When cute animals attack

Pokémon Diamond; Pokémon Pearl
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(Nintendo; Nintendo DS)

GAMER Continuing my current tendency to gravitate toward games involving cute animals, I recently became addicted to the latest Pokémon installment, Pokémon Diamond. Pokémon Pearl is the same game with some different Pokémon.

My first Pokémon experience came during a long road trip in 2000, when I got hooked on Pokémon Gold. I made myself popular with every grade school kid on the block because I was an adult who knew that Pikachu evolves into Raichu.

In the Pokémon games, you grind to level-up your small army of cute creatures in turn-based battles against random Pokémon who hang out in grassy areas. You also capture new Pokémon. Pokémon are stored in small spheres and are released to fight, after which they get sucked back into their Pokéballs. And you thought non-free-range chickens have it bad.

There's a plot, something about stopping a team of gangsters called Team Galactic from using the powers of Pokémon for evil, and you shame them into submission by using your small, cute animals to rough up their small, cute animals. You use the same technique to earn badges at the gyms scattered throughout the game's world.

These titles are all about the exploring and the collection. You collect Pokémon, Pokémon battle techniques, and gym badges. So if you like to play collection games, Pokémon will take over your life.

What's different between these installments and the one I played when I first got hooked on Pokémon in 2000? About 100 colors. I'm just eyeballing it. Also, a new online mode allows you to trade Pokémon with other users. To be honest, I haven't gotten the chance to use this, but I've heard from one of my coworkers that it is "full of dumb kids who want to trade their level 100 Geodudes for my ultrarare Mewtwo!"

These two are the first non-spin-off Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS, and the series is well served by the platform. Being able to choose moves for my Pokémon by touching the screen is natural. That said, the game could have done a lot more with the hardware. I would like to see the Pokémon world or the battles in 3-D, like in Animal Crossing: Wild World, as opposed to the top-down view. The battles have surprisingly minimal effects and animation. This was OK on the Game Boy Color but seems a bit cheap on the DS. The series hasn't changed much at all, and that's good, because the game play is as fun and addicting as ever. But it's bad in the sense that the latest installments in the series have almost nothing new to offer.

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