Pokemon Alpha Sapphire review: a thoughtful remake that might just be a Mega Evolution

Nintendo 3DS; Game Freak; £34.99

Oliver Cragg
Wednesday 19 November 2014 17:03
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Memories, like most things, are changed by time making videogame remakes a tricky proposition as they navigate the path of trying to rekindle the player’s nostalgia while also not appearing outdated or diverging too far from the original’s charm.

Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire, a remake of 2003’s Pokémon Sapphire version, returns players to the Hoenn region and the landscape of the third generation of Pokémon games. Before embarking on my second round of first steps in Littleroot Town I remembered Pokémon Sapphire as a monumental, action-packed quest with warring enemy factions and leviathan legendary Pokémon that threatened the very existence of the Pokémon world.

All of this is true and remains so in this remake to an extent, but it’s the quiet, reflective moments of Alpha Sapphire that really struck a chord with me this time around. Whether it was standing in peaceful awe before an ancient cave painting in the Granite Cave or watching two fathers discuss their conflicted feelings of pride and worry as they watched their children follow their own destinies, Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire has a poignant warmth under its childish bravado.

There are some features of Alpha Sapphire that are definitely unique to this remake though. The most obvious change is the graphics engine which uses the same revolutionary 3D style from Pokémon X and Y and uses it to cast the island of Hoenn in an effusive vibrant energy, a feeling also aided by the increased number of Pokémon models present in the overworld (such as low-flying Wingulls and playful Skittys). In fact the game’s links to X and Y are numerous, especially with the redesigned metropolis of the once sparse Mauville City evoking Kalos region’s gargantuan Lumiose City (even down to the Lumiose Tower model at Mauville’s centre).

The biggest carry over, however, is the concept of Mega Evolution and its new spiritual kin Primal Evolution. Mega Evolution feels like a natural fit in Hoenn’s world, with Pokémon know-it-all Steven Stone introducing the concept in a way that arguably outshines the debut of Mega Pokémon in X and Y. Primal Evolution on the other hand, a feature currently unique to this remake (and it’s partner remake Omega Ruby), sees the game’s legendary mascot Kyogre regain its prehistoric power in what turns out to be the game’s narrative crescendo.

The PokéNav also makes its return to Alpha Sapphire, this time upgraded to the moniker of PokéNav Plus by virtue of it bringing back the popular bottom screen features of X and Y. However, it’s the all-new DexNav component that really expands the gameplay. With the assistance from the introduction of stealth movement, the DexNav allows you to carefully seek out Pokémon in the wild that visibly rear their heads above the tall grass. The upside to this method of monster hunting as that many have secret moves only usually obtainable by the excessive breeding mechanics that also make a return. Also getting a name and feature upgrade are the Secret Bases, now called Super Secret Bases, where you can make your own makeshift haven filled with furniture and plushes and share your creations with others via Nintendo’s SpotPass.

One major disappointment is the lack of character customisation. For me, taking away the option to don a swanky fedora like in Pokémon X and Y removes a lot of the personal involvement you feel in your avatar’s quest to become the region’s ultimate Pokémon Master. In fact, Alpha Sapphire often feels like a game in its predecessor’s shadow in this regard, a feeling not helped by Hoenn’s initial bland grassy fields paling in comparison to the instant charm of Kalos’ Parisian-inspired hub world.

While the introduction of the DexNav and Primal Evolution are fresh introductions to an 11 year old game, Alpha Sapphire only dares to truly unshackle itself during its comprehensive post-game content. The fact that the instantly gratifying ability to Soar manually around the overworld (a much vaunted feature in the game’s pre-launch hype) appears towards the game’s closing stages of the main plot shows that Nintendo were maybe a little too apprehensive about maintaining the rigid structure of the original Game Boy Advance title.

Despite this, Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire is a cautious, but thoughtful remake that successfully improves on its legacy upon hitting its stride. A ‘Mega Evolution’ indeed.

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