Columbus (OH) - Along with the cookie cutter formula that has graced the Pokemon RPG series since 1998, the latest installment for the DS taps into uses for the system that are entirely new. We had a first look at the new games.While there has been minimal use of the DS Wi-Fi connection and GBA game pak compatibility in previous titles, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are the first to really explore the full extent to which these technologies can be used.
With regard to Wi-Fi, Diamond and Pearl are the first DS titles to offer in-game voice-over IP (VoIP). I found this to work really well, especially because of the DS's built-in microphone, which eliminates the need of a separate headset. It's easily the most user-friendly in-game communication system across all platforms, even though its scope and range of use is quite small. Users must exchange game-specific "friend codes" in real life before they can talk to each other in the game.
Another part of the game does offer Wi-Fi communications between people around the world without the need to register them first. Unfortunately, this is actually extremely limited. Users can put up a Pokemon for trade and let people from around the globe complete the swap. It's a very indirect form of Wi-Fi communications, but it is certainly a step ahead of the highly restrictive boundaries that have plagued previous DS online titles. It also really shows off the wireless abilities for the DS as opening up a global portal, like nothing any DS title before it has offered.
What I found most intriguing about the game, though, is the ability to migrate Pokemon from the GBA cartridges to Diamond/Pearl via the GBA slot on the DS. The process is completely seamless and re-ignites the list of possibilities for using that second slot as an expansion for DS titles.
The rest of the game is somewhat of a ho-hum experience. In terms of the story mode and side quests, there's nothing new. This installment is all about adding online functionality to the 9-year-old series, which is admittedly more than enough of a selling point for die-hard fans of the series.