We need to preface this review by saying that we didn’t actually play last year’s Pokémon offering, Pokémon X and Y. As a result, we missed the visual overhaul that took place in last year’s games but that does mean that Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, this year’s releases, were a pleasant surprise. There, now that that’s out of the way, we can get on with the rest of the review.
What is Pokémon? Pokémon is a best-selling Nintendo handheld game that has been around long enough to have outlived several handheld consoles and the titles are usually massive sellers when they launch. There are almost always two different editions, each featuring their own unique Pokémon and content. And what are Pokémon? Pokémon are pocket-monsters, little critters that live in red and white balls and leap out to do battle at their master’s whim. Just in case you’ve been living inside a Poké-ball for the last 15 years or so.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are actually remakes of a sort, modifications of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire – linked titles which debuted on the Gameboy Advance way back in 2003. But the 3DS versions takes the original games, which were a fantastic experience and have managed to remain that way, and splash a fresh coat of paint/animations/gameplay over them.
Players will still be either a young boy or girl and they’ll be traipsing around the Hoenn region of the Pokémon world in search of other Pokémon Trainers to battle, new Pokémon to collect and train and they’ll eventually clash either with Team Magma (Omega Ruby) or Team Aqua (Alpha Sapphire) who both have plans for the entire planet. Plans which involve either the legendary Pokémon Groudon (Omega) or Kyogre (Alpha) altering the face of the planet. Little has changed with the old faithful gameplay, it’s been fairly constant across the series for more than a decade.
So far, so identical to the old game, though it’s almost been long enough that Alpha/Omega are a completely new experience for most Poké-fans. But there’s more in here than just a revamped look, though the new animations, cutscenes and 3D effects are absolutely splendid to look at. Nintendo could probably have just dropped the original titles in the new engine and called it a day and it still would have sold well but that’s not the way they do things.
There are a whole bunch of new bits that enhance gameplay, in the form of apps – because everything is better with apps these days. There’s a navigation function on the lower screen of the 3DS but this can be swapped out for the DexNav which lets players know which Pokémon are in an area as well as how many you’ve caught. This goes hand-in-hand with the ability to sneak up on rare Pokémon that are detected by your app, perhaps netting you a high-level addition to your combat team without too much effort.
There’s also the PokéNav Plus, which incorporates several functions. Here you can battle other human players, either locally or online, interact with your digital Pokémon or even train them. You can’t scoop up free levels here, otherwise we wouldn’t bother with the journey around Hoenn, but you can make sure your combatants try harder.
And Then There’s The New…
There’s something altogether new to look forward to in the form of Mega Evolutions. This has been integrated into the original storyline quite well, almost seamlessly. Mega Evolutions are forms that your Pokémon can attain, with the right gear, that let them become (temporarily) stronger in battle and it seems that everyone wants the stones that make it happen. Once you’ve saved the world, beaten all the Gym Leaders and those higher up the ladder and captured and Mega-Evolved everything in sight (as far as you can, anyway), there’s also a new storyline to play called the Delta Episode. It’s a brand-spanking-new addition to this remake and will see players saving the world from a meteor strike. And you want to get this far because the Delta Episode features some of the best storytelling in the game – and with Ruby and Sapphire, that’s saying something.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby are prime examples of remakes done right. You might have seen a fair amount of this before, especially if you’ve been playing Pokémon for years but there’s more than enough new to make everything seem as untouched as it was the first time around. If you never played the originals, then you’re in for some of the best storytelling in the series, now matched by a detailed landscape, 3D (if you’re into that) and a whole lot more features than before. Long story short, you should be playing this.