Generation 4 (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, SoulSilver)
- Physical/Special Split Totally Changed the Game – As I’ve said before, in the first 3 generations, moves were classed as special or physical, depending on their typing (eg, all Water attacks were special, all Normal attacks were physical, etc). Gen 4 brought the long-overdue physical/special split, which made it so that attacks physical or special classing was based on the move rather than the type. This revolutionized battling, build variety and build viability in so many ways. For example, Pokemon whose attacking stats didn’t line up with their typing (eg, Flareon and Sneasel had high attack, but Fire and Dark-type moves were all special) could now take advantage of moves which matched their stats. This also made the multiple Water-type HMs a bit less of an issue, since Surf was now special and Waterfall was physical. In my opinion, this is straight-up the biggest and most important change to the core gameplay that the series has ever seen.
- Challenging Difficulty – Having played nearly every generation of Pokemon games, I can say without a doubt that Gen 4 is by far the hardest in the franchise. The difficulty in these games can be truly savage at times, but it makes battling much more satisfying as a result. Some people might get frustrated by the difficulty, but as a series veteran, I can still remember some of the most intense, down-to-the-wire battles I had where I was 20 levels lower than my opponent and managed to eke out a win through superior strategy and just a bit of luck. This generation also brought in powerful battle items such as the Life Orb and Choice items, which are key items in competitive battling and which are very helpful to overcoming the challenge in these games. The intensity of this generation’s battling is unparalleled, making it straight-up the best generation for those who love Pokemon battles, in my opinion.
- Touch Screen is Well-Utilized – As the first Pokemon game on the DS, the new hardware afforded the series a touch screen to work with, which is used in this game to house a number of handy apps which can be selected by the player. Some of these are basically useless (Coin Toss, Calendar, Roulette), but most are incredibly handy and save you having to constantly menu-dive for information.
- First Truly Evil Antagonists – Previous criminal organizations in these games tended to be underwhelming. Team Rocket, while classic, are just incompetent thugs who cause mischief because it’s fun. Meanwhile, Team Aqua and Team Magma may have some pretty sinister plans (either flooding the world, or increasing the landmass), but they suffer because their goal made absolutely no sense and there’s no real motivation for it. Team Galactic, while somewhat bland, are at least straight-up evil, which makes facing off against them much more satisfying. I mean, these guys set off bombs, kill Pokemon and want to reshape the entire universe to suit their needs. Giovanni is always going to have a place in our hearts, but Cyrus of Team Galactic makes him look like a punk.
- Gen 2 Remakes – While FireRed and LeafGreen are considered good remakes of Gen 1, HeartGold and SoulSilver are popularly considered the best Pokemon games ever released, full-stop. Combo the already-great core of the Gen 2 games with Gen 4’s battling improvements, add some new story beats and cool features (most notably, the first Pokemon in your party will follow you around like in Pokemon Yellow!) and you have an absolute beast of a Pokemon game.
- Online Connectivity – Gen 3 had actually had some online functionality, but it wasn’t until Gen 4 that this was a widely-used and well-integrated feature. While being able to trade with strangers across the globe did make “catching them all” significantly easier than it was in previous generations, it was definitely a great new feature and necessary way to take advantage of new technology.
- Item Storage – Finally, finally, item storage in the bag is now unlimited!
- New Evolutions – In general, Gen 4 has a strong lineup of new Pokemon. I’m not a fan of some of their designs (Drapion’s teeth have always bothered me, Carnivine just looks silly and is there anyone who likes Burmy and Wormadam?) and others are weird but grow on you over time (Drifblim and Skuntank for me, and I absolutely love Purugly), but perhaps the most interesting taking point is that a significant number of the new Pokemon in Gen 4 are evolutions for Pokemon from previous generations (26 of them, to be exact). Introducing a new evolution for a Pokemon is a delicate affair, as it can potentially mess up previously well-liked designs. Gen 4’s handling of this is… mixed, so say the least. Some of the new evolutions are just plain fantastic (Togekiss, Mismagius, Honchkrow, Leafeon, Glaceon, Gliscor, Mamoswine and Froslass), others are either underwhelming or awful (Lickilicky, Magmortar, Probopass, Rhyperior and Mime Jr), and others just make you wonder why they even bothered (Mantyke and Happiny).
