The 1999 Game Boy Color release of Pokémon Pinball was a gem of a handheld game. It featured two fun video pinball tables, some bonus games, and the same overall goal as most games in the Pokémon universe: catch 'em all. Now, Nintendo is updating the game for the Game Boy Advance and basing it on the more recent GBA installments in the series, Ruby and Sapphire. While the game is still charming and fun, it's practically identical to the first game, and on top of that, it's even easier than the original, making it more of a time-consumer than an actual challenge.
At the outset, you can choose from two tables, one based on Pokémon Ruby and one on based on Pokémon Sapphire. Like the GBA games they're based on, each table has a different collection of Pokémon to catch. In all, the game contains 200 of the cute little buggers, including well-known favorites Pikachu and Pichu. The game even has a Pokédex section so you can get some basic stats on the monsters you've captured.
While both tables are different, they both have the same basic layout. Catching Pokémon is as simple as shooting the right loop a few times to enable the mode, hitting the target that starts the mode, hitting the bumpers three times to reveal the Pokémon you're catching, and then hitting the Pokémon three times to capture it. Evolving your Pokémon into higher forms follows a similar formula. Beyond that, there are little bonus games that take you off the main playfield to fight against larger monsters, the ability to hatch and catch baby Pokémon from eggs, and a slot machine that hands out helpful bonuses like ball savers and multipliers.
While younger or less-experienced players might not notice right away, Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire is almost painfully simple. The tables have only a few basic shots to make, and the modes are easy to hit on command. Even a few small additions, like a skill shot or a table design that strays from the typical ramp/loop layout would have made all the difference in the world here. Instead, you can expect to be playing like a pro almost immediately. The game is very generous with ball saves, and the ability to nudge the table is defined enough that you can reliably rescue balls that fall down an out lane by lifting one flipper and popping the ball back up into play. Luckily, the game lets you save your progress at any time and return later. Otherwise, you could expect to spend hours simply trying to complete one game. The game hands out points at a pretty rapid pace, putting it in line with most modern pinball machines. Expect scores approaching the 1 billion mark once you become familiar with the tables' targets.
Graphically, Pokémon Pinball for the GBA does a pretty good job. While the original featured a flat, 2D table design, the new game draws more realistic-looking ramps and prettier table scenery. The Pokémon still look a little weird when they're standing or running around on the table, but it's not all that noticeable. In the sound department, the game does just fine, with appropriately upbeat music. However, it would have been nice if the actual digitized Pokémon battle cries from the TV show had been included for when the Pokémon reveal themselves. Instead, you get some electronic noise that resembles a shriek. The only digitized audio you come across is from Pikachu and Pichu, who serve as ball savers in the out lanes of both tables.
Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire is fun, but it's way too easy to hold your attention for terribly long. While extreme Pokémon fans will likely get caught up in catching or evolving all 200 Pokémon, that's a task that becomes tedious rather quickly. Serious fans of video pinball won't find much to keep them busy here.