After Pokémon X and Y, we were unsure about where the series could go: the formula Pokémon had been riding for the better part of a decade had been broken, and the extra dimension added to the graphical pane had inspired and extra layer of depth in the story, the mechanics and the all-important metagame.
With that in mind, we’re going to review Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire as the true RPGs that they are – we’ll take this space to note that the main game and storyline are as ‘typically’ Pokémon as you’d expect, riffing off the original Ruby/Sapphire for narrative beats whilst throwing in new characters (specifically: a mysterious newcomer called Zinnia), new Pokémon (well, Mega versions of old ones) and a darker, Godzilla-inspired story relating to version mascots Groudon and Kyogre.
Beyond that, Omega/Alpha completely shake up the Pokémon core game and incorporate some fundamentally different mechanics into the overworld, making the metagame more accessible and relevant to the average player.
The PokeNav makes a return from the original GameBoy Advance games, but utilises the bottom DS screen better than any Pokémon game to date. You can instantly flit between the online element, Pokémon Amie and the hidden-stat training features introduced in X/Y, as well as a dynamic map – which brings back the ability to re-match defeated trainers – and, most importantly, the new ‘Detective Mode’ scanner.
In a nutshell, this scanner adds another level to the already multi-faceted Pokémon experience: every Pokémon that lives in a route, a cave, or the sea can be seen in the overhead map, denoted by either a tail, its ears or some other signifying feature sticking out above the grass.
These Pokémon are different, and if you dedicate yourself to finding the same one, over and over, you’ll be able to ‘unlock’ monsters that have the enviable Hidden abilities, special Egg moves you’d usually only be able to get through breeding, or even creatures with stupendously high IV ratings (the invisible stats used in the meta that can give you that slight but oh-so-important upper hand in competitive games).
The fact these Pokémon are made available to you practically straight away is amazing: where before you’d have to spend hours hatching eggs or playing with the odds to try and get your perfect Skarmory, now you can just hunt chains of them through the scanner – searching for that Impish Skarmory is now as simple as looking at a screen and deciding whether or not you want to commit to that specific monster (aided even more by a handy ‘Potential’ gauge, rating ‘mons one-to-three stars).
Whilst we do have a huge amount of enthusiasm for these new updates, the remakes have done little to address the complaints of fans of the originals – namely; the breadth of Pokémon in the main game is scant. After how spoilt we’ve been with Pokémon Black 2/White 2 and X/Y, it’s quite jarring to go back to Hoenn and not be able to recruit any decent Fire types outside of the starter.
Further to that multiplayer element, the best thing about the original Ruby/Sapphire games makes a return, too: the Secret Bases. These customisable hideouts are where the longevity of the game will come into play – you can recruit up to five other players into your Base at any one time, and lay traps or decorations down at will.
Game Freak’s intention here is clearly for you to make your own gym – something the standard Pokemon player has always wanted to do – and populate it with your hardest, baddest ‘mon – something we’re really looking forward to trying out in the wild once the game launches (if the crazy population of X/Y’s StreetPass was anything to go by, at least).
A couple of new moves have been thrown in to spice things up since the last games – but nothing that will fundamentally alter the core competitive team you may have run for X/Y – and the new Mega Pokémon (including Lopunny, Metagross, Steelix, Glalie, Swampert, Sceptile and more) aren’t wildly different from their original forms.
Alpha/Omega’s innovation really does lie in the bottom-screen scanner: we’re amazed by how much we found ourselves stalking around in the same route, looking for the most well-composed Pokémon of each species – even though we knew we wouldn’t use them in battle…
Pokémon remains the most in-depth and satisfying RPG you could hope to play on a handheld device, and the continued visibility of the metagame in the core experience is doing wonders for players that perhaps didn’t want to embark on the ostensibly epic journey it takes to achieve a team of six competition-ready Pokémon.
Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire is an almost perfect game, held back only by the selection of creatures available during the 20-hour long main quest and some post-game elements that didn’t make it through since X/Y.
Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire were the highest selling games on GameBoy Advance, and we totally expect that to be replicated by Alpha/Omega on the 3DS. As a Pokémon experience, it’s that good.