Pokemon Alpha Sapphire: First Week Impressions

I was lucky enough to grab a copy of Pokemon Alpha Sapphire for the 3DS on release day, and I just have to say without mincing my words that I love it. I know, that’s probably the least most journalistic way I could review this game, but it’s true. This game is a joy to play. Maybe it’s because I never did play the original Sapphire/Ruby titles back in the day, so picking this up feels like an even bigger treat. There is a lot Alpha Sapphire has to offer, with the addition of many new features – although some have sadly been removed as well.

I would like to start by discussing the feature I most loved in Pokemon X/Y: the character customisation. It was awesome, picking up new clothing items in various boutiques around the region where they’d often match the theme of the town you bought them in. You could also change your hairstyle and colour, and it was magnificent! Well, it’s been removed for Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. I find this hugely disappointing as I’m sure many other fans of the series will too. Character customisation is something we’ve almost come to expect in our video games these days, and it’s something that adds just a little more of a personal touch to the gaming experience. I am quite gutted, honestly, because graphically, Pokemon games have never looked this good. I’d love to see my character customised in clothes and a hairstyle of my choice during the cute cutscenes in this game.

There is also still a lack of a PoC character choice too, which is something else that I find massively disappointing – but that’s an entirely different topic altogether. So, without dwelling on this too much, let me get on to what is brilliant about Pokemon Alpha Sapphire.

Beautiful graphics!

Firstly, adorable cutscenes are plentiful in AS/OR. Scenes that would normally just be you looking down on your character become an artistic anime sequence with camera angle changes that make great use of the 3DS. The world feels more 3D in this too; in Pokemon X it was getting there, but the character models in Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby are totally sharp and you feel more like you’re in the actual Pokemon anime than the blocky games of yesteryear.

Perhaps the wildest new feature is what I like to call ‘Pokemon Sneaking’. Occasionally, the grass will shake and a Pokemon cry will be heard (if you’re as big a nerd as I am you’ll know what that Pokemon is before you go into battle with it…), and part of a Pokemon will stick up out of the grass. Using the circle pad, you can tip-toe over to the Pokemon and engage it in battle. What is more awesome is these little hidden sneakers tend to be rarer Pokemon. At least, it’s awesome until the game starts acting like an asshole and dumping trainers around in grassy areas.

Picture the scene: you’re creeping over to a very, very rare Pokemon; you have no idea when it might pop up again, you’re getting so close… and BOOM, it’s Youngster Joey, douchelord extraordinaire, who has frightened off the Pokemon. This feature is still a little flawed overall, as a battle of any kind will make the Pokemon flee; not to mention the fact that it’s super hard to see where you are in the really long grass. Mostly, I just use this feature as an indication of what Pokemon are probably creeping in that area.

Dance, electric rat, dance!

I’m definitely one of those players who doesn’t play Pokemon to ‘catch em’ all!’, in fact, I usually have my main party sorted early on in the game. I hate levelling individual Pokemon though; if there’s one reason why my party changes it’s because I catch a Pokemon that is a higher level than my other background dwellers and HM slaves. I have found the item ‘EXP Share’ a godsend. In previous titles, it has tended to be an item that you get almost towards the end of the game; whereas in Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby, you obtain it extremely early on, so having that activated has made sure my party levels together at a great pace throughout each level of the adventure.

I’d also like to note that previously, only the Pokemon who was holding the EXP share item would gain shared EXP, whereas now it’s not an item that has to be held, and the whole party shares the experience. As a result, I have never really dropped a Pokemon yet, and it’s unlikely now that I’ll replace any of them as they’re all pretty balanced. Skitty for the win, guys; that little kitten has gotten me out of some really sticky situations, surprisingly!

The Pokemon contests that were first introduced in the original release of Sapphire and Ruby are back and more glamorous than ever, complete with Cosplay Pikachu, which can be used in battle and whose costume is determined by whether Pikachu is clever, cute, beautiful, tough, or cool. I like it, and I think it’s cute – but it is a little bit weird at the same time. I mean, I guess you get a free Pikachu for battle and a good Pokemon to compete in the contests with. Whatever floats your boat!

As far as the storyline goes, it’s the same formula as every other Pokemon game. I don’t know why I expected anything else, though, seeing as I picked up a re-release. Trainer gets started with the help of a friendly professor, progresses through and beats gym leaders, meets a band of bad guys called Team Aqua, foils their evil plans a few times, teams up with a mysterious stranger who ends up being the Pokemon Champion, yada yada… No spoiler alert needed really if you’ve played any Pokemon game ever.

There’s nothing really new here – except you do have two teams of baddies to defeat (well, almost). If you pick Sapphire, you’ll mostly come head to head with Team Aqua as they want to awaken Kyogre, and if you pick Ruby, you’ll be dealing with Team Magma who want to awaken Groudon. Unlike in the original releases, you have the side story of Mega Evolution to go through as well.

Mega Swampert. Mega buff. Mega lame.

For anyone who has not played X/Y, let me break down Mega Evolution for you: it involves using a bracelet and stones to temporarily evolve a Pokemon to a ‘mega form’ during battle. You can’t do it with every Pokemon, but the number does keep increasing. So far, you can get Mega versions of most of the original starters, as well as some other series favourites like Alakazam and Lucario – and of course the Legendary Pokemon, too. As much as I think Mega Evolution is quite cool, I’m also a little bit baffled by it. It’s not something I use an awful lot in the game, and I find it a bit annoying that this was added onto the re-release, while other awesome features were left out.

Alpha Sapphire (or Omega Ruby, whichever tickles your pickle) is a decent addition to the franchise, but if you’re expecting something similar to Pokemon X/Y, you’ll be disappointed. It is just a 3D re-release of the older title – so you are playing a game that has already had its storyline established and because of that the formulaic structure of the game might get tiring. I haven’t been able to clock as much time on this game as I did with X/Y when it came out, and I’m feeling a tad tired of the cookie cutter Pokemon adventure now.

I want variety in my characters, customisation, and maybe a story that takes a slightly different direction. But then again, playing the regular Pokemon formula is nice too, you know what to expect and it can be a really nice, relaxing experience (except for when the game is being a total jerk, Full Restore anyone?). Overall, I’m really enjoying Alpha Sapphire, but as a re-release I don’t think that it is as good as Heart Gold/Soul Silver, if only because Silver and Gold were such fantastic entries at the time (and probably my personal favourite of all the games). That said, Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby is worth picking up and there’s a chance this could be another huge time sink if you’re an expert-style Pokemon player.

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