The core premise of Pokemon isn't lost on the copious number of consumers that invest in every core installment of the near-annual franchise. Catching 'em all and becoming the very best have been drilled into the minds of players since the franchise was first established in the late '90s, and the same philosophy holds true with the latest entries in the series – Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
It's no secret at this point that both games are remakes of each corresponding Game Boy Advance title, Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire, but Game Freak has done much more than simply recreate the games in the same engine as last year's Pokemon X and Y. Granted, a lot has been untouched in the new titles – making for a euphoric trip down memory lane – but the remakes manage to maintain a sense of nostalgia while still updating the games to remain relevant alongside recent releases.
Right from the beginning, longtime fans are treated to an opening that sets the tone for the entire game – ensuring that those looking for nostalgia will immediately find it within the first few seconds of starting their new adventure. Afterwards players are thrown into a 3D world filled with graphics comparable to the aforementioned Pokemon X and Y. This update breathes new life into the naturalistic Hoenn region, making it feel shiny, new and well worth exploring.
As soon as players set foot on their adventure, they'll notice an immediate change: you can now walk freely using the 3DS's Circle Pad. No longer are users forced to walk on an imaginary grid whilst running around outside, allowing for a number of new gameplay options to be implemented as a result. Wild Pokemon that will make their presence known by shaking bushes, splashing water or kicking up dirt in caves now require trainers to sneak up on them in order to engage in battle. Since the Circle Pad is contact sensitive, slightly tilting it in the proper direction makes the on-screen Pokemon Master tiptoe and allows them to enter a battle with whatever beast awaits him/her.
This option is liberating after being forced to walk in lines throughout every past entry in the franchise, but it's oddly stripped away from players when they enter certain buildings. This instantly makes common visits to the Pokemon Center all the more annoying, and the reasoning for this is not evident whatsoever. That said, Game Freak is on to something and the overall game benefits from players being able to move more freely.
Another setback is that, once again, is that 3D cannot be enabled outside of battles, a handful of cutscenes and areas. Even when the feature has been turned on for the brief moments it's available, there's a noticeable chop caused by a reduced frame rate. With other games like Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS allowing for the glasses-less 3D option to be turned on without sacrificing frame rate, it's bizarre that the latest Pokemon titles have once again failed to hit that mark.
One of the major additions to the games comes in the form of brand new Mega Evolutions. Running with the same concept that was introduced in the last pair of titles, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire build upon the premise of further evolving monsters that were previously believed to have reached their final forms. The third evolutionary stage for each starter Pokemon (Sceptile, Swampert and Blaziken) all have Mega Evolutions this time around, and – although Mega Blaziken was previously established in other games – pushing those starters past their preset limits adds a nice bit of newness to the familiar adventure.
Not content with just sticking to new Megas, Game Freak has introduced a new temporary evolution in the form of Primal Reversion. Both Kyogre and Groudon can utilize this technique to become Alpha and Omega-branded versions of themselves, respectively. This bestows new Abilities and upped stats in the process, but the new mechanic isn't further explored with any of the other Pocket Monsters found within the games. It'll be interesting to see if the feature is built upon in future installments, but at this point it appears to be more of a gimmick than a true gameplay addition. That said, Primal Reversion isn't limited to being used once per battle and it also doesn't affect Mega Evolution usage, making it valuable for some of the more challenging portions found later on in the games.
While some of the new updates that accompany the remakes aren't all too impressive, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire really shine by taking what's old and making it new again. Secret Bases and Pokemon Contests have returned, and they're more fleshed out and enjoyable than ever before. Players are able to customize their very own base to their liking, and they're encouraged to share these locales with friends and strangers alike. It's even possible to create a make-shift gym if fans feel so inclined. Meanwhile, Contests permit longtime fans to once again create some PokeBlocks and win some ribbons.
Even Pikachu dives head first into the Contest-centric action this time around, as players can dress special variants of the beloved mascot up as several different things for a competition (i.e. a scientist, a rockstar, a luchador, etc.). Both of these fan-favorite features add a good amount of replay value to a pair of games that are already more than capable of sucking countless hours out of players, and there's little doubt that longtime fans and newcomers alike will find themselves jumping into these features with little hassle.
Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire aren't simply better looking ports of the original GBA games. Instead, Game Freak has gone ahead and brought these older titles into 2014, and those who played the initial pair of games will appreciate the immense fan service that's present throughout the titles. Consumers that don't care for the franchise won't be convinced by either of the remakes, but there's a lot to love and even more to do in Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire arrive exclusively for Nintendo 3DS and 2DS on November 21, 2014.
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