Nintendo's extremely popular Pokémon franchise gained much of its popularity early on through a pair of unique role-playing games for the Game Boy Color. Though numerous other Pokémon games have been released over the years, the forthcoming Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire for the Game Boy Advance are in many ways the true successors to the original Game Boy Color titles. Featuring a brand-new look, numerous gameplay enhancements, and the same addictive style as their predecessors, these new Pokémon games are looking as though they could be just as big a deal for the Game Boy Advance as Pokémons Red and Blue were for the Game Boy Color.
Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire are basically similar, and aside from having different title screens, they start out, look, sound, and play exactly the same. Both games revolve around your character, a young boy or a young girl (your choice) who is aspiring to become the number-one Pokémon trainer in the land, using the cute little Pokémon critters as his or her fighting force. It's always been an unusual concept, on the one hand offering up a combat system as complex as that of any role-playing game, and on the other offering up a huge number of cute, collectible critters for you to find, fight, capture, and train. About half the Pokémon in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are entirely new, while the other half will be instantly recognizable to fans of the series.
Some of the new Pokémon include Torchic, a little red bird with a lick of flame for its hair; Mudkip, an aquatic Pokémon who shoots water; and Zigzagoon, a raccoon with zigzag-shaped fur. These and all the other Pokémon in the game come with surprisingly extensive profile data, and the new Pokémon fit in very well with the returning cast. These new GBA games are clearly intended to highlight the Pokémon critters more than ever, as now you can even enter your finest, best-mannered Pokémon in best-in-show contests.
You can also engage in tag-team battles now. Previous Pokémon games allowed just two Pokémon to slug it out at a time, so having four fighting simultaneously opens up a lot of new possibilities. In tag-team battles, having one of your critters use its debilitating, status-affecting powers while the other dishes out damage becomes a very viable tactic. Previously, Pokémon with status-changing powers often tended to be less useful, since they'd waste their turns on lowering enemies' defenses and such, when they could have just been beating up on their foes. The tag-team battles definitely seem like a good, new addition to the series.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire feature bright colors and carefully drawn Pokémon characters, and they look really good on the little GBA screen. Each critter also makes its own distinctive noise, and the games' upbeat musical scores help maintain the lighthearted mood.
The Pokémon series is most popular among younger audiences, but Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are legitimate role-playing games with a lot to them. They're of course going to appeal to the legions of Pokémon fans when they're released later this month, but any Game Boy Advance owner looking for a solid RPG really ought to keep an eye out for them. Stay tuned for our full reviews of Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire around the time of their release.