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Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Nintendo
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Pinball
ESRB:  Everyone
Accessories:  Game Boy Player (Rumble), GBA Link Cable
Date Posted:  8-23-03

Following in the footsteps of this year’s successful release of Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire comes Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire.  If this pattern seems familiar to you, it should.  That’s because Nintendo did the exact same thing with the first two Pokémon releases on Game Boy Color, as the original Pokémon Pinball followed the release of Pokémon Red/Blue.  Thus longtime Pokémon fans can expect a sense of déjŕ vu when playing Nintendo’s latest Poké-title, although that’s not a bad thing at all.

Much like Pokémon Pinball, this game basically takes the “catch ‘em all” premise of the regular series and translates it into pinball form.  There are two boards to choose from (Ruby & Sapphire), each with it’s own layout and game-specific obstacles.  Common elements for each board include paths for Hatch, Evo, Bumper, Mart, Catch, and Get.  The Catch path activates “Catch ‘em Mode”; once two arrows are lit on the path shooting the ball inside Sharpedo (Ruby) or Wailmer (Sapphire) will activate it.  This causes the center panel to display a silhouette of a different Pokémon depending on the location currently selected and number of arrows lit.  Hitting the bumpers three times will then cause the Pokémon to appear, and then hitting it three times catches it.  The catch (get it?) is that the player only has two minutes to do this entire process once Catch ‘em Mode is activated.  The location is determined by a set path of switching locations, and can be switched by hitting the appropriate switch/Pokémon sequence.

The other major way of catching Pokémon is to activate Egg Mode, which is accessed through the Hatch path.  Once an egg has been hatched, hitting that Pokémon two times with the Pokéball will catch it.  Lighting up all three Evolution Arrows, then shooting the ball inside the appropriate location, activates Evo mode.  This will bring up a separate screen to choose which Pokémon to evolve.  Once it’s picked, the player then has to snag three separate Evolution items within a two-minute time limit to successfully complete the evolution.  Finally, the Mart allows the player to purchase a variety of items with coins acquired throughout the regular game.

As far as the actual pinball action is concerned, Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire is rather tame.  Having a wide variety of stuff to aim for does make strategic play and good aim important, and there are ball upgrades and bonus multipliers to generate the sky-high scores all pinball fans crave.  However, since the game is aimed more at Pokémon fans than pinball fans the action is tame in comparison to other pinball titles.  The ball feels slower (even on normal) and frequent saves by Pikachu and Latios/Latias when Ball Saver is activated make the game a bit too easy.  Additionally the lack of a multi-ball mode will surely disappoint many pinball fans; I know that personally I’ve always found those moments spent trying to juggle multiple balls at once to be among the most enjoyable moments in any pinball game.

Several things do extend the life of the game however.  First, there are a few bonus fields to uncover…each with it’s own specific goal.  These are fun, and require a good bit of skill to successfully complete.  Secondly, high scores and Pokédexes can be exchanged with a friend through the GBA Link cable.  Exchanging data can cause the Pokémon one player is missing that another has to show up more frequently in gameplay, thus making this a worthwhile endeavor.  Some form of multiplayer would’ve been nice, but it’s really not missed in this game that much.  Finally, if played on a Game Boy Player with a GameCube controller the game supports a very nice rumble feature.  It’s not as nice as having a rumble pack in the actual cartridge like in the original (no rumble support when played on a regular GBA or using a GBA as a controller), but at least Nintendo provided a form of rumble support in the game.

Pinball games are rarely graphical showcases, and that’s the case here as well.  Much like the game it’s based on, this game’s graphics can also best be described as pleasant.  Not overwhelming, but nice to look at all the same.  It’s obvious they developed the title with Game Boy Player support in mind as well, since it looks just as solid on TV as it does on GBA without any of the weird glitches found in earlier GBA titles.  Sound fares in much the same manner, with plenty of Pokémon sounds and various pinball effects thrown in.  The breezy music on each main board is decent, but after extended play (which happens frequently given how easy the game is) becomes repetitive and annoying.

Highs:

  • The catch ‘em all philosophy of the series translates well into pinball form.
  • Plenty of replay value and other extras with over 200 critters to catch, data exchange, and rumble support via Game Boy Player.
  • Pleasant graphics that also translate well to the big (TV) screen.
  • If you’re in love with the franchise, you’ll like this game.

Lows:

  • Much like Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire, Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire isn’t much of an upgrade over the original.
  • The music during regular gameplay gets annoying pretty quickly.
  • If you’re not much of a Pokémon fan, there are better portable pinball titles available.

Final Verdict:

Strictly as a pinball title, Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire is unremarkable.  Having only two boards is a shame, even with the several bonus boards available.  How about one board per travel area per game color instead of an unnecessary travel mode?  It’s also too easy for most pinball pros.  Overall there are several better “pinball” games already out for the GBA, including Pinball of the Dead and Sonic Pinball Party.

Of course, a game such as this isn’t really aimed at hardcore fans of the genre in the first place; it’s aimed at Pokémon fans.  As a Pokémon title, this game definitely gets the job done.  It’s full of that Pokémon charm, the replay value is through the roof with over 200 to catch and bonus boards, and the whole concept of catching ‘em all translates well into pinball form.

In short, if you’re a Pokémon fan who’s worn out their copy of Ruby and/or Sapphire, go ahead and splurge on another excellent Pokémon title.

Overall Score: 8.0

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