Pokémon Diamond Impressions
Why Diamond? I tend to the blue option. This goes into my starting Pokémon choice, too. In 1998 it was Blastoise. In 2003 it was Mudkip. In 2007 it's Piplup.
Well... it's Pokémon. The first couple hours are strikingly similar to Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Sapphire. The story is a bit changed up, but it seems superficial. Rather than being called to pick one of three Pokémon, I (Joshua) pick one of three Pokémon that were accidentally left in a briefcase. Rather than picking the name of a rival, I pick the name of a friend (Austin) who it seems will fulfill the same role as competitor.
Gameplay seems largely the same, so the differentiators thus far are graphics and interface:
Interface... well, honestly it's seemed a bit half-assed, but I've just realized that may be because the other half is still coming. It really should've been a game that could be completely controlled by stylus if desired, like Animal Crossing: Wild World. Instead it's necessary to use the d-pad for motion and a face button to bring up the menu, though touch can be used in certain menus or in battle. The battle touch interface is pretty nice; it's essentially what the bottom of the screen always was in Pokémon games except now the options are free to take up big clear buttons in their own screen. What seemed lacking is that while walking around, all that was on the touch screen was a static image. What I've just run across in the third town, though, is the Pokétch. The character's got a digital watch that looks decidedly original Game Boy-ish. Take away the border, and I estimated it's an 80x80 pseudo-screen doubled in size, with it seems 4 color shades. Apparently throughout the game new features will be added to this, to make the touch screen a bit more interesting. Right now the options are pretty simple--a digital clock, a calculator, a step counter (that can be reset at any time), a display of my current Pokémon with lifebars that make their noise when touched--but they're a lot better than nothing.
The graphics are... deceptive in their improvements. It's easy to take a quick look and think they're not all that different from the GBA games, but they really are. However, there are pros and cons. It very much keeps the look of the GBA games, but now the landscapes are polygonal and the sprites are larger. However, the sprite-on-polygon method is a bit too PS1. They just don't fit in perfectly with the background, and don't scroll very smoothly with the background as you're walking. Again I'll call a comparison to Animal Crossing; there's a game with a somewhat similar style that works better with a polygonal world and polygonal characters.
Battle graphics: Somewhat more detailed and more screen room to play with, but it's much less changed than the outside world. Still sprites on both ends; I guess they're still saving the 3D models for the Stadium/Coloseum/Battle Revolution console connectivity titles. Attack effects seem nicer, but since I'm basically fighting with weenies who can't do much more than Tackle or Growl it's hard to get a full view of it.