Game Boy Color’s beloved Pokémon Pinball was treated to a follow up in Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire, pushing the Game Boy Advance hardware to its fullest to provide a more visually appealing pinball experience.
Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire merges the classic pinball game with the capturing and evolving Pokémon in a rather clever way. Whenever you go past certain checkpoints on the board, you light up otherwise dormant bulbs and, when all three are lit, you can either capture a Pokémon, or evolve one that you have previously captured. Also, in a new feature to this game, you can hatch Pokémon from an Egg by entering the incubator. You have all of the Hoenn Pokédex to capture, as well as four additional Pokémon, and these are all saved in your Pokédex when captured.
There are two special tables you can play on, each with their own layout and aesthetic: the Ruby table and the Sapphire table. Each gives you access to specific locations that hold various Pokémon, but those that you encounter, much like the main games, differ between the two – meaning that you’ll need to play both boards to fill your Pokédex. Each has their own unique gimmicks featuring the Pokémon on the board that allow for you to proceed, such as Makuhita punching the ball around the stage in Ruby Board.
As with most pinball games, there are various bonuses that can help you out such as having Latios or Latias save the ball or a Pichu appear on the side to save your Pokémon. There are also a number of cool bonus stages you unlock as you play through the game which change up the gameplay a little, and, as with the Pokémon you find, the bonus stages vary depending upon the table you’re playing on.
Controls are simple as you’d expect from a pinball game, with the player being able to control left and right paddles as well as sometimes shaking the board. This does mean that you will often feel a lack of direct control, and many times you will lose your ball through no fault of your own. This can be frustrating, but it’s something that is common with the genre. As the boards aren’t overly busy unlike many other pinball titles, you won’t have any trouble losing sight of the ball. This means it’s easy for younger players to get into, while still offering the challenge you’d come to expect from a pinball game.
The graphics are sublime and represent some of the best spritework you will see, while the boards are well animated and feel alive. When Pokémon appear on the stage for capture, their animations, while less fluid, are classic and cute. Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire is also a game that truly benefits from the smoothing filter of the Wii U, making it seem like it’s just a slightly upscaled game. It’s definitely a cool and colourful game to look at. Could it be better? Sure. But for an upscaled 240×160 game on a 1080p screen, it looks very good.
The sound is mostly made of remixes of music from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, as well as classic pinball sounds. It’s nothing spectacular but it fits the game rather well. You will find yourself humming the tunes, but this reviewer did wish there was a variety in the music so that you’d know what area you were playing in – as that is often something you’ll forget and not notice until it changes again.
Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire is still a fun pinball variant and a great game for Pokémon fans. It merges the desire to catch them all with the fun of pinball, but it does have a few niggles that hold it back. A bit more variety would have been nice, but is understandable based on the concept, and more musical cues would have done wonders. It’s worth playing!