Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire: Demo Preview

If you were to ask me what the peak of the Pokémon franchise is, I’d probably have a different answer than newer fans of the series, many of whom have been weaned on more recent generations of Nintendo and GAME FREAK’s legendary Pocket Monsters. No, I wouldn’t go all the way back and respond with the original genre-redefining versions of Pokémon Red & Blue on the GameBoy, because while they’re classics, the franchise has significantly evolved since then (pun intended).

But I would say that it’s generally going to be a hard-fought battle between Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green versions (Game Boy Advance; 2004) and Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver versions (Nintendo DS; 2010), the updated remakes of the first and second generation Pokémon games that deftly balance (arguably) superior map and monster designs against the the updated mechanics of their younger cousins.


So when Nintendo finally confirmed this May that Ruby & Sapphire were to receive full-on remakes in the style of X & Y, the new generation of Pokémon games that debuted on the Nintendo 3DS last year, I wasn’t sure what to think. Apart from a couple of battle themes, and some features that would later make their way into Fire Red & Leaf Green anyway, I confess to remembering little of third-generation, island-themed titles Ruby & Sapphire. Perhaps Nintendo’s unexpected (but welcome) demo of Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire – released exclusively to certain Club Nintendo members, and under other bizarrely-limited conditions – can give me the refresher I need to get my wallet ready?

The world map, previously a simple menu option and a 2D sprite, has been replaced by a 3D render of Hoenn.

The demo certainly gets underway quick enough, with Orlando (presumably the male trainer, Brendan, from the original versions of the game) riding on a flying legendary Pokémon, Latias. It’s here we catch our first glimpse of the remake’s enhanced feature-set: the world map, previously a simple menu option and a 2D sprite, has been replaced by a 3D render of Hoenn which is highly-reminiscent of the kind of over-worlds in common in PlayStation 1-era RPGs such as Final Fantasy VII. It’s pretty neat.

The FLY ability final evolves into its final form: Final Fantasy Airship.
The FLY ability final evolves into its final form: Final Fantasy Airship.

As we descend onto the island housing Mossdeep City, a new remix of a familiar Pokémon town theme kicks in; it’s kind of funky, but immediately recognisable as an update of a classic tune. My friendly companion Steven hurries Orlando along to the island’s Space Centre, where the villainous Team Magma (filling in for Team Rocket) have taken control and are hoping to use the research contained therein to capture some ultra-rare Pokémon. Time to battle some Pocket Monsters!

Of course, you can’t take on other Pokémon trainers without a little monster of your own to order around, so Steven gives me my pick of the Hoenn region’s starting Pokémon, all evolved to their second forms: Grovyle, Combusken and Marshtomp. It’s a little surprising that Nintendo would let us sample all the starters in the demo (given that as picking your portable beast is one of the more thrilling decisions you’ll make as a rookie trainer), but I suspect they know that many players are likely veterans of the series. I’m partial to Fire-type starting Pokémon, personally, but my bias for first-gen icon Charizard may be showing through. After selecting the terrifying fire/rooster hybrid Combusken as my main, it was time to start the game proper.

Wait a minute... is that Pikachu rockin' a biker jacket in battle!?
Wait a minute… is that Pikachu rockin’ a biker jacket in battle!?

As expected, battles play out much like the X & Y versions, with every Pokémon well-represented by polygonal 3D models that come complete with charming animations. Sadly, battles in Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire seem to highlight the same limitations as its predecessor; the moment you turn the handheld’s 3D slider on, the frame-rate plummets, reaching stuttering, sub-10 FPS levels fairly quickly. Yikes! On the plus side, the in-battle backgrounds are fairly-appealing, featuring a detailed town locale littered with buildings and other nice touches.

As the battle winds-down, Team Magma cowardly retreats to hunt a new bounty, but not without touting something called “Primal Reversion” – a new, more-powerful form of the still-fresh Mega Evolution game mechanic introduced last year. It’s pretty good setup for a demo, which takes the player on a quest to rescue a Pokémon on a nearby island, all the while battling wild Pokémon (hiding in caves and patches of tall grass, as is series tradition) and dispatching the grunts of competing bad-guys Team Aqua and Team Magma.

