Few series have ever been as criticized for remaining too same-y throughout their run like Pokemon has. Every other year sees the release of a new game taking place in a new land full of new creatures that does just about nothing to redefine or perfect its core gameplay. As much as I should hate this series with every bone in my body, I simply can’t. I thought I would chalk it up to nostalgia and the countless hours I spent trying to catch ’em all as a kid, but after coming back to Hoenn in Pokemon Alpha Sapphire, I’m more than happy to admit the series is still built on a solid foundation. All it took was a step into the past to move things forward.
Fans of the series have been clamoring for remakes of Ruby and Sapphire since rumors began spreading about their existence years ago, and the final products should be more than enough to satisfy even the most jaded Pokemaniac.
If you’ve played any game in the series, the story will be more than familiar by this point. All together now: a young child arrives in a new land and, after a chance encounter with a professor of dubious intelligence (Professor Birch this time around), sets out into the world to capture, train and battle with as many Pokemon as they can get their hands on. It’s a silly set up that still works to get things going, especially once Team Aqua shows up to flood the world for their nefarious purposes, but it’s stuck around for years for a reason.
Of course, you’ll also be trekking around Hoenn in hopes of acquiring eight Gym Badges to prove your the best trainer around. Once you’ve left every gym leader in the dust, moving up to the Elite Four serves as a proper challenge, especially since you have to take them all on with no breaks in between. While it seems like the game should be stuffed too full to keep focused, Pokemon Alpha Sapphire manages to tell its story in a way that doesn’t let any of the individual stories clash with the overarching plot.
The core gameplay that has been a staple since the 90s remains the same, setting trainers free in Hoenn as they try to collect every creature possible while training them all through battles, challenging gym leaders, tackling Team Aqua and, ultimately, the Elite Four. Battles remain largely the same, with the 3D presentation breathing life into familiar character models from past games. Yet despite the fresh, appealing new look, combat ultimately remains too similar to previous titles, with victory ultimately boiling down to figuring out the enemy’s weakness, exploiting it and repeating as necessary.
This problem always rears its ugly head when taking on gym leaders. The entire town will bluntly tell you what type they use, as well as a sign in front of their gym, giving you the opportunity to train one or two Pokemon of the opposing type. Rather than feeling like a challenging test of your skills learned up to that point of the game, every gym feels like a small bump along the way.
However, for every aspect that stubbornly refuses to change from the original, there is a new addition that works wonders for the series. Secret bases have returned, but the implementation of StreetPass makes it easier for friends to join the fun. Even those ridiculous Pokemon Contests have shown up again, but this time you’re given a fashionable Pikachu to compete with, making both the Contests and battle a bit more interesting.
Many of the features that made appearances in Pokemon X & Y have reappeared here, including Pokemon-Amie, Super Training, and EXP Share, to mixed results. While EXP Share can help reduce the amount of time needed to train each and every Pokemon before, purists will probably leave it turned off. Super Training remains a boring diversion at best, and although Pokemon-Amie is adorable, it doesn’t really help build a connection with your Pokemon. It’s sort of like playing with a rooster before throwing it in the ring for a cock fight.