route, both the snow has become harsher and the music more adventurous. Route 217 seems initially simple, but as a small sprite trekking across it, it feels like a snowy hell, meaning that when you finally get to Acuity Lakefront, and the snow has calmed, the sense of relief is palpable. After navigating some grass, you make it to Snowpoint City, your party exhausted. Once again, the music does much of the heavy lifting, another soothing but icy track calming any remaining nerves. If that sounds over the top for a Pokemon game, you might be right, but in my opinion, it sets itself out as one of the best examples of a game working within its limitation to create a feeling of exploration and adventure using map design, music, and visual effects.

Platinum isn’t perfect, however. For one, the Pokemon designs leave a lot to be desired; the designers often go the lazy route of just creating a bulky evolution of a popular (or sometimes just random (Lickiliky)) older Pokemon. As such, Sinnoh often feels like it lacks an identity of its own, as the variety of new Pokemon to choose from is lacking. Judging by the Pokemon that Team Galactic uses, however, you’d think that there were only three Pokemon in the entire region. The frustration of being confused by yet another Golbat becomes almost unbearable when forced to traverse dungeons such as the Galactic HQ. That isn’t the only annoying frustration Platinum has, however. The reliance on HM moves reaches peak levels here, and as such your move options are limited by having to teach your Pokemon stupid moves like Rock Climb or Defog. Yes, climbing rocks adds another level of exploration, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of a move slot. The new evolutions I mentioned earlier are too often Wifi based, something that at the time seemed like less of a problem with exciting new servers up and running, but now becomes a chore.

How does Platinum stack up seven years later? Remarkably well. Yes, it has its frustrations, but I was really impressed by Platinum, and it takes the top slot so far held by Crystal on this series so far. 3 more games to go before Sun/Moon!

Sorry this was such a long time coming! While I’m not reviewing the remakes, I would like to just say that HeartGold and SoulSilver are fantastic games; improving on everything good about both Platinum and Crystal (but more on them later). As for what’s next on this blog besides Black/White… I’m not sure. Watch this space, I guess… (but first be sure to check out my review of Zero Time Dilemma!)

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