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Summary: 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. It took me several hours to get to enjoy the game, due to all of the running you need to do. 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.
This is something Pokemon will allow later. Although Pokemon can be considered friends and pets, wild pokmon (also known as pocket monsters are also available to capture and join you in organized battles against other trainers. 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 Sinnoh, 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. Although I haven't played any of the previous titles in this series since Pokemon X was released in 2013, the new title felt almost like a tedious task from the beginning. Even if you want to avoid most of the battles, wild pokemon battles can become so frequent that it is difficult to get from one place to another. 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. This can become a bit tedious.
Wild pokemon are often encountered quite frequently. 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.
Here you have the freedom to choose the pokemon and ability that is most suitable to the task. Wild pokemon may be defeated by battling and then captured using Pokeballs, which are small spheres that can contain and transport pokemon. This is generally fine—expected, even—except here it can be obnoxiously inconsistent. Sometimes, it can take several seconds for the pokemon to appear. Other times I’ll have just finished a battle and can’t even take one full step before I’m fighting something else.
. When you aren’t trying to catch pokemon and just want to progress, these small delays can add up. Sometimes battles 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. Classic Pokemon combat uses multiple attacks, such as fire, water and grass. It works very 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 many other small features that make the experience even more enjoyable, such as color-coded battle lists, easily-read battle information and button shortcuts.
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 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.