Gotta catch em all! Gotta catch em all! The tried and true mantra of Poke-maniacs everywhere is once again heard in Pokemon Ruby & Pokemon Sapphire, the Gameboy Advance’s entry into the seven year old kiddy RPG franchise. “Wahoo!” I say.
I must admit, I was once a Pokemon skeptic. I took one look at cute and fuzzy little monsters being lovingly raised to do battle in gladiatorial combat and thought that there was no way that I would ever be interested in game like that. I mean, in essence, Pokemon is an RPG stripped of much of the story and reduced to constant item hunting, level building, and puzzle solving, or so I thought. Then, way back in 1999, I actually played it.
The Pokemon series is based on a simple and elegant principle-make it cute, make it fun, and provide hours upon hours of addictive game play. In Ruby and Sapphire, as in previous editions, you take on the role of a boy or girl Pokemon trainer, grab one adorable little monster, and start on your way to become the most powerful Pokemon trainer in the land of Hoenn. I could digress here about the subtle nuances of each of the gym bosses you must face along the way, including your own father, but that is best saved for English term papers.
Along your path to becoming the uber-trainer, you must battle and capture other small monsters via the use of ethically questionable Poke-balls that reduce your Pokemon to digital files that can be stored in computers. These fights are simple and fun, with each Pokemon capable of learning four moves for battle. In addition, each Pokemon and Pokemon attack has certain attributes that make it more or less effective. For example fire type attacks hurt grass-type Pokemon while water attacks devastate fire-type Pokemon. This basic strategy can greatly affect your ease of progress in the game so it is best to raise a variety of Pokemon at all times.
If you’ve played previous Pokemon titles, then the standard combat is nothing new to you. However, in Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire a few new twists have been thrown into the mix to keep it fresh. First off, you can now enter two-on-two battles with trainers, adding whole new dimension to certain moves. Secondly, if you grow tired of watching your poor pets brawling, you can enter what are known as Pokemon contests.
In contests, Pokemon compete to wow the crowd by being as tough, cool, cute, or smart as they can be. Rather than having a swimsuit competition or interview, these pageant contestants must use their moves in various combinations to gather applause. Furthermore, as a trainer you can whip up tasty candies call Poke-Blocks and feed them to your Pokemon to raise their contest attributes. It’s a diverting side quest to the main game that provides hours of extra play.
The Pokemon breeding program in Ruby & Sapphire is a dizzying way to grow even more Pokemon to fight for you. These bred Pokemon can gain slightly different moves than caught Pokemon, and breeding is the only way to acquire a few of the baby Pokemon types. I would like to note at this time that the breeding of Pokemon is a slightly disturbing thought in my mind, especially when Pokemon of differing species get it on.
Graphically, Pokemon is simple and cutesy. The character design of most of the Pokemon is pleasing and the quick animations of various moves in combat add a bit of drama to the battles. The graphics in Pokemon also have the advantage of being clean enough to withstand long hours of constant viewing in a car or plane, making this title indispensable on road trips.
The sound in Pokemon is more of an afterthought, though. The music is a touch repetitive, especially when walking around the same area for hours looking for that elusive rare Pokemon. Each Pokemon is supposed to have its own cry as well, but the poor midi yowls tend to sound alike.
But graphics and sound aren’t really what this title is about. Pokemon has always been about the fun. The regular game alone can easily suck away fifty to eighty hours of your life if you are obsessed with getting everything, and the ability to both trade Pokemon and battle with them over the Game Link cable adds even more playability. About the only thing that detracts from the experience is that fact that the game is primarily aimed towards younger audiences. In order to make the game accessible to them the challenge factor of the game is scaled back a bit, although I must admit some of the later gym battles are nail-bitingly hard if you aren’t prepared.
Finally, here is a note for people not familiar to the Pokemon series. Although, Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire are technically two games, they are virtually identical. About the only appreciable difference is the mix of Pokemon available for capture. To catch all 200 hundred of the critters you need both versions of the game so you can trade Pokemon back and forth. My suggestion is to convince a friend to buy the opposite version.
Pokemon is a rare game for me, a game where I simply don’t care about originality or plot. Instead I find myself lost in an addicting trifle of sweet little monsters and cutesy dialog. It’s a rare game that I can enjoy with my six year old daughter during the day then play ruthlessly against my thirty-two year old roommate at night, so I have to unequivocally recommend it for all gamers looking for a bit of blandly fascinating fun.