There’s a wondrous sense of discovery in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire. 12 years after they first launched on Game Boy Advance, Game Freak has answered calls from fans to deliver a remake. This isn’t the only time that they have rewound the clock – Pokémon FireRed and Pokémon LeafGreen, as well as Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver, having come before – but it is the first to be so significantly transformed.
The Hoenn region is completely reborn, brought to life by the engine that powered last year’s Pokémon X and Y. That rekindles nostalgia for those that have already wandered the Kyushu-inspired region but allows it to be brought in line with the more modern adventures by retaining the new mechanics, Pokémon and finely-tuned battle engine that exist today. If that wasn’t enough, we’re also treated to a smattering of new features that will hopefully become standards for the series.
Players will once again step into the unassuming shoes of a young Pokémon Trainer who has just moved to Hoenn, where their father is a Gym Leader. As per usual, your early adventure will see you conversing with the locals, helping the region’s Professor and acquiring your very first Pokémon, after which your journey begins. This will later see you encounter either Team Magma in Pokémon Omega Ruby or Team Aqua in Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, whose dastardly schemes see them trying to awaken Legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre to bring about a new age for life on the planet.
The original games weren’t the first to place such emphasis on the story or to integrate it throughout the adventure, but they can certainly be seen to have been the first to lend such depth to them. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire push this further with more story encounters, revealing motivations and meaningful backstory behind recurring characters that appear on your adventure. It is often seen that the narrative that accompanies any Pokémon title is largely just a means to an end, but, continuing the strength of approach seen in Pokémon X and Y, this time there’s even more spectacle. Events will have a knock-on effect on the region, and your continued curiosity will drive you through the adventure which hides plenty of revealing surprises that we daren’t spoil.
The frenzied excitement around incoming Pokémon games tends to revolve around new PokéDex additions. While Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire don’t deliver any, Game Freak instead present plenty of new Mega Evolutions. For those that missed out on Pokémon X and Y last year, Mega Evolution is a new mechanic that allows certain Pokémon – when holding their respective Mega Stone – to undergo Mega Evolution when in battle. On your solo adventure, these aren’t as much a necessity, although turn your attention to the multiplayer arena and you’ll need to get tactical. The new Mega Evolutions brought into the fold this time around are for many classic Pokémon – such as Beedrill and Salamence – as well as new Mythical Pokémon, Diancie. Even as a remake, this helps to emote a feeling that there’s plenty of new content waiting to be discovered.
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire’s setup is largely similar to that in Pokémon X and Y, with the new engine allowing for more dynamic battle instances. Although it is in the overworld that differences can be more clearly noted. No longer used for roller-skates, the Circle Pad is now simply used for standard player movement – taking you off the strict grid as in earlier iterations, and being similarly useful for the new DexNav feature. This will be a PokéDex completionist’s dream, scanning the nearby area and specifying any wild Pokémon visibly hiding in tall grass. You can then sneak toward them to battle and hopefully capture by gently moving with the Circle Pad, and the more that you chase these the better they will become. This is but one of the countless additions – Soaring in the Sky another noteworthy one – and controls like a dream, certainly making us wish that it had been implemented previously.
Game Freak continues to streamline existing features, with the map now highlighting whether there are any Pokémon Trainers waiting to battle, pickable berries to pluck from bushes, or Secret Bases. Players can also instantly travel to nearly every route, cave or town that you have previously wandered by simply selecting it on the touch screen – assuming that your party contains a Pokémon that knows Fly. Returning features, such as Secret Bases, can now be more easily shared by using QR Codes, allow you to create and decorate your own personal base and invite other players to check it out. Whereas Pokémon Contests similarly return offering an alternative way to interact with your Pokémon beyond simply battling. You will look to show off their strengths in the new format, and this mode can be enjoyed over local multiplayer with friends.
Sadly there are also some features that are mysteriously absent, even after appearing in Pokémon X and Y. That’s most notably in trainer customisation, which doesn’t exist at all in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire – even though you can still see them when connecting with last year’s releases. Game Freak’s reasoning is that they want each Pokémon region to feel unique, but it’s hard not to feel that its absence marks a classic two steps forward, one step back situation. It may feel a superficial complaint, but we’d interpreted it as being a standard for the series moving forward rather than a mere one-off.
Taking your experience online is again largely similar to that seen last year, with the Player Search System (PSS) implemented in X & Y making a return. No matter what you’re doing – or whether you’re playing Pokémon X, Pokémon Y, Pokémon Omega Ruby, or Pokémon Alpha Sapphire – you can see when your friends are online or nearby, either challenging them to battle or trade. O-Powers are back allowing you to lend a hand by granting bonus effects to other players, whether that be increasing experience earned in battle, prize money gained, or increasing the chance to catch a Pokémon, for example. Regrettably, there are some issues, meaning that you can’t connect to an Pokémon X or Y player if you’re using a Pokémon with a new Mega Evolution or access to new moves.
There can be no doubt that Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire look absolutely sublime. It’s hard not to appreciate the painstakingly accurate recreation of the Hoenn region in the new 3D engine, accompanied by the 3D Pokémon and character models – a far cry from the sprite-based style used back in 2002. Every area that you adventure through is resplendent in colour, with the camera dynamically shifting to showcase the world around you. This again differs from classic Pokémon’s top-down stationary camera, and a day-to-night cycle based running off the system clock is a nice touch – moonlit and star-filled nights silently reflecting on the water. That stereoscopic 3D still isn’t available throughout your entire journey comes as a disappointment, however, similarly disabled for Double, Triple, Rotation and Horde battles.
The only cause for concern is the inconsistent frame rate that becomes apparent when in battle, retaining some issues previously seen in Pokémon X and Y. For the large part your experience will be largely trouble-free, but with stereoscopic 3D activated or in more demanding encounters such as Horde Battles there are intermittent instances where the frame rate will drop. It continues to be a shame, as the 3D models are incredibly well animated and it is during a battle that they are shown off the most – especially against the new battle backgrounds that add their own visual flair as you tackle your opponent.
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire’s soundscape will be a treat to your ears. The original soundtracks have been gloriously remixed to take advantage of new technology that wasn’t available back on the Game Boy Advance, and I imagine it won’t be long before it joins those currently available on iTunes. Game Freak continues to bring life the world around you, whether that be the splashes that accompany you running through puddles or Pokémon cries when they appear in the DexNav. These are identical to those heard in Pokémon X and Y, with older critters that populate the PokéDex being modernised away from their 8-bit origins.
For those left disappointed by the post-game in Pokémon X and Y, Game Freak make amends with Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire with remarkable replayability. We aren’t allowed to discuss specifics – namely so that you can discover it for yourselves – but it is decently sized, with plenty to do outside of the main storyline that will compel you to get as much out of everything as you can. With aspects like Secret Bases and Pokémon Contests that you can share with your friends you’ll most certainly be playing it for a long time and, based on Pokémon X and Y, it’ll have a thriving online community so you’ll rarely be able to not find someone to battle or trade with. That said, it is the same Pokémon gameplay of which we have all now become accustomed to, and those only looking to scratch the surface won’t find much different here.
We’ve been catching ’em all for 16 years now, but Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire promise to send nostalgia into overdrive while successfully retaining many of the recent improvements that Game Freak has made over the past few years. These remakes amount to a spellbinding conversion of the classic games – carefully woven to become a perfect starting point for newcomers, but also the perfect chance for returning players to dip back in.