Oh, so it's July, is it? That showed us. Based on Nintendo's past record of Japan-to-England transfers, we puff-chestedly predicted that Europe wouldn't see this until 2008. So much for that. The DS Pokémon twins are here, now. And after 10 million sales worldwide already, expect the game charts here in the UK to combust like a bale of hay left in a saucepan by an idiot.
Know this, though: Diamond and Pearl might be double-screened and stylused-up for the 21st century, but those of you joining us from the end of a ten-year spell in cryogenic storage will feel right at home. The so-called '3D' isn't up to much: it's just a viewpoint shuffle, with DS's gutsy engine taking a nice long nap between the odd hypnotic windfarm or fog effect. Pokémon still look more like flickbooks than living creatures. The plodding journey around the new island of Sinnoh - town to forest to city to burial tower and you can guess the rest - will make your brain's déja vu circuits spit sparks out of your ears.
Pokémon, and on, and on, and...
Basically, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is not a giant leap forward for 'monkind. It's a step back technically, with one show-off animation after another helping to make the pause before each battle long enough to make a cup of tea in (exaggeration). You'll be forgiven for FLEEing the endless wild Starly fights because of your impatience to get to the next town. We certainly did.
But ask yourself: why the impatience? Simply because Pokémon is, still, a magical adventure- and Diamond/Pearl has enough improvements to make the technical niggles fade into the background. The 107 new 'mon are (almost) back to Red/Blue levels of design appealingness - the rare Munchlax makes us cry flower petals and Hundreds-And-Thousands - so searching them out for Pokéball-crammage is all the more satisfying. Most of the - gulp - 493 pokémon can be found somewhere on Sinnoh, so little need to swap in from the rainbow library of other games (looking at you, Ruby/Sapphire). And with the battle-happy team of Team Galactic troublemakers making trouble, plus surprise fights inside buildings, there's a whole lot more Trainer-based tearing and biting and scratching than usual.
And - here's the biggy - there's no longer any need to have a friend within cold-catching distance in order to test your Pokésquad's mettle. Like all DS games, the worldwide Wi-Fi works - and works brilliantly. It's Friends Codes Only, yes. But, as with Mario Strikers, having a world out there gives Diamond/Pearl that extra edge that makes it impossible to leave alone. Grab a DS microphone and you can even chat with your mates as you play. We invented all kinds of new swear words.
The Global Trade Centre - once memorably described as being "like a mad cross between eBay and an online dating service" - is, simply, incredible. You don't even need to have your DS switched on for your 'Pokémon wanted...' ad to be fulfilled. Suddenly, Pokémon feels properly alive for the first time since playgrounds were abuzz with monsters in the late '90s - and you'll instantly forgive Game Freak their technical stubbornness the first time you switch on your DS and find the level 100 Munchlax you craved is on your cart.
Box of delights
But what we think you'll really love about Diamond/Pearl is the myriad of irresistibly neat little touches. The Pokétch: a multifunction touch-screen gadget that's full of mostly useless rubbish - but which you'll still scamper back to Pokétch Co. HQ after every Gym Badge to update. Smothering honey on trees - yes, smothering honey on trees - to attract pokémon. The missions in the network of caves hidden under Sinnoh. Decorating Pokéballs (we stamped 'LET ME OUT' on ours). The return of the realtime clock - so you'll only find, say, Pichu at Pokémon Mansion if you can drag yourself out of bed early. Game Corner. Even the improved, touch-me map makes you really feel like a genuine Pokémon Trainer on a genuine adventure.