Pokemon Alpha Sapphire proves, again, that remakes can sometimes be better than the originals.

User Rating: 8 | Pokemon Alpha Sapphire 3DS

I bought this game on May 15th 2015 (11:13).

The scenery of the game is rich, the adorable characters are even more adorable and there’s more to many of the cities than there was before. I walked into Mauville City for the first time while playing Alpha and didn’t even recognize it. In the original games it was comparatively small and boasted only the bike shop and the Game Corner, but now it’s like a smaller Lumiose City from X and Y: full of little shops and tons of NPCs to chat with. I actually got lost in Mauville City more than once, and had a lot of fun rediscovering something I thought I knew well.

Alpha also bear some resemblance to X and Y in that certain app-like features — Pokémon Amie, Super Training, the Player Search System — have all been integrated as part of the PokéNav Plus. The interface is overcrowded as a result and really cumbersome, but the online apps are welcome additions (especially Wonder Trade) It’s the new Pokémon search app, the DexNav, that is perhaps the most interesting addition for Poképhiles. Every so often, a wild Pokémon will peek its ears or tail out of the tall grass (or sand or water), and DexNav will alert you to things like the Pokémon’s level, ability, and even rare moves it might have. I found two Poochyena this way: a female with Ice Fang and a male with Poison Fang, two “egg moves” that you can usually only get by carefully breeding. Easy-access breeding material! The app has the potential to help EV trainers as well, since you can see what Pokémon you’ll face before you battle it, and in that regard it provides another alternative to Super Training aside from traditional, less-accessible methods.

There’s also an updated Berry map, first introduced in Gen IV, which is a serious help to anyone who needs Berries for competitive battle... or even Pokéblocks! Remember Pokéblocks? They help your Pokémon up their beauty or cuteness or what have you for Contests, which are of course a part of Alpha. These Pokémon talent shows have a Japanese pop-idol feel this time, which makes it all seem more modern and updated. Playing as the female trainer, I was literally and figuratively taken under the wing of number-one Contest star Lisia and her Altaria, Ali. Lisia is absolutely adorable, but the best part of Contests for me is undoubtedly the Cosplay Pikachu you receive after winning your first one. Change Pikachu’s outfit according to the five Contest attributes and Pikachu gets a different move!

Really, all the tweaks of original Hoenn features are improvements. Unfortunately, there are still a few big flaws that weren’t addressed, and they’re even more noticeable in light of more recent Pokémon RPGs. My least favorite part of every Pokémon game is the unnecessary inclusion of too many hidden moves, commonly referred to as HMs (Hidden Machines), which you must teach to your Pokémon in order to progress through the region and aren’t so easily unlearned. Anything more than Surf and Fly is too much, as far as I’m concerned, and Hoenn is one of the worst HM offenders. Alpha dropped Flash for a total of seven HMs this time around — and in the late-game you can summon Latias or Latios to fly you places, which means you won’t need a Pokémon in your team with Fly — but compared to X and Y’s five HMs, it’s obvious why the decision was made to pare them back in subsequent games.

Secret Power factors into this too. It isn’t an HM, but it is another move that interacts with the overworld and is necessary for building Super Secret Bases. Maybe I’m just stingy with what moves I teach my Pokémon, but I wish I didn’t need a move at all to check out potential bases during my travels. That aside, having a home base I could decorate in 3D was a lot of fun, and sharing via StreetPass or setting it up for other players to fight through as a mini-Gym are both neat touches.

It’s not a new complaint, but Hoenn is still imbalanced type-wise, heavily favoring water. It’s especially noticeable in Alpha Sapphire, in which Team Aqua (the villains of the piece) use a lot of water types. It feels like there are water Pokémon in nearly every battle, and I have an overleveled Pikachu to show for it. You also have to navigate many bodies of water, since much of the late-game involves the HMs Surf and Dive to get from place to place. Diving was really neat back in 2002 when it was new, but I found it incredibly tedious in Alpha— an obvious example of how superfluous some HMs are.

The water itself is absolutely gorgeous with the new graphics and details, though. One of my favorite parts of the entire adventure was splashing through puddles that reflected the starry skies at night, and even diving was made better by seeing a school of Luvdisc swimming by. Building my Super Secret Base on the rainy Route 119 had an extra-comfy, drinking-tea-on-a-rainy-day feel. Everything in Hoenn, water or not, is either delightfully cute or strikingly beautiful, and I enjoyed seeing the entire region anew — despite the tediousness associated with navigating all that pretty water.

As a 3D remake, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire does a fantastic job of reintroducing Hoenn. Little details, like characters turning their heads to look as you pass or flocks of Wingulls flying overhead, make the region really come to life, and small updates and tweaks help make the journey smoother. Still, a few of its flaws are even more glaring in 3D, especially the excess water Pokémon and often dull navigation of their habitats. The added online features could help mitigate some of the type imbalances and there are even a few post-game surprises to encourage you to keep training well beyond the 25-hour main story.