The race to catch them all has been going on for nearly 20 years, and for better or worse, the heart and soul of the Pokemon series persists in the new 3D remakes of the two Game Boy Advance classics, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. From the modern presentation to the new mega evolutions and side content, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are greater than their progenitors, but they’re still very similar to every Pokemon game that’s come before. I’m OK with that, because at the end of the day, these are enjoyable games with a large number of cute combatants to capture and train, and near-infinite competitive multiplayer potential. As you delve into the world of battling other trainers, losses and close calls motivate you to search for more viable Pokemon and master the art of raising a strong and versatile team. Yes, there are some minor elements that need fixing, but it’s all about hunting, training, and battling Pokemon, and those elements are as strong and engaging as ever.
As is usual, you’re a plucky youth in a world where man and nature share an unyielding bond, and you’re on a quest to catch and raise wild Pokemon in order to become the best trainer in the land. Along the way, you challenge top trainers from different gyms around the region, but you also go toe to toe with amateur trainers on the lookout for wild Pokemon. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire live and die by their combat system, and though it may look simple on the surface, there’s plenty of depth to explore if you take it seriously. If you only tackle the main storyline, you find a pleasant and easy role-playing game rife with cute, imaginative creatures, but delve into the realm of Pokemon mastery, and you discover a highly competitive world that rewards dedicated and sharp minds. Just don’t expect much from the game’s bone-dry plot which, apart from the message of man and nature living in harmony, offers little to the imagination or soul.
Choosing your first Pokemon is one of the hardest decisions to make in the entire game.
As you traipse around the island region of Hoenne, every patch of grass, body of water, and murky cave is ripe with combat possibilities against wild Pokemon. Tackling these encounters is how you earn experience and raise your team’s abilities, and thanks to the exp share item that you acquire early on, your entire team benefits from combat even if only a single Pokemon engages in the fight. With exp share active, It’s common for one of your six active Pokemon to level up or learn a new move after every fight, which is both rewarding and motivating.
Of course, wild Pokemon are yours for the catching if you manage to employ the proper tactics. It takes the right amount of finesse to whittle a Pokemon’s health down to its last reserves, weakening it just the right amount to capture it in a Pokeball. It’s disappointing when you accidentally go to far and drain all of their health, or they manage to escape from Pokeball after Pokeball, but when you finally land the elusive Pokemon you’ve been searching for, you revel in the feeling of accomplishment and the addition of a new ally. Some species appear more frequently than others, so you need persistence and patience if you hope to find, let alone bag, the pick of the litter. Given that there are hundreds of Pokemon in the game, and variations in skillsets among a single variety of Pokemon, it’s somewhat demotivating when you continuously run into the same breeds for hours on end. Thankfully, this trend reverses around the game’s halfway point.
One of the joys of these games is stumbling into unexpected and wildly creative Pokemon. Yes, there are simple looking creatures that resemble real-world counterparts, such as a frog or a wolf. However, as the game progresses, you meet something like Camerupt, which is a mix of a cow and a volcano, or Probopass, which is something akin to an Easter Island statue with a mustache and birds for arms. There are plenty of Pokemon that are absurd and make almost no sense, but they’re part of what’s so interesting about getting your hands dirty and digging into the wide world of catchable creatures. Catching Pokemon is always a challenge, and discovering surprising new forms is always intriguing.
What the villains lack in subtlety, they make up in fashion sense.
Eventually, you’re given access to mega Pokemon evolutions: temporary, super-powered forms of Pokemon that only exist during battle. Introduced in Pokemon X and Y, mega evolutions are an addition that makes the main quest slightly easier during the later stages, but it adds another layer to competitive play as you need to look for mega stones in the world if you want a full stash of mega-capable Pokemon.
Take one look at the combat system, and you may mistake it as rudimentary. With just a few exceptions during the course of the game, two Pokemon face off at a time with only four moves at their disposal; what could be so interesting? Give it a closer look, and you find that there’s a deep system of elemental relationships and statistics lying underneath that adds a compelling amount of depth to what looks like a simple affair. Being good at combat is easy, but mastering it takes a significant amount of memorization and experience with different types of Pokemon. Though the story missions are mostly forgiving when it comes to your chosen warriors, especially once you get a hold of a few mega stones, it’s real world opponents that have the best chance of giving you a challenge, and preparing for these scenarios requires dozens of hours of training beyond the plot’s conclusion.
As arduous as hunting and training can be, the former is easier than ever in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire thanks to the availability of the DexNav, a tool that reveals details of nearby Pokemon in the wild. This radar-like device gives you an idea of what to expect from hidden Pokemon, in terms of elemental affinity and level, and this data affords you a chance to temper your excitement or realign your team before getting into battle. It’s a great little tool, and it’s a prime example of how the series is evolving for the better, ever so slightly, by arming you with more information than in the past.
Poor Zigzagoon. He probably never saw the frozen shark teeth coming.
As in Pokemon X and Y, not all training takes place on the battlefield. Through a system known as super training, your Pokemon can hit a variety of punching bags to raise individual stats, or enter an arena and attempt to take down large inflatable Pokemon. Neither minigame is particularly fun, but if you want to get the most out of your Pokemon, super training handy tool to have at your disposal when aiming to raise a specific attribute.
Once you’re confident enough in your team, you can battle opponents locally or online, and this is where the true endgame arises. It’s not unheard of for people to spend upward of a hundred hours or more training their teams and perfecting their loadouts. As ever, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire feature hundreds of Pokemon and different abilities to use in battle, making the possibilities for match-ups near endless. Trading Pokemon is also useful when you’re looking for a specific type of Pokemon that may be exclusive to the opposing version of the game, and some Pokemon will only evolve into advanced forms when they’re transferred from one player to another, making it an integral and necessary part of trying to catch them all.
There are other distractions to tinker with, including a series of beauty-pageant-like Pokemon contests that award the winner with honorary badges. You pit a Pokemon of your choosing against three others in front of a panel of judges that weigh merits such as coolness and toughness. The reward for pleasing the judges, the qualifications of which are difficult to decipher, is a ribbon that the victorious Pokemon gets to wear in perpetuity. Given that ribbons don’t add any practical benefit to your Pokemon, coupled with the fact that it’s difficult to understand exactly how the judging is done, you don’t find yourself tempted to dedicate much if any time to Pokemon contests. Besides, you’re too busy having fun hunting and raising Pokemon to be distracted.