Pokémon isn't kids' stuff. When you look past the cards, the cartoon and the Pikachu lunchboxes there's a core game that's one of the most complex and customisable around. Bar the cosmetics, it's also largely unchanged since the series' 1996 beginnings on the original Game Boy, and Pokémon Platinum is just an update of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the games that marked the series' debut on DS almost two years ago. Chances are if you've been sucked into the phenomenon you've already played something very similar to this. So does it still work?
Course it does. It doesn't do to think of Pokémon Platinum as a 'sequel' though. This is a series that does versions - appropriately enough, it's always evolution rather than revolution. Other games with this depth usually have mile-high barriers to entry, but the quality that's always been unique to Pokémon is how accessible it is, despite its depth. The basics are simple: you are a Pokémon trainer, and carry up to six Pokémon that are used to battle other Pokémon, which are either found in the wild or controlled by other trainers. The monsters' characteristics and moves are based on a number of elements such as fire, water and grass that work much like scissors-paper-stone: fire beats grass, which beats water, which beats fire.
Those three elements really are the basics. However, there are 17 base elements, and many Pokémon are more than one 'type'. A Dragonite, for example, is both a dragon-type and a flying-type Pokémon, meaning it has access to moves from both elements, but equally is vulnerable to attacks that are effective against either.
Each monster has four moves that, as part of their levelling-up or through specific items, can be chopped and changed - and moves themselves have their own elemental properties. Simple, eh? This is how Pokémon gets you. Everything about Pokémon's battle system is designed to be instantly comprehensible, before being layered to produce seriously unpredictable results.
It's intoxicating stuff. The first time you come up against the terrifying stone snake-thing Onyx and drop him in one turn with a move called 'Water Gun' brands itself indelibly in your mind ("It's Super Effective!") and the remainder of the game is spent trying to do this exact same thing again and again - to wild Pokémon, to other trainers' Pokémon, and online against the world's Pokémon. It's perhaps the most accomplished battle system in any RPG, thanks to the combination of that infinite loop of move and counter-move and its personable menagerie of mice, dragons, bats, penguins and *cough* fridges.
That last one is worth dwelling on. It's a new form of a Pokémon called Rotom known as Frost Rotom: it's basically a fridge with eyes drawn on it. By any measure that's pretty abysmal character design, and it's indicative of one of Platinum's few problems - a problem it shares with pretty much every Pokémon game since the original. Game Freak have never quite managed to emulate the tight design of the original 151 beasties (there are 493 in Platinum) and even though there are some great new additions to the virtual bestiary there are more than a few that should have been left on the drawing board.
This is also true, to a lesser extent, of Sinnoh, the region of the Pokéworld in which Platinum is set. It's a big place, with plenty of caves, lakes, towns and forests to get lost in trying to find those elusive rare Pokémon, but at the same time it's just the tiniest bit bland. The towns have slightly different layouts and a few bits unique to each one (a casino with a basic slot game, for example, or a hall to enter beauty pageants), but they still feel like palette-swaps for the most part, and only the excellent script and a few set-pieces keep the story cracking along.