Inside Pulse 12

Review: Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Pokemon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire
System:
Game Boy Advance
Genre: Pinball
Developer: Jupiter Corp.
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 08/28/03

I love handheld Pinball. Sonic Pinball Party. Pinball of the Dead. Pokemon Pinball for the GBC. It’s cute, easy to learn but hard to master, and requires very little thought process once you get the physics of the game down. And so it’s light entertainment that can be taken anywhere. It’s not Ogre Tactics, where you have to concentrate on every bit of strategy you can think of. And it’s certainly not Robotech: Macross Saga where anal attention to detail is needed to survive. No, pinball games require merely hitting the flippers at the right time and watching the physics engine do all the rest.

And of course, as this particular pinball game is laden with 200 cuddly cockfighting seizure monsters, it’s got to be all good right?

Well remember back to the first Pokemon Pinball. It was the first GBA game to have a Rumble feature if you put in an extra AAA battery into the cart. I got the game in 2000 and still have the SAME AAA battery working just fine in the cart. And trust me, my friends and I have played the hell out of it.

It was cute, but it was f*cking hard. There would be times where the physics engine would go awry and the ball would just shoot down the middle of the screen where your flippers couldn’t reach it. The red stage was decidedly harder than the blue stage. Some Pokemon were night impossible to get due to “travel’ method in the game. The Travel method meant you would change “towns’ in the game, and each town held different Pokemon. Some towns could not be accessed until you traveled at least 4-6 times, which was a bitch in and of itself. But then imagine finally getting there, catching a rare Pokemon, and then losing all of your balls before evolving it. Mother of God would I let loose with profanity that would make sailors blush when that happened. When my GF at the time finally got MUK evolved we danced for joy.

Yes, the original Pokemon Pinball was a cast iron bitch and a half with a few flaws in the physics of the game and the fact it took longer to catch all the Pokemon in that game that it did in the RPG version. But it was cute, rumbled, and was a nice change of pace from the RPG. Nintendo had released both Pokemon: TCG and Pokemon Pinball before letting out Gold and Silver, which was smart of the big N. They branched out their new and hottest cash cow into forms that kept it from being stale when the new RPG came out. And don’t forget Snap or Puzzle League or Stadium either!

If there is one thing Pokemon’s been great at, it’s been it’s ability to reinvent itself, keep it’s hardcore group of fans slathering over the latest release and out trying new things to attract newcomers to the Pokemon following. I’ll admit when imported Pocket Monsters Green in 1997 before the cartoon ever came over, I was hooked instantly. Especially by a little guy named,Clefairy.

Jesus! Does EVERYTHING have to be about Pikachu?

But yeah, Pikachu was on my original team. ;-)

And in five years, Pokemon has swept the world. And although it may not be as strong and on the heart and lips of every child on the planet any longer, it’s quite obvious Pokemon is here to stay and just a big a part of Nintendo as its other older franchises. Sorry scary snobby hardcore gamers: Compare Mario and Zelda and Kirby sales to the Pokemon Juggernaut. Game Freak. Pokemon is not going anywhere, no matter what the greasy skinned maladjusted virginal gamers who try to cling to some sort of machismo say about Pokemon being a fad and/or for kids. Pika pika pikachu baby!

So what’s changed from GB to GBA version? Well a lot actually. But the meat of the game is still the same.


You start off with two choice of boards: Ruby or Sapphire. What’s nice is you can select the ball speed: Slow and normal. To be honest I’ve played the game a zillion times already and I really don’t notice much of a difference in the speeds. I score about the same and I catch as many Pokemon, so it appears to be a negligible different. But options are ALWAYS nice.

The two boards differ in small ways. Red is more GSC than RS as it has Cyndaquil, Chikorita, and Chinchous and major parts of the table. Sharpedo and Makuhita from R/S are on the board, but it looks as if Nintendo was trying to make up for there not being an GCS pinball game. But hey, they gave us Pokemon Puzzle Challenge instead and I love that game too!

The blue boards are comprised of only Pokemon from Ruby/Sapphire with the Electric Rabbits, Wailmer, Seedots and Zigzagoon on the board. (Okay, can I just say that for ONCE I prefer the Japanese names of Pokemon. What was Nintendo USA thinking with some of these??)

