Pokémon is a deeply dependable game, from its fierce but friendly cartoon monsters, to its repetitive and satisfying rules and its nearly annual release schedule.
This year delivered Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, remakes of 2003's Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire with new 3D graphics, a new plotline and even more Pokémon to catch and items to snatch.
More Pokémon is never a bad thing, but Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire just aren’t as exciting as previous installations. Longtime Pokémon fans who've played the original Ruby or Sapphire, or last year's X or Y versions, won't find much new content here. Newcomers to Pokémon would be better served starting out with X or Y instead.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have some slight differences. Each has only a small, but overlapping, subset of the total number of catchable Pokémon. To "catch 'em all," you’ll need to have both games, or a friend with the other one.
Small plot differences exist between the two games, such as the names of the otherwise interchangeable bad guys and which Pokémon they plan to use to take over the world. This review was primarily based on a playthrough of Omega Ruby, but should suffice for Alpha Sapphire as well.
The story is the same as in all Pokémon games: a young person leaves home on an idyllic backpacking adventure to catch wild Pokémon, trains them to become more powerful, proves him- or herself by defeating a group of elite trainers, in this case known as the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four -- and save the world from some villains du jour along the way.
In Omega Ruby, those villains are Team Magma, a group of footie-pajama-wearing cultists who want to manipulate the ancient Ground-type Pokémon Groudon into creating more land mass. In Alpha Sapphire, it's the hipster-pirates of Team Aqua who are constantly underfoot, maneuvering to get the ancient Water-type Pokémon Kyogre to flood the world. These plans both involve inducing "Primal Reversion" in their Pokémon of interest.
Primal Reversion is an introduction to, and an expansion on, the process of "mega evolution" first introduced in 2013's Pokémon X and Y.
The core tenets of Pokémon gameplay have been unchanged since the 1990s: Catch Pokémon and level them up by battling them against other Pokémon to increase their levels. But each round of games has unique quirks. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire bring back Pokémon talent shows (called Pokémon Contest Spectaculars) and secret bases, two features not seen since 2005. Neither advances the main plot in any way, but each gives the world more depth by letting players interact with Pokémon outside of combat
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire also incorporate elements of more recent Pokémon games, such as the Fairy-type Pokémon or Mega Evolution. Players can also catch newer Pokémon introduced after Ruby and Sapphire first came out.
The new games also add several mega evolutions for Pokémon such as Latios/Latias, Rayquaza, Altaria and Pidgeot, as well as the Primal Reversion (a type of Mega Evolution). Perhaps the biggest single addition is the DexNav, a tool for finding special or rare Pokémon in your current area. The DexNav can be set to appear on the lower of the Nintendo 3DS’s two screens, so you can easily consult it as you move.
While Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire borrow the best elements of other Pokémon games, they also inherit some of their predecessors’ rough patches. Their thin narratives are little more than a list of tasks, but these tasks must be performed in a very precise, often opaque, order, and usually require specific items or Pokémon moves. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out what to do next, or how to get where you need to go.
The updated art and graphics of Pokémon: Omega Ruby and Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire are the main selling points. Every bit of Ruby and Sapphire has been re-animated and brought into 3D. It's a big change from the originals, but the games' new style is a direct continuation of 3D Pokémon games X and Y.
Trainer customizations haven't been brought over from the newer games, however; Brendan and May will still have their distinctive looks no matter what.
Like their graphics, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire's sounds have improved quality, but similar form. Pokémon fans will recognize the familiar melodies, but they've evolved from tinny chiptunes to fuller, more orchestral pieces.
The same goes for the sound effects: From roaring flames to charming fairy spells, the audio takes advantage of the 3DS's better speakers to deliver more realistic-sounding noises
Ultimately, what you get out of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire will depend on how much you've put into previous Pokémon games. Longtime Pokémon fans may want the remakes for the access to more Mega Evolutions than ever before. If you're a newcomer to the series, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are a perfectly fine place to start, though the more streamlined Pokémon X and Y might be even better.
But on the other hand, people who have played the original Ruby or Sapphire games and the more recent X or Y games might find that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire don't offer quite enough new content to justify the cost and playthrough time.
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Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.