Unless you’re bold as brass, just ask Santa for a trumpet instead

Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald (2003 / 2005)

There were quite a lot of things I didn’t do in 2020, and losing weight was probably one of them, though I hate to say it. One thing I managed to avoid for the whole year, by virtue of not getting to go on any holidays, is that I never set foot in any swimming pools. I do quite literally mean setting foot, as in dipping my toes into the pool.

I could never properly dive into one, because even at the age of 30 I still haven’t learned to swim. Am I embarrassed? Certainly not – as long as my killer summer bod looks good, who cares where the strumpets get to observe it?

God, but I wonder if I’ll ever manage to become a slippery old eel, like I’d always promised. Or failing that, a tortoise who just lolls around the water very much at his own pace, and only ever in sunkissed conditions. I’m just too much of a fraidy-cat to let myself float and let the water surround me.

Actually, I’m doing a disservice to cats there – they may not like it much, but those little furballs can definitely swim, or paddle to safety. Now of course, I’ll conveniently blame my parents for never bringing us to swimming lessons when we were kids. Nowadays, to my horror, they apparently bring school PE classes to the pool and force you in.

Can you imagine that? I used to say I forgot my gear for PE every week, just to get out of it. But that excuse wouldn’t wash at the pool – can’t forget to take your clothes off and leave your undercacks on, can you? I would have had to flee the country every week, just to avoid the water.

You should keep that in mind – if you’re ever gonna fall in the water and begin to drown, then let’s do both of us a favour, and don’t do it if I’m the only one around. If you do, then I’ll be forced into doing that thing I always did whenever I’d close the presses and cupboards at home and I’d hear something falling behind them – instead of fixing it, I’d pretend I heard and saw nowt, and walk away whistling. Didn’t we all do that?

No, the water tends to be mighty cold, which is a pain. It gets you all wet, which is annoying. And it’s full of death, dangers and killer creatures, which is also a bark. That’s why I have absolutely no compunction about keeping my old booties on dry land.

You know how they often say, if God wanted man to fly, He’d have given them wings? Well, if my deity of choice, Rick Astley, had wanted me to swim, then he would have bloody well given me gills, and given me up while he was at it. No, water may mean life and all that other hippy stuff, but I say it’s one liquidy carpet that you want to avoid.

Nobody told the designers of Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald this of course, the third Generation of Pokémon which has become infamous for just how much water you have to traverse, in your quest to be a Pokémon master. These games are how the series announced itself for the Game Boy Advance with trumpet blasts.

No, really, the games soundtrack has become iconic, or I suppose infamous, for its liberal use of trumpets. I sympathise with the composers on this one of course, the Game Boy Advance’s sound capabilities were about as strong as this old pen I used to have that allowed you to record sound for a few seconds, and immediately play it back. I couldn’t wait to bring that pen to school – and given it was a primary school, obviously most recorded messages involved big willies.

That recording pen was so chunky that when my teacher caught sight of it, he stopped in his tracks, furrowed his Kerryman brow and proclaimed it to be a telegraph pole. Is that a rustic reference or what? Anyway, it was a miraculous sound quality for a pen. But when the same tinny sound of non-instruments comes out of your state-of-the-art GBA, its a lot more disappointing.

I wasn’t at all enthused by the idea of Ruby and Sapphire when they first came along. To be quite honest, and this is perfectly typical of teenage angst and self-consciousness, Pokémon had lost popularity among our age group. Of course, the hardcore were still playing it, and I eventually played it to death myself. But at that age I still wasn’t buying games with my own money.

That would have meant getting my parents to buy one of the games for me, or more accurately asking Father Christmas to deliver (I’d still believe in him for as long as it suited me). And a request like that, when I should have been noticing girls instead… I’m sure my mother, or Father Chrimbo would have done it, and probably not even asked any questions. But like I say, teenage angst and inhibition are powerful beyond comprehension.

Me skipping out on the third Generatin of Pokémon also meant that I missed out on several hundred episodes of the Advance Generations Pokémon anime. Can you imagine how much nuance I never got to absorb? Ash still didn’t get the win, of course. But I wasn’t to know that, was I?

Also, and this is as Genwunner as it gets, but it appeared from early gameplay and previews that the majority of Pokémon you’d encounter on this third Generation journey would be brand new – not many Pidgeys, Ratattas or little Digletts knocking about. Nowadays, Pokémon gets heavily criticised for an over-reliance on its early designs. Although given the size of its fanbase, let’s be real: Pokémon gets criticised for every single thing it does, up to and including the decision of whether or not to give big books to James from Team Rocket.

Still, I can remember being distinctly unimpressed when it became clear to me that really, we were just getting “equivalent” designs in Pokémon RSE. That Wurmple thing sure is ugly – why not bring in Caterpie and Weedle instead? Taillow, why would I want that, when I can have Pidgey? Salamence? It looks alright, but it’s not going to beat Dragonite, is it? And so on and so forth until you reach 386 Pokémon in the Pokédex.

Then there was the absence of certain features, the standouts for me being both the day of the week and the day-night cycle. These two were a big part of what made Pokémon Gold and Silver such incredible adventures, I feel, and both on the humble Game Boy Color cartridge.

No way were you gonna get previous regions and 16 Gym Badges in the GBA games. In actual fact, the Pokémon creators speculated that there wouldn’t be any more Pokémon games after the second Generation, as they weren’t sure how they could top Gold, Silver and Crystal.

That aged well, didn’t it? As if the Sensible Suits would leave all that money on the table. Even something like the fonts in Ruby and Sapphire look very unappealing, before they mercifully got fixed in Emerald. I know it doesn’t get any more minor than that, but that kind of thing nags away at you.

I initially avoided these games on purpose, and felt that they’d be the turning point for the series. I thought it was about to take a swim way downhill, faster than Homer Simpson in the water slide before he gets stuck. Taken against five later Generations of Pokémon though, this is one of the high points – so long as you overlook some of the rubbish designs like your Nosepasses, your Spindas, your Luvdiscs.

As time has passed, Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald have become better with age and they deserve a re-appraisal. I particularly enjoyed the 3DS remakes of the games, with the sheer amount of Pokémon you could catch, and how you could systemically clean out each of the game’s Route, not to mention its nifty Pokédex system.

I never felt either the originals or the remakes had an overabundance of water by the way, that one definitely gets overplayed, including an infamous IGN review of the 3DS versions. The trumpets still blare away on both versions, of course, but we’ll let them. Just dont let the water get into them, eh?

26 January 2021

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