The BuzzNav app inhabits the bottom screen during field play, offering players social media-like updates (and cute pixel artwork).
The BuzzNav app inhabits the bottom screen during field play, offering players social media-like updates about Hoenn (along with cute pixel artwork).

But unfortunately, at less than 30 minutes of play time, the whole thing feels just too short and limited, especially as a teaser of such a massive RPG. Still puzzled over whether I wanted to commit another 40+ hours to traversing a region of the Pokémon world I’ve already visited once before, I sat down with Ready Up’s Editor and long-time Pocket Monster fanatic, Susan Marmito, to discuss Nintendo’s strategy for the demo and some of its other features.

(At this point, Scott skyped Susan and discovered that she had a far more productive Sunday, making bolognese and watching Justified)

Susan: First of all, what did you actually think of the demo?

Scott: It felt overwhelmingly short, even for a teaser. I think there were two or three trainer battles at most, along with a couple of encounters with wild Pokémon in the grass. I can understand why Nintendo chose this direction, but I personally would have preferred a slice of the full game, even if it restricted the player to a very limited area; part of the core appeal of Pokémon is catching your own monsters, naming them, and then training them up for gym battles, features which are all locked-out in this demo.

Susan: But can’t you can replay the demo to earn additional items and a new Pokémon for the full version of the game? I can’t remember its name. See, I can’t remember any of the monsters after the original 150!

Scott: That’s right. I should address the replay system first. Although I was disappointed with the linearity of the main demo, I’ve got to give Nintendo props for allowing players to save some sort of progress. After finishing it the first time, you can load your game and return to Mossdeep Island and go on additional, random adventures with your companion Steven. These are all incredibly basic and short (usually involving rescuing another Pokémon and fighting a trainer or two), but Nintendo do give you the other Hoenn starters to play around with or Mega Evolve. More significantly, the more times you replay the demo, the more items you unlock to transfer to the full version of the game.

As for the Pokémon, it’s called Glalie, and was actually already around in the original Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire. I didn’t recognise it either. It’s some sort of ice-ball monster? Like the Hoenn starters you can pick in the demo, it also has a Mega Evolution to play around with, so that’s something to experiment with on subsequent replays. And yes, finishing the demo will allow it to be transferred to the retail version of Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, along with the Glalitite item needed for Mega Evolution.

Susan: Its Mega Evolution? I’ll need to look that up… wait, what the hell is that? Oh my god – its mouth!

Scott: Yes. For its Mega Evolution, Glalie grows a mouth.


Susan: Moving on, let’s talk about the strategy behind the demo. It doesn’t seem like there’s much point in a demo here, since Pokémon already has such a rabid following and from what you’ve said, this teaser in unlikely to bring in new players on its own merits. Unlocking free items and Pokémon for the final version sounds useful, but Nintendo already frequently release free Pokémon through their ‘Mystery Gift’ events on Nintendo WiFi.

Scott: That’s true. I have to wonder if all of this is in response to the recent Super Smash Bros. 3DS demo. It was very successful in building hype for its full release, to the point that redemption codes were being sold on eBay or begged for on GameFAQs. I’m still not sure I understand what the criteria was concerning those selected to receive this particular demo; I randomly received a invitation code in an Official Nintendo Newsletter, while others managed to snag codes that were released in batches by big gaming sites such as IGN or Eurogamer.

Ultimately, I suspect that even though Nintendo know Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire will probably sell boatloads, they think that they might be able to push a few “on-the-fence” buyers such as ourselves into the purchase camp by touting the mystique of a limited demo.

(Following this, the conversation turned to the incompetence of Pokémon anime trainer Ash Ketchum/Satoshi, and then further descended into Scott ranting about poor English dubs of specific shonen anime, leaving the question of whether to buy this new Pokémon title unanswered…)

Have you already decided to return to the Hoenn region? Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire versions will be released in the UK on 28th November 2014, exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS family.


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