What? Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire are evolving!

When Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire came out more than a decade ago on the Game Boy Advance, it was one of the more intriguing entries for the franchise. Kicking off what would later be known as Generation III, Ruby/Sapphire introduced players to the Hoenn region, as well as to 135 new types of Pokémon.

It was an odd release, though, because it did away with the day/night cycle introduced in Gold/Silver and no longer encouraged players to try “catch ‘em all”—neither game allowed you to catch all 386 Pokémon known at the time. Still, new Pokémon like Treecko, Mudkip, and Torchic would help these entries find a way into fans’ hearts just the same as previous games had. Because of this, much like how Red/Blue and Gold/Silver were remade several years after their original releases, Nintendo felt it was finally time to do the same to Ruby/Sapphire. Unlike those previous remakes, however, Omega/Alpha feel familiar but also add enough new elements to actually warrant a remake.

Your adventure starts off the same as it did a decade ago, with your family moving to the Hoenn region after your father, Norman, is named Petalburg Gym Leader (the fifth you’ll have to face on your way to the region’s Elite Four). Looking to follow in your father’s footsteps as a Pokémon trainer, and with the help of local Pokémon expert Professor Birch, you decide to become the best Pokémon trainer in the world. As you set out to collect the eight gym badges required to make a run at the Pokémon Champion, however, you stumble upon a plot hatched by a nefarious group of Pokémon trainers (Team Magma in Ruby, Team Aqua in Sapphire). They’re trying to revive the legendary Pokémon of the region (Groudon in Ruby, Kyogre in Sapphire), which would spell doom for human and Pokémon alike if they were to succeed. So, naturally, you strive to become not only the very best, but to save everyone and everything you know along the way.

Coming shortly after the release of Pokémon X and Y proves more advantageous for Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire than either of the previous two generations of remakes because of the huge changes X/Y marked for the franchise as a whole. The story of Ruby/Sapphire, however, remains almost exactly the same, beat for beat, which should lessen the learning curve for returning fans but might also deter them from exploring as much as they might with a brand-new adventure.

The only narrative changes you’ll see are minor dialogue rewrites meant to accommodate X/Y features ported over here, like Mega Evolution. Even the “Delta Episode,” which helps explain how Mega Evolution functions, isn’t as new or original as it’s been touted to be.

Meanwhile, what did come over from X/Y goes a long way toward making this familiar adventure feel as fresh as it did 11 years ago. The world of Hoenn looks fantastic, realized in full 3D as you make your way through redesigned gyms, towns, and dungeons. Plus, the Pokémon seem to jump off the screen with the enhanced graphics, and the game, as a whole, easily looks just as good as X/Y.

There’s also the inclusion of Mega Evolutions. Not only are they tied into the story now, but more Pokémon can achieve these new, more powerful forms, including Latios and Latias, one of which will now automatically join you on your journey. Primal Reversions also debut here, but they’re really just new in name only and meant to serve a narrative purpose within the tweaked plot. In reality, they’re simply the Mega Evolutions for the legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre, but instead of needing to activate this power on the Fight menu once already in battle, they’ll transform automatically as soon as they enter the fray.

Curiously, though, some of X/Y’s features didn’t make the trip to Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, like being able to customize your trainer beyond choosing whether they’re male or female at the start. Instead, a new feature called Secret Bases—special holes scattered around Hoenn that you can crawl into and make your own special playroom out of—are meant to scratch your customization itch. It’s a nice idea, especially since you can share different rooms with your friends, but I’d much prefer being able to dress my trainer however I want and let my friends see that in battle, rather than show them whatever new lamp I just bought and stuck in my treehouse.

There’s more to Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire than just having some of X/Y’s notable features crammed in, though, as it does some interesting things on its own. In conjunction with X/Y, you can now complete the most recent National Pokédex for the first time, since some Pokémon are only available in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. That’s right: If you work hard enough, you can get all 719 Pokémon between the two games.

There’s also the exclusive Cosplay Pikachu, a special version of everyone’s favorite electric rodent that you can win by participating in a Pokémon Contest, a side-activity where Pokémon are rated based on the moves they perform on a stage for an audience. Cosplay Pikachu can’t be traded or evolved but instead wears a variety of outfits into battle that allow it to learn unique, off-type moves. For example, Rockstar Pikachu can learn Meteor Mash, a Steel-type move. And while I think it’s a stupid idea to put a Pikachu in an assortment of different outfits and call it a “feature,” I can’t argue with the fact that it’s actually one of the most powerful Pokémon in the game and ended up being in my final six before taking on the Elite Four.

Besides the completionist’s dream (or nightmare) of trying to complete the Pokédex, a new device called DexNav makes it easier to find those rare Pokémon that only appear at certain times of day or in particular areas under unique conditions. This new feature singlehandedly changes the entire mechanic of searching for (and trying to capture) Pokémon, because it lessens how much luck is involved in the process.

The DexNav can easily be turned on via the bottom screen of the 3DS and works by constantly scanning an area with a radar-like system, leading you directly to these rare, more powerful Pokémon. For example, I found a Mightyena that knew Ice Fang, a move that it wouldn’t normally learn over the course of its training outside of a TM (technical machine, which teaches Pokémon moves they wouldn’t learn otherwise). I also found a Sandshrew that was 10 levels above all the other Pokémon in the area. This randomness in regards to strength and move list makes it much more interesting to catch Pokémon again compared to just shuffling through grass and hoping for the right random encounter.

The biggest change to the game, though, probably comes from the new ability to soar. This new ability is exclusive to Latios or Latias, and only when you’re ready to take on the eighth gym in the game and later. It’s not a move that takes up one of your four slots like Fly or Cut, though, and instead requires a special item, much like riding the Bicycle. Instead of riding on roads and through grass, though, you can ride one of the Eon Pokémon like your own personal jet through the never before explored skies of Hoenn. And once you soar, you can try to capture Pokémon that you wouldn’t normally find as you jet through the airways above the entire region.

Special Mirage Spots­—accessible only by soaring—lead you to the legendary Pokémon from other games, which is necessary if you’re to complete the entire Pokédex. I was honestly shocked at how much fun I had soaring. Not only did it make getting to certain areas easier, but also seeing the entire region of Hoenn from a bird’s-eye view was absolutely beautiful.

And speaking of battling, it’s just as easy now to jump into a versus match against another human in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire as it is in X/Y—but now you can choose if you want to do game-exclusive matchups, which limit you to using Pokémon only from those games. For example, you wouldn’t be able to take Rayquaza into an X/Y League match or Xerneas into an Omega/Alpha match. Other options allow you to use whatever Pokémon you like, but I imagine these new rulesets are more for competition’s sake.

Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire surprised me with how much it was able to add from Pokémon X/Y—yet manage to stay true to the original adventure from more than a decade ago. Not all the new features were as impressive as they were hyped to be, and not everything that should’ve come over from X/Y did in the end, but despite this, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire are more than worthy of the Pokémon name, and they work as either new adventures for newcomers to the series or fun strolls down memory lane for lifelong trainers.

Developer: Game Freak • Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.21.14
New features like DexNav and the soar ability add just enough new gameplay elements to the classic Pokémon formula to help make this decade-old adventure feel new again.
The Good New visuals; soar and DexNav add fun new gameplay elements.
The Bad You can’t customize your trainers like in X/Y; Primal Reversions are just glorified Mega Evolutions.
The Ugly Cosplay Pikachu: it reminds me of all those stupid people out there who insist on dressing up their pets.
Pokémon Omega Red/Alpha Sapphire are a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Primary version of game reviewed was Omega Red. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.