Nostalgia can be a powerful thing. Everyone remembers their first time, and everyone remembers their first Pokémon game. Whether you were there from the start with Red and Blue, or hopped on a bit later on the Game Boy Advance with Ruby and Sapphire, each generation of Pokémon games has hooked a new set of people in - and, when combined with the nostalgia feeling, Nintendo are fully aware there's a market waiting to be tapped.
Where Pokémon FireRed/LeafGreen, and Pokémon HeartGold SoulSilver have proven that remakes of older Game Boy games can be hugely popular, it was inevitable that Ruby and Sapphire would get the remake treatment at some time too. With regular cries on the internet of 'remake Ruby and Sapphire!' as we approached the game's 10th anniversary, it was likely only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. While it's not confirmed it was due to 'popular' demand, developers Game Freak listened, and a pair of 3DS remakes, dubbed Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire were born. But will the 3DS remakes of Game Boy Advance games be refreshing enough for the old timers, or for new fans?
Following the general rule of thumb for main series Pokémon games, you play as a male or female trainer on a quest to catch, train, and battle the cute little creatures known as Pokémon. Along the way there are eight "gyms", each with its own gym leader (kind of like a mini boss) that you need to defeat, before going on to challenge the Elite Four and Champion at the end of the story. Oh, and not forgetting an evil organisation trying to disrupt things along the way, that also need to be toppled before you can reach your goal.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire follow the story of the original Ruby and Sapphire almost exactly, even down to the teams of trainers and Gym Leaders, with Team Aqua as your rivals in Ruby, and Team Magma in Sapphire. Team Magma plan on expanding land mass for humans and Pokémon to live on, while Team Aqua plan to do the same, only with water. Of course, as Game Freak are only too aware, it's not all that much fun to play a game that's exactly the same as one you've played before (current trend for HD "remasters" be damned), and Game Freak have gone above and beyond to add new features, and to make good use of the 3DS.
The most notable improvement when starting the game is the graphics. Last year's Pokémon X/Y had a complete evolution in the 'looks' department, making full use of the 3DS' extra power, as the battles and game transitioned from 2D sprites to fully 3D polygons. However, while the transition wasn't perfect, with a few dodgy frame rates here and there, Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire feels much smoother in terms of looks and controls. The battle scenes and environments have had a bit more work done to them, so it doesn't feel like you're playing Pokémon X/Y all over again, just with a different story, but the 3DS's special glasses-free 3D effect is still only available in battles and cutscenes. That said, it's pretty impressive when you finally get to use it - believe me, you'll want to make use of the 3D if you can.
Technically as the games are remakes, we don't get a whole new generation of one hundred new Pokémon to learn about. Instead, a hand full of new Mega-Pokémon join the line up, along with the original Ruby and Sapphire roster of 'mons to be found. A returning feature from Pokémon X/Y, throughout your adventure you'll learn about magical mega stones, and how they unlock the ability for some Pokémon to temporarily Mega Evolve, mid-battle, into a new, more powerful form. Salamence, Pidgeot, Altaria, and for some strange reason Beedrill, are just some of the old favourites that have been given powerful new forms (although Beedrill, really?).
Pokémon Contests also make a welcome return. Around Hoenn, there are many contest buildings where you can test out your Pokémon's skills in a kind of Mr/Miss Universe of the Pokémon world, with contests divided up into the following categories: Tough, Cool, Cute, Beautiful, and Clever. The moves you teach your Pokémon and Pokéblocks you feed them (like a Pokémon type of PEZ sweets made from berries) are the key to increasing your chance of winning. For example, when entering into a Tough contest, you should feed your Pokémon Pokéblocks that are yellow, and teach it moves like Comet Punch and Dig. Away from battle, each Pokémon move has a different appeal rating and effect within contests, and you can see what contest category the moves are in before you teach it to a Pokémon, or by checking the stats screen. As an added bonus, Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire also features Cosplay Pikachu. This one of a kind Pikachu is different to regular Pikachu, and is able to dress up into five different costumes relating to the contests. These looks are not just cosmetic, as Cosplay Pikachu can learn special contest appropriate moves depending on which costume it's wearing. While a completely optional feature to explore, the contests as a whole new layer to the game with many hours of things to do after completing the main story.
Another hugely popular returning feature is Secret Bases. Around Hoenn there are areas you can make your own secret base. Up a tree, in a bush, in the side of a cave, there's a variety of areas you can scoop out, decorate and call your home. Back in Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire, you were able to share your Secret Bases with friends that also had the game using a game link cable, which would let them visit your base, and even battle against a ghost version of you. Link cables? Pah! It's all about StreetPass now!
The way Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have bought this feature back to life is near perfect. Using the 3DS' StreetPass feature, players can wirelessly transmit their secret base to other people with the game. But what if I want to share my base with a friend that doesn't live anywhere near me, I hear you say? No problem! You can also create a QR code of your base for people to scan into their game. The ability to battle people inside secret bases is still present, but as an added twist, you can choose which battle format to play by. For example, one friend's base could have single battle rules, and another person's base may want to use inverse battle rules (where type effectiveness of attacks are reversed, for example fire strong against water).
While there are plenty of returning and renewed features in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, sadly a couple Pokémon X/Y features didn't make the cut. Staying true to the original games, the main characters are unable to change outfits. First introduced in Pokémon X/Y, it feels like a step backwards to remove a feature so soon, even if it was only a cosmetic change. Also, the Friend Safari from X and Y has also been cut for the new games.
But the real icing on the Pokéblocks with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is the Delta Episode. After completing the main story, well, it's not the end. The Delta Episode follows the mysterious Zinnia and her Whismur. What's she all about? This review isn't going to spoil that for you, but the Delta Episode offers a really interesting exclusive end game story to complete, and it's full of surprises. Veterans of the Pokémon series (especially those that have previously played Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire) could complete the basic story of the game rather quickly, ignoring the extras such as contests, and catching them all. The Delta Episode makes it all worth while, be it your first time playing Pokémon, first time in Hoenn, or hardcore Pokémon fan.
Compared to Pokémon X/Y, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is bursting at the seems with things to do away from the main story. Apart from missing a few features, the amount of content - old and new - will keep you tied up for hours on end. Contests, completing the Pokédex, the Trick house, playing with the DexNav, Mauville food court - the list of things to do goes on and on. Despite being remakes, it's safe to say these are the most jam packed Pokémon games yet.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS