Both Boxes

It's almost taken for granted that Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire will perform well on 3DS (and 2DS) over the Holiday season. It's the safest bet for Nintendo since Pokémon X & Y jumped into a bold new 3D engine and became the biggest-selling of all 3DS games; even accounting for the fact the franchise cheats with two SKUs each time around, it's still a reliable behemoth.

In a sense Nintendo's only just clocked this; we observed with irritation — especially in UK malls etc — that X & Y were heavily advertised in 2013 while adverts for Wii U and Super Mario 3D World were relatively scarce. It seemed a little like backing a guaranteed winner rather than pushing the struggling Wii U, as the main entries in the Pokémon series always storm the charts and shift millions of copies. With Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire there's still been an effort to build awareness, but more marketing dollars, pounds and euros appear to have gone into Wii U, amiibo and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U this year — these are the products that absolutely need to be promoted and sold in big numbers; Pokémon can practically sell itself.

What is it, in an era of ever-competitive rival platforms and smart devices, that helps Pokémon succeed? That's a topic that could go on forever, but at its core appears to be a mix of tapping into the collecting urges of young gamers, particularly, but including enough depth and history to rope in long-term fans and older gamers. As those who frequent our forums regularly may know, this writer confessed last year that he doesn't play Pokémon games, an admission that amazingly hasn't yet prompted the sack. Yet the scribe of these words didn't get into the games in the '90s, and is too old, bewildered and busy to figure out how it all works now. Yet that's the genius of the Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire remakes / remasters / whatever you want to call them — they fulfil the desires of two huge demographics. Millions of older consumers that adored the originals and younger gamers too; the modern touches and natural charm that helped X & Y to continue the series' run of routinely shifting over 10 million copies keep the train moving.

ORAS Hypthesis

Despite its humorously over-the-top name, it's here that Satoru Iwata's same-generation hypothesis makes a great deal of sense. The reasoning is relatively simple, explained below, and helps to explain why ORAS (we'll use the abbreviation for convenience) is largely matching or beating pre-order levels for X & Y — the upcoming releases are actually way ahead in Europe. In logic that's also attributed to Super Smash Bros., it's all about hitting an audience that grew up with classics and now has the earning power and disposable income to relive those memories.

Those who were elementary school students when “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” and “Pokémon Ruby” and “Pokémon Sapphire” were released have grown up and they are now 18 to 25 years old. Our research in each part of the world commonly indicates that consumers between the age of 18 and 25 represent a large percentage of those who purchased “Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS” in the release period. It is approximately 30 percent in Japan, which is twice the overall average of Nintendo 3DS software, and has even reached 50 percent in the U.S. and Europe. This great momentum for the game in the initial stage was supported by this generation.

Thanks to “Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS,” consumers of this generation pay more attention to Nintendo 3DS and are likely to remember enjoying “Pokémon Ruby” and “Pokémon Sapphire.” We think this is why the pre-orders for “Pokémon Omega Ruby” and “Pokémon Alpha Sapphire” have been strong. They are now old enough to pay for their own expenses. They can afford to buy Nintendo 3DS to enjoy both “Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS” and “Pokémon Omega Ruby” and “Pokémon Alpha Sapphire” if they choose, and they might encourage their friends to play it with them too. We therefore see it important to stimulate their latent demand in the year-end sales season.

Taking into account both the trend of pre-orders and the same-generation hypothesis, we anticipate that “Pokémon Omega Ruby” and “Pokémon Alpha Sapphire” to be released next month will have more sales potential than just another remade game in the industry.

This theory certainly seems more applicable to ORAS. It perhaps also explains why calls for current-day re-releases of older Pokémon games from the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color era fall on deaf ears — those older titles were enjoyed by a group that are now that bit older and likely juggling — in many cases — careers and families. It's tempting to look at the compelling argument made by Iwata-san and acknowledge that — as is often the case despite fans sometimes believing otherwise — Nintendo has a cohesive plan to ensure success.

The 2DS is a perfect fit for Pokémon and the younger generation
The 2DS is a perfect fit for Pokémon and the younger generation

After playing our share of relatively minor upgrades in remasters over the past year — PS4 owners know what we're talking about — it's also worth acknowledging that Game Freak had a lot of work to do with ORAS; we're looking at remakes of original games with 2D pixel-based visuals and link cable connectivity in their Game Boy Advance guises. In one respect the task has been simplified by the option to simply utilise the tools and features included in X & Y, yet on the other hand the Hoenn environment, new 'mon and features to represent equivalents on the GBA have been developed. It's all about adding more depth — not just literally with autostereoscopic 3D in battles — that wasn't possible before, as ORAS director Shigeru Ohmori explained to GamesTM magazine.

When I started at Game Freak, Ruby and Sapphire were my first project, so obviously there are a lot of ideas I had at the time that didn't get into the final game — a lot of things for the story, for example, that I hoped to explore more in depth. Finally taking all those ideas, I get the chance to implement them and to go more in depth on them, 12 years after it began.

While the similarities to X & Y will be obvious, for those with golden memories of the originals ORAS should feel both nostalgic and fresh. It's not an unfamiliar approach for Nintendo, with an example being The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds — though not a remake it tickled nostalgia with a faithful recreation of the Hyrule seen in A Link to the Past. The difference in these Pokémon games won't be as pronounced, perhaps, but the promise of all new scenarios and story elements, along with all those modern touches, takes them well beyond the 'upscale and push it out of the door' approach.

Overall, with the integration of X & Y in the new games as another feature, it seems that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are destined to push the buttons of nostalgic fans and recent Pokémon converts alike. Whether their sales match X & Y will be interesting to see, though it seems a safe bet to be one of the biggest success stories on 3DS.

We shall see, but Nintendo's rich history — particularly with Game Freak and Pokémon — suggests that a yearly cycle of releases isn't off the cards. With the continuing success of the series there'll be an applicable 'same-generation hypothesis' for a good few years yet.