Pokemon Diamond (& Pearl)
| Pokemon Diamond

Is there one person in the whole world who doesn't know about Pokémon? Hugely successfully, it's also one of the greatest design mashups of all time, marrying a bagful of cute critters with good old fashioned role-playing mechanics, and giving them a honeymoon in an obsessive compulsive completist's wet dream.

Yet, curiously for a game that's all about collecting, training and evolving exotic creatures into bigger, badder versions, Nintendo's always seemed happy for Pokémon games to rest on their laurels. Each instalment has tweaked the formula slightly and added more pokemon, but the core mechanics – and aesthetics – have remained largely unchanged.

So it's with a sense of deja-vu you embark upon this new journey, tasked with collecting data on all the pokémon in the land by a local and probably (given his desire to offload his work onto a pre-teen) unscrupulous researcher. Along the way you'll discover the true motivation behind the shady Team Galactic and, as always, become the greatest pokemon trainer in the world.

Although Pokémon Diamond (and Pearl) marks the series' first, proper, steps onto the DS, they mimic their predecessors' graphical style to the point where, early on, they're almost indistinguishable from a Game Boy Color game.

Even when the environments start to lift into the third dimension, it never approaches the quality of comparable DS titles. The pokémon themselves retain their charm – there are 107 new species – but the lack of any battle animations is pretty galling considering the hardware the game's running on.

As in previous iterations, battles are turn-based affairs in which pokemon duke it out using skills learnt through growth and, although the framework is basic, there are enough skills and abilities to stave off boredom. There's little new for experienced hands, true, but those who have skipped a generation or two will find features like the two-vs-two battles add a touch of variety to the proceedings.

The good news however is that after an hour or so, you'll begin to forget you were ever initially disappointed. It doesn't really matter that most of the battles against the CPU don't require much strategy, or that the battle system is only selecting moves from a list, because travelling around, collecting, levelling and evolving your pokemon remains as addictive as it ever was. There's still nothing quite like the thrill of happening upon a pokémon you've been dying to find, or the disappointment when you accidentally weaken it a little too much and it faints before you can catch it.

Nevertheless, this is the sort of brilliance that's been stretched over four pocket hardware generations with only minor changes. If you've played one of the previous Pokémon games to death, is there really any reason to come back?

Yes. One word: Wi-Fi.

To be honest, we're could have written the whole review simply about the use of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. While wireless battling is sadly limited to people with whom you share Friend Codes – it also lets you 'voice chat' online – trading can take place with strangers, even when you're offline thanks to the Global Trade Station: simply list the pokémon you wish to trade and what you want in return and your demands are uploaded to a central marketplace. Desperate for a certain pokémon? Search the listings and find someone that has what you want.

It's simple, but the thrill of having access to an online pokémon shopping plaza is intoxicating.

Even wireless battling gets a boost, as human opposition is much tougher than the single-player artificial intelligence, providing a new tactical edge and emphasising the offensive and defensive abilities spread across the range of pokémon.

Such features have been quickly seized upon by players. Although the game is currently only available in Japan, already English-language tournaments and clans are being arranged by a growing community of fans, specialised pokémon breeders are offering their wares in threads across the Internet, and several Pokémon User Leagues have been created to mimic the one you'll climb to the top of during the single-player campaign.

Indeed, it's somewhat ironic that only now, with the integration of Wi-Fi, Pokémon has become the community game it's always pretended to be. Casting a retrospective eye upon the series, it would appear that every game since the series started in 1995 has just been a level up. This, finally, is the real deal.

Pokemon Diamond (& Pearl)

As well as providing an addictive and extensive single-player campaign, the Wi-Fi modes of Pokemon Diamond (and Pearl) mark the game's first true evolution