Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire GBA Review

If you haven’t heard of the pokemon phenomenon, come out now from under your rock, rub your bleary eyes and see what’s going on in the world. No need to be shy. The latest instalments of this hugely-popular series has now taken the current generation of consoles by storm seven years after it first surfaced in Japan. Has it still got what it takes to deal with a new audience as well as its hardened fans? Does anyone still care about Pikachu and his colourful buddies? Actually, yes, we do…

Graphics

While a lot prettier than the earlier games, the graphics of this instalment hardly push the hardware to its limits; battle still involves static images of pokemon with rather poor effects washing over the top of them, and flashing to indicate damage. After seeing what Camelot have managed to do with Golden Sun, this really just looks lazy. Possibly the best graphics in the game are found in the berry blending sequences, which is nice and fluid. Everything in the game is rendered in nice, bright colours as we would expect, which nicely captures the pokemon world. Some nice simple animation of the grass and the water also creates atmosphere.

Gameplay

For a change, both male and female characters have been implemented into this game, although really the only difference you will see by playing through as both is that your rival will be a boy if you choose a girl as your player, and vice versa. Is this the start of a future pokemon life-sim in which you and your rival will marry and raise hundreds of pokemon loving kids? Only time will tell. Like the other games, your first port of call is the local pokemon nut, this time Professor Birch, to get your first pokemon. Again, you have the choice of three candidates; cute water type Mudkip, fiery Torchic or grass type Treecko, and your choice will influence your rival (who will always pick the type strongest against yours). After the preliminary tutorials on how to fight and capture pokemon, you finally get a pokedex and go off on your quest to become the best pokemon trainer in the world. Again.

If you’ve played the earlier games, you know the drill; catch pokemon to complete your pokedex, add to your team, and trade for rarities. Entering an area of “long grass”, or certain internal areas, will give you a chance of entering a random battle with a pokemon; you can either “Make it faint” by depleting its health and get EXP for your pokemon minions, or capture it with a pokeball. Weakening the enemy by attacking it/afflicting its status makes it easier to catch, and certain types are more powerful again other classes of pokemon, so there is an element of strategy involved in winning battles. For instance, if you cultivate a team of fire pokemon, chances are you will be wiped out by the first water enemy you face. Forget the cartoon series – Pikachu cannot damage rock pokemon like Onix. This means that you have to lend some thought to the critters you want to add to your team. You can only carry six pokemon into battle at one time, but a neat PC storage system lets you store many more.

As well as fighting wild pokemon, you will also have to take on trainers; these will send up to six pokemon at you, and losing the fight will cost you some of your hard-earned dough. Sadly, opponents pokemon cannot be stolen mid-battle. New to this instalment are the two-on-two battles; these are easily spotted as two trainers standing close together on the game screen. This basically pits your first two pokemon in you list against two of the enemies pokemon; so, if you have a weak pokemon in second place, he will more than likely be destroyed. This places more emphasis on training all of your team evenly; relying on one butch pokemon to carry the team wont get you anywhere. You will also have to face boss-like gym-leaders, the cream of the pokemon crop, and finally the Elites, the best of the best.

As you allow your pokemon to battle, they will rise in level RPG style and gradually get stronger. This is a great place for personalisation of your team; a pokemon caught straight out of the wild at a high level will have lower stats that one trained from a lower level to the same stage, so even if you are pitted against a friend with a high level pokemon, it doesn’t mean that the odds are automatically in their favour. As they advance through levels, they will occasionally learn new moves; as your pokemon can only learn 4 moves each, getting a good balance is essential, and once a move has been “forgotten” in favour of a new one, its not usually possible to re-learn it. Choose wisely, friends. As well as these, you can pick up new moves in the form of TMs that may be taught to your pokemon; these can be found in shops and on the ground, as well as given to you as presents. More important are the HM moves, of which there are only 7 which can be used over and over again; these teach your pokemon one key move that is essential to progress, such as CUT, which will cut down trees blocking your path. Sadly, these moves cannot be forgotten in favour of other moves, so be careful when teaching them to your favourite pokemon.

Eventually, your pokemon will evolve; this extends gameplay a great deal, as completing your pokedex and even advancing through the game requires you to evolve pokemon. Some of these can only be evolved through certain special activity, such as trading it with a friend – this makes the collection process more exciting, although not having anyone to trade with will put a downer on this element of gameplay. Similarly, some pokemon that are absent in Sapphire can only be found on Ruby and vice versa, so to get everything will need to you to have at least one buddy with a different game to you. Again this could present problems. The only other true difference are the enemies that you will face – Team Magma will be your nemeses in Ruby, and Team Aqua in Sapphire.

Also new to these two games is the “Berry Blender”, a system by which you gather berries and then mix them into blocks. These can boost certain stats of your pokemon depending on what berries you mix and how many people you ask to help you in the process, and is important to get your pokemon to win contests. Winning these will earn you trophies and pictures of your pokemon.

Finally, you also enter a Sims/Animal Crossing mini-quest which involves designing your own secret base. While this isn’t essential, all of the neat merchandise available to decorate it with and the whole fuss of travelling the world to find your ideal location is quite good fun. Trading with a friend will also unlock their secret base in your town so you can go and visit. Getting all of the available stuff and the best bases will take ages.

Unfortunately, the great night/day cycles that features in Gold and Silver have been omitted; while certain special events do happen on certain days as before, this is a bit of a shame as hunting out nocturnal pokemon was a pretty good addition to the series.

Sound

Better than the earlier games, but still a rather unoriginal blend of plinky tunes grace the new versions. The pokemon “noises” are undeveloped as ever, which is a bit of a shame – we all know Pikachu doesn’t go “whhirrt!”. Still, while it may offer very little in the way of originality, the music is still relatively charming and appropriate enough not to annoy.

Lifespan

This is where the series really comes into its own – getting all of the pokemon will take weeks and weeks, plus there are some great locations available for exploration after you have completed the main game. Allowing you to continue in this way is really a great feature of the game, and the exploring and capturing that you will do will eat away the hours. I have managed to get all 200 available pokemon in just over 60 hours, so you get an idea of how long this will last. Note this is without doing all of the contests or finding all of the secret locations so expect the amount of gametime to give you real value for your money.

Overall

The pokemon games are great to play, and this is no exception – it will arguably last you longer than any other game on the system, and really does offer an addictive and compelling style that is unmatched. It’s a shame that the game feels a bit underwhelming in terms of appearance and sound; neither of these aspects really show what the hardware is capable of, and aren’t really a significant move away from the older incarnations. Also, the constant addition of new TMs, and particularly the compulsory HMs, becomes a nuisance; sticking with just 5 essential moves as in the earlier games makes more sense and means that fewer of your pokemons moves are wasted so that they can learn these. Still, this is a massively lengthy game, and still offers some great gameplay – fans of the series will get into it right away, and even novices to the game will be won over by the simple yet addictive gameplay. Buy it now.

9 out of 10
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