The basic bit of the game is getting your ball to charge up the Evolution or Catch “em Mode bars, then to activate said mode and go catch/evolve yourself a cuddly bundle of fluff that speaks only in onomatopoeia. You hit the right things, smack the Pokemon a few times with your ball, and bam! You’ve got a new entry in your Pokedex! Unless of course you’ve already caught the Pokemon, but then at least you can evolve them as mentioned above in the same manner. Unless of course you’ve already done that too. Then you better just be thankful for all the points you just racked up.

What’s nice is they have added a third way to catch Pokemon. By heating and hatching eggs. You do this in the same manner you catch and evolve Pokemon: The whole charging the meter aspect. In fact, everything you do in this game involves charging a meter. Hit something three times to charge up the ability to travel. Hit something three times to open up the Pokemart. Hit all four “Hole’ lights to charge up a bonus. Charge up Pikachu so he saves your ball. And on and on and on. It’s all about repetition in this game.

But yes, back to the egg hatching. Once you hatch the egg, the newly born Pokemon starts running around the field. Unlike the other two forms of Pokedex filling where the target is stationary, these poster Poke’s for ADHD move all over until you sock them on the head twice. The time to catch an egg Pokemon is much shorter than the other time limits, but as you only have to pummel the critter twice instead of three times, It balances out.


The other big change to the game is the Pokemart. On each board you can collect coins in a variety of ways. Then when you get your ball inside the Pokemart, you can spend those coins on everything from a ball saver to a Pokeball upgrade to even an extra ball. It’s an excellent touch to the series and also captures a little more of the original Pokemon game in style.

Finally we’ve got the bonus stages that originally appeared in the original Pinball game. But of course they’re updated them with new Pokemon and they’re all a bit tougher. Ruby gets a Kecleon stage and Sapphire gets a Duskull stage. Both involve massive pummeling Pokemon before a time limit runs out. Simple yet sublime.

They’ve also added two Legendary Pokemon stages. Both again involve pummeling Pokemon, but it’s a bit tougher as these Pokemon fight back. Watch your ball be set on fire. Watch the Pokemon dodge by diving underwater. Yup. The Legendary Pokemon do not make beating their stages easy. But Groudon (Ruby) is far easier than Rayquaza’s stage. All it takes is a lot of patience, and some good flipper usage.

And that in a nutshell is the game. But as I KNOW I’m the only Pokemaniac on here, I pretty sure you’ve all scrolled down through the intense detailed discussion on Pokemania and just skipped to what you’re really here for: DAS RATING!

Gameplay

Well, to be perfectly frank, there’s not much you do in a pinball game besides hit the flippers and occasionally use the tilts. This isn’t a game where you’re going to see me say, “Quarter Circle forward + Punch = Hadoken!’ You’d just expect me to say something like, “Left on D pad = Left Flipper. A button = Right Flipper. Repeat until ball is lost.’ And to a casual beginner, that’s all there really is. But once you get into the game you realize there’s much, much more.

First up, the left the control scheme the same as it was in the GBC version. And I’m unhappy about that. See, the GBA has those two shoulder buttons called L and R. And they would have been a lot better for the flippers. And it FEELS right when you use the Analog buttons as the flippers. Almost like you’re playing a real Arcade pinball machine. The L & R buttons start out as the tilts, something that is used rarely, and the first few times you play the game, you want to instinctively hit those instead of the ACTUAL flipper controls. I also had a friend play it this weekend, and she too instinctively wanted to use the shoulder buttons as the flipper buttons. And thus lost her ball a lot.

But other than this niggling annoyance, the game plays SO much better than the original PP. Yes it is easier now. After 6 games I already had 30 Pokemon. But when there’s 200 to collect, you’re still hitting the 40-50 range for a PINBALL game. Intense.

And of course, the reason it is easier is because the engine has been tightened, the physics corrected where occasionally Einstein would have crapped himself in horror, and once you learn the proper angle and speed to hit the ball, it will always go where you want it to. And I’d rather have game that won’t freak out on you and magically have the ball miss or go down the hole of doom. That’s not harder. That’s annoying.