- New Art Style is a Step Down – Gen 4’s sprite work is easily as good, if not better, than Gen 3. However, the additional horsepower of the DS has been utilized to (presumably) save the art teams work on the overworld, because the game environments are now 3D rendered. While this makes sense, it just doesn’t look anywhere near as bright or high-quality as the full sprite work in Gen 3 did.
- Everything Is Slow – Whatever new game engine they made the DS Pokemon games on, it is slower than molasses. Saving might be the worst of it (it can take 10-15 second each time), but it’s far from the only problem – surfing, battle animations, waiting for a health bar to deplete, backtracking through Mount Coronet to get anywhere, frame rate is back down to 30, etc. The slow pace can definitely make these games hard to go back to at times.
- HMs At Their Worst – Like Gen 3, Gen 4 has 8 HMs. However, in order to get through Mount Coronet, the mountain range that divides the entire in-game map in half, you’re going to need Pokemon with at least 6 of these moves just to navigate. Again, considering that that’s 1/4 of your available moves taken up with mandatory HMs, plus the high difficult of the game, and HMs are more of a pain in the ass than ever. I mean, at least in previous games, you could get away with boxing a Pokemon that has certain moves (eg, Flash or Waterfall) after they’ve used them. Here? Not so lucky.
- The Underground and Pokeathelon – This feature was a bigger deal back when there was still online functionality available, as it basically functioned as a multiplayer hub for secret bases. Now, it’s just a poorly explained, mostly-pointless, confusing way to get ahold of fossils and stones. Meanwhile, the Pokeathelon is basically just another mini-game similar to Pokemon Contests, right down to its confusing mechanics (Also, it doesn’t bear its own entry, but Contests return and are similarly still confusing and skippable.)
- Stealth Rocks – While entry hazards aren’t exactly new (Spikes were introduced in Gen 2), they weren’t a problem until the introduction of Stealth Rocks. Swapping is one of the most important aspects of competitive battling and while entry hazards are a decent counter to that, I feel like Stealth Rocks are just too good. Spikes at least require you to spend 3 turns putting down additional layers of them, and even then they only affect Pokemon on the ground. Stealth Rocks are just stupidly overpowered in comparison – you only put out one layer, it hits all in-coming targets and the damage is based on the target’s relative weakness to the Rock-type. As a result, a Pokemon that is 2x weak to Rock will take 25% damage and Pokemon that are 4x weak (such as the iconic Charizard) will lose a whopping 50% of their HP just for swapping in. It’s not just Charizard either though, Stealth Rocks have made some already awful Pokemon even more unusable, such as Delibird, simply because of their typing.
- Too Many Legendaries – There are simply too many legendaries in Gen 4. In the first 2 games, legendaries were very rare and felt appropriately special as a result. Gen 3 increased the number of legendaries, but they were still quite rare (especially the Regis), so it didn’t feel like an issue. However, Gen 4 introduces a grand total of 14 legendary Pokemon (5 of which are technically “mythical” Pokemon), which is a whopping 13% of the total new Pokemon introduced in the game. This results in two big issues for Gen 4:
- In my opinion, the design of the new legendaries is hit or miss. The 3 lake guardians, Uxie, Mesprit and Azelf, look basically identical and play similarly since they all have the same typing. The mascots of Diamond and Pearl, Dialga and Palkia, are also probably the ugliest in the entire franchise, feeling a bit too “overdesigned”. Also, Heatran just doesn’t look like it should be a legendary, there isn’t really anything special about it, it’s just sort of thrown into the ring randomly.
- Gen 4 actually features the most roaming legendaries in any game, with Platinum having all three of Kanto’s legendary birds on the loose along with Mesprit and Cresselia… and good God they are an absolute pain to catch.
Best Pokemon of Gen 4: Gastrodon, Infernape, Cherrim (Sunshine form), Mismagius, Honchkrow, Purugly, Chatot, Togekiss, Glaceon
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 4: Wormadam, Mime Jr., Drapion, Carnivine, Lickilicky, Magmortar, Probopass
Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 5.