Pokémon Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby - Review
Say what you will about the amount of Pokémon remakes Nintendo puts out, they at least know how to time them. It's been over ten years since the original Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire games were released, and, of all the main Pokémon installments, it was this third generation that was in the greatest need of a overhaul.
One of the major issues of the original versions of these two games is that they did away with a lot of the improvements that had been made in Pokémon Gold & Silver. Gone were the day and night cycles that caused different Pokémon to appear; along with the mobile phone, which allowed you to stay in touch with specific trainers and challenge them to a rematch. Simply put, Gold & Silver had such a scope that Ruby & Sapphire failed to meet. Hoenn was simply no match for Kanto and Johto.
With this in mind, Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby come across as much more appealing. With the upgrades we saw in X & Y, this is the chance for the series' first Game Boy Advance outing to finally shine.
And shine it does. X & Y were by far the most visually impressive games on the 3DS, and these two remakes arguably outdo even that effort. The animations remain a particular highlight. Finally being able to watch Pokémon move around in 3D during combat is a huge thrill and is a vast improvement of the previous games' relatively static sprites.
All of the other upgrades make it across too. Areas remain essentially the same as they did in the original games, albeit for some minor adjustments given the move to 3D. Some other aspects have undergone something of a remix. The experience share is doled out much earlier now, to the point where they might as well have given you it at the start of the game. It says something about the general trend of the Pokémon series that this remake is significantly easier than the original. The experience share alone allows you to keep a party significantly ahead of the curve for much of the adventure, so much so that I had to deliberately handicap myself at certain points in order to ensure that I still had something resembling a challenge.
Whilst the game still plays great, it's disappointing that nothing was really done with some of the tweaks. The main let down being the introduction of the day and night cycles. It's been added in this time around, yet there's no real difference in the type of Pokémon that appear. In the other installments it adds to the gameplay, here it's little more than a cosmetic upgrade.
In fact many of the best aspects about Ruby & Sapphire come from the 2003 release. Looking back, it's the third instalment where Game Freak began experimenting with type composition in earnest. Gold & Silver had its fair share of unique types, yet it's here where you begin to see the more bizarre creations: Lotad (Water/Grass), Mudkip (Water/Ground) and Meditite (Psychic/Fighting). More than the previous games, Ruby & Sapphire make you think carefully about your team set-up and move diversity. It's also nice how the remakes also put their own little spin on things, thanks to the introduction of the Fairy type.
Sadly, some other aspects haven't aged so well. Ruby & Sapphire saw the HM system begin to get out of control, with a whopping eight HMs having to be used throughout the course of the game. The remakes make this a little easier this time around, now that Flash has been demoted to a TM, but it is annoying having to sometimes lug two Pokémon around who are nothing more than pack mules for the relevant special moves you need.
Likewise, whilst the first two thirds of the game have some great pacing, the last part can seem a little off. The journey to Mt. Pyre, and the dramatic encounter with your character's father are fantastic, culminating in one of the game's tougher gym battles. Yet, the last portion of the game has you traipsing across a bunch of identikit islands with hordes of enemy trainers armed with nothing more than underwhelming fish Pokémon. Whilst the game's level design is impressive, (Hoenn is loosely based on the real-life Japanese island of Kyushu), its final areas seem rather lacklustre in comparison.
Still, the Elite Four manage to remain something of a challenge, and stand head and shoulders above Kalos' paltry offering. Hoenn's greatest trainers will give you a genuine run for your money, and their team set-ups have been given a makeover too, as has pseudo-rival Wallace's team.
There's a bit more story here this time around as well, with Steven's role in the game's plot being amped up. With Pokémon X & Y, it's clear Gamefreak seem keen on adding more weight to this part of the game, and whilst the game's plot is whimsical at best, the writer's have at least attempted to flesh out the pro-environment themes that were lightly present in the original versions.
Overall, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby occupies a strange place within video games, given that the two games mean different things to two different generations of players. Newcomers will likely be enthralled simply at getting to play a new Pokémon game, with a bunch of new monsters to catch and places to explore. Veterans meanwhile, will enjoy the slight changes and alterations the games have undergone, along with all the upgrades courtesy of the newer installments.
Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby is nothing new, but it does manage to appeal to wide variety of players without alienating any of them. Whether played for novelty, or for nostalgia's sake, this latest instalment is a worthwhile addition to the series.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby were released on November 28th, in the UK, exclusively for the 3DS.
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