All and all, aside from the having to adjust your buttons and saving your configuration for better play control, the only niggling thing about the gameplay is that there really is no difference between the speed choices you are offered.

Graphics

Beautiful game. Very beautiful. The great thing about the Pinball games is that the graphics are always a step better than the RPG series. You can SEE Pikachu scowl when you lose your ball. Groudon looks even better on his stage than he ever did in RS. The egg hatched Pokemon are tiny, but chock full of detail. The opening demo is the best I’ve EVER seen Pokemon characters look outside the cartoon.


As for the board themselves look fantastic. Pokemon Pinball is easily the best looking Pinball game out for the system right now.

What’s also nice is how much detail was put into this game. Not a jag in sight. The game is crisp and smooth with bright shiny colours everywhere. It’s a lot of fun to watch as well as play.

Sound

PIIIIIIIKA! And the ball goes flying after a thundershock attack. Pikachu has once again prevented you from losing your ball. And it IS the voice actress who plays Pikachu in the cartoon. And when Pichu comes to help out,AWWWW. Baby PIKACHU! (Insert Man with a bass 2 voice squealing like a 13 year old girl here.)

Such an incredible game people. The sound is what really blows my mind. Each step that Groundon takes. Each shuffle of Kecleon’s feet or Seedot that falls onto the board; they’re all there with perfect clarity. And the music? Ripped straight from the GS games, the music is a perfect companion to the gameplay. The 34 tunes are not b distracting, but it gets you in the perfect Pika-catching mood.

Yes. Let me repeat that. THIRTY-FOUR TUNES. On one teeny weeny little cart. It’s a joy to see such care put into the compositions for songs that are supposedly to be mere background noise. Filler for the ears. When you think about Pinball, one rarely stops and considers the music. But with this game it is so. The music is an essential part of the game and keeps the blood flowing while you wait for the ball to dislodge from bumper hell.

FUN FACTOR
Okay. It’s me. And Pokemon. So there’s gonna be to be a f*ckload of bias here. I freaked for three minutes when Pikachu “Gave birth’ to a Pichu. I coo at the eggs hatching. I get intense over beating up the Legendary Pokemon. I whistle the music while playing. I do my damndest to get to the Safari Zone as it has not only my beloved Pikachu, but also the super cool Girafarig. I get into this game. I am happy and bubbly while playing this game. It’s the best Pokemon game since Hey You Pikachu! Oh god,don’t get me started on that. Seriously don’t. It’s like sweet delicious Heroin wrapped in a coating of Methadone.

But for none pokeaddicts, Pokemon pinball is a lot of fun. Even people who don’t like Pokemon love this game. If you’re looking for a pinball game, this is the one you must have. If you’re looking for a mindless diversion,get this game. If you’re looking for something cute and shiny,get this game. If you want something that’s going to provide countless hours of replay value: Get this game.

Pokemon Pinball has something for everyone. It’s fun for just one game, or a whole Pokemon catching marathon. It’s a great relaxant and ever so adorable.

I know a lot of people automatically see the cuteness inherent in Pokemon and so “Kiddee Game.’ But that’s crap. Cute does not automatically = for kids. Jack Frost from Shin Megami is proof of that. As is LoZ:Wind Waker. And Kirby? Hello? Kirby is NOT for kids. And neither is Pokemon. I think it’s more than would be beer bellied minimum wage working adults are scared of loosing what little false machismo they have to a seven year old and his Tyranitar then it is about Pokemon being kiddee.

Ratings
Gameplay: 9.0
Graphics: 10.0
Sound: 10.0
Fun Factor: 8.0 (10.0 If you’re a Pokemon Addict or just Alexander Lucard)

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s 30$. 40 hours of fun. It’s an RPG and a pinball game wrapped into one. Listen to these words people: It’s a sequel that surpasses the original in every way. And not just because it’s a next gen game. Because they took the time to fix the little mistakes in the original, yet stay true to not only the original concept but the greatness that is Pokemon to begin with. Pokemon may look adorable, but with the ability to always do something new with the title characters, this series is going to continue to remain fresh, innovative, and original long after other series have gone the route of Army Men and Tomb Raider.

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