You obtained a Pale Sphere, size 12!
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are arguably the first true Pokemon games to come out on the DS and are considered the fourth generation of the series. Touting a single player RPG experience that will last at least 40 hours and a big step in the right direction as far as online multiplayer is concerned, this generation is the best yet.
For good or bad, the main adventure mirrors the formula from the original game, with only minor improvements and changes. You are an intrepid youth setting out to become a Pokemon champion. Along the way you compete with your "rival" best friend on your way to defeating the Elite Four, all the time trying to catch 'em all in order to complete the Pokedex given to you by a professor in the beginning of the game. Several tweaks and additions have been made, but it is far from enough to make the game feel significantly different from the original games. The day/night cycle from the Gold/Silver generation returns, and it includes even more cycles. The double battles that were introduced in the Ruby/Sapphire generation have been improved, adding wild double battles as well as the ability to team up with computer controlled characters. On one hand, the story in the game still feels like a complete rehash of the past games. On another hand, the “If it's not broke, don't fix it" mantra comes to mind. Hardcore fans of the past games won't let it bother them, but others may be turned off.
The new overworld is stunning. The overhead view with 3D buildings feels great for this game. It's cheerful and brings a level of life to the bright and colorful Pokemon universe that wasn't present before. The engine should be utilized in as many other games as possible. The Earthbound/Mother series would play great in this environment. Sadly, the 3D feel is not brought into buildings or battles, each of which feels a lot like the Ruby/Sapphire generation of games. Sprite animations, similar to those seen in Pokemon Crystal, make a return, so the Pokemon have a little more character when they get tossed into battle. Introductory animations that occur before battles are a nice addition. It's cool to see the blades of grass part just before a wild Pokemon reveals itself.
When inside a battle, the similarities with past games are most apparent. Your Pokemon is still in the lower left while your opponent's is in the upper right. The frame around the Pokemon's HP and level is identical to the one used in Ruby and Sapphire. Pokemon still faint by disappearing into the ground. Backgrounds are slightly improved and do a better job of showing the current terrain. Attack animations are improved but the nature of the battle system keeps them from being too spectacular. Without doing a direct side by side comparison, it's hard to even point out a lot of the differences between the battle scenes in Diamond and Pearl and those in Ruby and Sapphire.
The sound effects and music have definitely improved over past versions of the game. Many Pokemon players got used to playing the old games on mute, as the repetitive music got quite annoying after a while. The overworld compositions in Diamond and Pearl really make you want to put some headphones on and take it in. Pokemon growls (especially those of the newer Pokemon) actually stand out when compared to others, as opposed to the almost incomprehensible 8 bit screeching from old games. The first time a Kricketune gets thrown into battle this becomes quite apparent. When a Pokemon is based off of a cricket, sound is important, and the effect is quite successful.
Probably the most important reason that the series has become the phenomenon it is today is its ability to link up players of the game and create a community. Diamond and Pearl attempt to take that feature global. Relatively early in the game, the coolest new feature becomes available; the Global Trade Center. Players can make Pokemon available for trade and state their minimum requirements for that exchange. Did you pick Piplup as your starter but wish you could have a Chimchar too? Chances are someone who picked Chimchar is having a similar thought. Breed your Piplup and put the baby up on the Global Trade Center stating that you want a baby Chimchar in exchange. Chances are you'll get your wish in only a few hours. There was some concern that this trade center would allow cheaters to flood the market with hacked rarities like level 100 Celebis. The developers did take some steps to prevent this. Firstly, players can only search and request Pokemon that they have seen. Because the rare Pokemon like Celebi are, in fact, rare, players who haven't seen them won't even be able to look for them right away. Also, players can only offer one Pokemon for trade at a time, so those cheaters that cloned 150 Celebis won't be able to flood the market with them. All that said, the game is still young in the US and it could become a problem over time. It's nice to know that the problem was considered when developing the system, though.
To take advantage of virtually every other online component of the game, a friend code is required. People who share friend codes can battle and trade online by using the basement of any Pokemon Center in any town. For the duration of either of these actions, voice chat is available. It really feels like you are talking on the phone while battling, and it adds a personal level to the online component that really falls in line with what Pokemon has always been about. The only downside to this system is that there is no way to see if your friends are online while playing the single player experience. In order to check, you have to go into the Pokemon Center and sit on a screen where nothing else can be done. This all but requires some sort of connection outside of the game so that you know when to go into the WiFi room.
The only other online component of the game is in the Battle Tower. There, Pokemon teams that were created by other players world-wide can be downloaded and battled against. After they have been downloaded, they are controlled by the computer AI. Players can also upload their current teams in order to add it to the massive pool of potential downloads. While this is an interesting way to add to the near limitless combination of potential opponents, the lack of a random matchmaking mode is a bit frustrating.
There are even more potential multiplayer options for local wireless. Battle and trade are there, but there is also a Union Room that can be used to just congregate and chat with up to 7 other local players. While in the room, players can battle and trade, as well as exchange records, draw, and chat (a la Pictochat). Probably the most exciting addition to local wireless play is that of the Underground. Underneath the entire overworld is a maze-like system of caves. While in the caves, your DS broadcasts your location locally. If other players in your immediate area are in the Underground as well, you will be able to find them and interact. Several things can be down here. When alone, players can excavate the walls looking for several different types of items like fossils, hold items, and evolution stones. The excavation plays out like a simple but addicting puzzle game in which you use either a hammer or a pick axe to chip away at the wall. Chip away too much before finding the item and the wall will collapse, resulting in a loss of the item. Walls can have anywhere from one to four items hidden inside them at any given time, and it takes a good balance of luck and thinking to find four items without causing a collapse. Players can also take the time to set up and decorate their hidden base. Decorations can be bought by exchanging items found while excavating with entrepreneurial hikers scattered throughout the area. Once a base is set up, a basic capture the flag game can be played where you must find your opponent's base and steal their flag. Given the fact that the Underground can be entered at any time from any area in the game, it will most likely be an oft-used time killer by many players.
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl is an extremely well conceived game. While some may complain that it is too much like past titles, it's hard not to get drawn into the charm and depth of the universe. About the only reason someone could have for not picking this title up is if they played one of the original games to death and just lost interest. While there are several aspects of the online modes that could be fleshed out and improved, what is there is great.