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Nintendo

Soapbox: Pokémon Diamond And Pearl’s Greatest Contribution To The Series Was The Underground

There’s a Pokémon Presents tomorrow – the Pokémon-flavoured version of a Nintendo Direct – and I should be feeling like a kid on Christmas, since the announcement of a remake for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl seems almost certain. But I feel more like a kid on someone else’s birthday: wishing I could join in the fun, but feeling like it’s not about me.

For the record, I think a remake of Diamond and Pearl makes sense, and it’s not like the Pokémon series’ first foray onto DS will be without its fans. At the time, I loved it – I had Pearl, and my brother had Diamond, and I’m pretty sure we had a great time. But now, looking back on my memories with the games, all the things I loved most about it came from Ruby and Sapphire, or Gold and Silver. As a result, I can’t help but feel like Diamond and Pearl were games that were played safe for a new console, not daring yet to reinvent the formula.

The Pokétch was new and exciting, allowing players to gain access to a ton of cool touchscreen features, like a calculator, a memo pad, a pedometer and the dowsing machine. It even had useful stuff for trainers, like the Matchup Checker, which would allow you to see if two of your Pokémon would breed, a Move Tester for seeing which types are most effective against others, and a Day Care Checker, which lets players see how their Day Care Pokémon are doing without having to schlep all the way back to the Day Care itself.

But the Pokétch was just an upgraded version of Generation II’s Pokégear, which had a radio and a phone built in, and Generation III’s Pokénav, which let you see the conditions of each Pokémon. Likewise, the Super Contests in Diamond and Pearl were great fun, but they weren’t original, although they added new features to the Contests, including dress-up and rhythm minigames, and changed the tactical Appeal round to be more focused on judges. These weren’t new additions – they were just spruced-up old ones, made slightly fancier for a new generation.

But one thing stood out amongst all others in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl: The Underground, a sprawling network of tunnels and caves that ran under Sinnoh like an ants’ nest. It was like an entirely different game, hidden beneath the earth, in which players could excavate treasures with a neat little Battleship-like mining minigame, set up their own underground base, and even try to place traps for other players. There was a capture-the-flag game that you could play – but I never managed to find anyone except my brother to steal from.

When I tired of training animals to fight to the death, it was The Underground that became my sanctuary. I would dig out fossils and shards, rare evolution stones, and valuable items to sell. I decorated my Secret Base with Pokédolls and furniture, ready to welcome the Pokéfriends I did not have. I would bury Spheres – the currency of The Underground – leaving them to increase in value, in order to buy even more Pokédolls.

The Underground has not returned to the Pokémon series since Diamond and Pearl, much like my beloved Ruby and Sapphire’s Dive feature. Neither has Amity Square, the park where you can walk your Pokémon, and even find rare items and accessories, although HeartGold and SoulSilver and Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee let players walk with their Pokémon for the entire game.

I can’t say that Diamond and Pearl particularly stands out from the much better, much more innovative Pokémon games that I still count as all-time greats. But remakes are often a way for Nintendo & co. to revitalise and polish up some of the older games with new mechanics, features, and graphics, so the latest remake – if the rumours prove true – is likely to get the same treatment. I just hope The Underground gets as much attention from the developers as I gave it as a kid.

Do you have something to say in defence of Diamond and Pearl? Give us your heartiest disagreements in the comments.

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