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The Player 

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Pok & eacute;mon Diamond / Pok & eacute;mon Pearl & r &

Rated Everyone; Nintendo DS & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the game of Pok & eacute;mon, there are no heroes. There are Pok & eacute;mon aplenty -- the boxes for Pok & eacute;mon Diamond and Pearl depict a pair of neon-edged beasts coxcombed with platinum fins and spikes. The diamond Pok & eacute;mon has a cool blue gem over his breast, while the other displays a pearl disc on each shoulder. There is only one of these two Pok & eacute;mon in each postage stamp-sized cartridge. ("Gotta catch 'em all!" the craze sang a decade ago.) But despite their scarcity, the signature Pok & eacute;mon are not the game's heroes.

Because Pok & eacute;mon Diamond/Pearl is a role-playing game, there is a role for me to play. He wanders through the pastel-hued world of Sinnoh, perpetually at the screen's center as I scroll the landscape past him. He is my avatar in Pok & eacute;mon, responsible for taking me on a journey that will last at least a few dozen hours. But that little figure is not a hero as much as he is a toolbelt for Pok & eacute;mon.

The real heroes of Pok & eacute;mon sit outside of the game, holding videogame systems in their hands. The Pok & eacute;mon themselves are simply digital tools for getting into the game. Though Diamond/Pearl has a story -- a classic bildungsroman, if you must -- the real propulsion is provided by the Pok & eacute;mon battles. These turn-by-turn fights have always been decided by a rock-paper-scissors system that has fractured into an astonishing number of parts -- sort of rock-paper-scissors-psychics-ghosts-bugs-grass. Achieving victory in this tangled hierarchy is a matter of personal taste.

I can create an army of Psyducks -- those pudgy yellow Pok & eacute;mon stalwarts. Perhaps I'll temper their squad with an insect or two. The new ant-like Kricketunes will let me pester psychic Pok & eacute;mon when they try to psych me out. And if I don't want to fight, I can always retire with a den full of round blue mousey Marills, breeding babies to win beauty contests. How I play the game is up to me, as I define myself like a constellation picked from among Diamond and Pearl's hundreds of Pok & eacute;mon.

THE GOOD: Pok & eacute;mon Diamond/Pearl is the most substantial Pok & eacute;mon game -- physically and digitally -- that the series has ever attempted. The environment, which was a barely colored outline of a world seen from above in the first games, has now developed depth. Trees poke up from the screen in pistachio shades, and the ubiquitous brick-roofed Pok & eacute;mon centers stand above the ground in blocky relief. Likewise, nearly all the gameplay innovations that have been introduced to the basic Pok & eacute;mon role-playing games are present in Diamond and Pearl, rounded out with enough detail to make them seem new. It is a testament to Pok & eacute;mon's basic premise that, despite this wealth of paraphernalia, the core role-playing game is undiminished.

THE BAD: Almost the only new feature brought to the franchise by Pok & eacute;mon Diamond/Pearl is the use of the DS's built-in wireless networking. Of course this makes hooking up with friends much easier, and opens the possibility of trading Pok & eacute;mon and items with people around the world. Given the DS's success, the online network is the best chance Nintendo has of recapturing some of the schoolyard excitement Pok & eacute;mon caused when it first appeared.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Pok & eacute;mon Diamond and Pearl move Pok & eacute;mon onward, online and entirely on track.

5/5 Stars

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