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Nintendo’s insistence on nostalgia holds back its online potential

You have to give it to Nintendo: Anytime it makes an announcement, it’s all over the internet. When Animal Crossing: New Horizons got a new trailer a few months before it came out, people rode the hype train non-stop all the way to its release. This week’s Pokémon Presents stream was no exception. The show wasn’t even over yet when people burst into virtual chatter over Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.

While everyone, including yours truly, is very excited about the new mechanics and features coming to Pokémonit’s worth taking a look at what hasn’t changed. Despite Nintendo’s focus on the future of the franchise and the significant amount of new features in all of its upcoming games, the trailers and game explanations for Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl contained snapshots of a lot of surprisingly old features, particularly in the multiplayer and online department. Pokémon has always been a multiplayer experience at its core, which makes it all the more disappointing that Nintendo insists upon recreating the past so closely that it can’t take a golden opportunity to jump into the future.

Disbanding the Union (Room)

The hindrance of Nintendo’s nostalgia can be seen most clearly in the Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl footage. The trailer and gameplay explanation that followed it both lingered briefly on the Union Room, a connectivity feature pulled straight from the original Diamond and Pearl. In the DS days, the Union Room allowed players to enter a room together over local multiplayer. It didn’t show anything happening in real time other than people entering and exiting the room, but if someone around you had the same game and was also in the Union Room, you could initiate a trade or battle with them.

The feature was mostly useless outside of conventions and other very populated areas because if you wanted to battle or trade directly with a nearby friend, you could do that in a different, more straightforward virtual zone rather than waiting for them to show up in the Union Room. Thanks to Nintendo’s limited Wi-Fi Connection service at the time and the DS’ difficulty in connecting to some home routers, the feature was restricted to local wireless only.

Trainers gather in the Union Room to trade and battle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Even considering communication standards at the time, the Union Room was clunky and hard to use. People would randomly appear and disappear from the room, even if they stayed within range of another person’s DS. The dialogue was slow and laggy, and it took forever to initiate a battle. Most importantly, there was no way to communicate with people outside of asking them to trade or battle using the game’s premade dialogue options, which has (unfortunately) become a hallmark of Nintendo’s limited online services. In short, it was a fun novelty, but it wasn’t the best way to play with friends by any means.

This makes Nintendo’s decision to bring back the Union Room in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl fairly baffling. In the new games, the Union Room will feature online multiplayer, which was really the way it was meant to function all along. The gameplay explanation brags that players will be able to “interact, trade, and battle with Trainers all over the world,” but if it’s like Pokémon Unite‘s limited ping menu, then … I’m not interested.

The truth is that there’s so much more that Nintendo could have done with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl‘s multiplayer modes than bringing back the Union Room. The company likely included it for the nostalgia value, so that players who haven’t picked up the games since they were kids can say, “Wow, I remember this! It looks just like it used to!” There’s a point where a faithful rendition becomes a little too faithful.

Underground Trading

The original Diamond and Pearl‘s other main multiplayer feature, The Underground, was a lot more fun. Players could run around in a network of underground tunnels that ran all along the Sinnoh region. If other players were nearby, they could enter into the tunnels and play together. Activities included decorating a Secret Base that other players could visit and mining for gems, evolutionary stones, and fossils within the tunnels’ walls. While still not incredibly engaging, you could at least see people moving in real time, and you could even go underground by yourself if no one else was around to play.

A Trainer runs across a Pokemon Hideaway in the Grand Underground.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Underground, now called the Grand Underground, is coming back in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, and Nintendo is actually adding something to the experience for the remakes. Within the tunnels, there are now areas known as Pokémon Hideaways. Each Hideaway is centered around a different geographic theme (ice, fire, etc.) and features a variety of wild Pokemon to catch. Nintendo sweetened the pot by stating that some of the Pokémon seen in Hideaways can only be found there, so those who want to catch ’em all will have to get familiar with the Grand Underground – and its connectivity features, most likely.

Seeing The Underground return in a new form is a lot more interesting than watching Nintendo resurrect the Union Room in some sort of necromantic ritual, but it’s still clinging a little too hard to the past. Modern online capabilities and networks allow for a variety of new ways to interact with other players — just look at games like Journey that aim to create a connection between two random people.

It’s a shame that Nintendo feels that just because it’s remaking an old game, it has to include some of the handicaps and old-fashioned elements of that game for nostalgia’s sake. If this is the mentality that the company uses when creating its remakes, the cries of its fans for a better online experience will continue to fall on deaf ears. The Pokémon series was built on interaction and cooperation with others — its connectivity features shouldn’t be an afterthought.

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Emily Morrow
Emily Morrow is a games journalist and narrative designer who has written for a variety of online publications. If she’s…
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