Growing up, it’s hard to have not heard of Pokemon. Whether you watched the cartoon, traded the Tazos at school or actually played the game, Pokemon has proven to be a heavyweight game series. Not much has changed, and if you’ve arrived looking for a fresh new Pokemon experience, then you’ve come to the wrong franchise. And I’m down with that.
There aren’t that many games out there that can get away with repeating the exact same gameplay formula year after year, but Pokémon is one of those few games out there that can.
It’s the same old setup. You’re a young boy/girl, who gets tasked by your regional professor to grab a pokedex, a starter pokémon and to get outside and catch ‘em all. You’ll still be encountering wild pokémon, you’ll still beat them to within an inch of their life and you’ll still throw your balls at them until they’re captured. Pokemon can only have four moves, they’ll still evolve under certain conditions and there’s a Pokemon champ waiting to be beaten once you clear the eight gym leaders and the Elite Four of the Kalos region.
That’s always been the key ingredient in creating a great Pokémon game, as a world awaits you that can only be conquered by capturing, training and learning.
The adaptive EXP system has stuck around for this latest iteration, rewarding players for not only soundly defeating wild pokémon, but for capturing them as well. And after years of risking it all in order to get that rare and elusive Pokémon to just the right amount of health so that you can grab it, it’s a welcome change.
Evolution gets a big new addition in X and Y, with the introduction of mega-evolutions. Adding a new tier to the current limit that fully-evolved pokémon have, it allows players to unlock new forms and abilities for their battle monsters.
Mega-Evolution gives pokémon a massive stat boost, while also mixing up several types and powers. The catch here is that only certain pokémon are capable of going over 9000, provided that players have the right stone equipped to that pokémon and the mega-evolution bracelet. Those items get picked up around the halfway mark in the game.
A new Pokémon type has also made a debut in this iteration, the first such debut since Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced Dark and Steel attributes to the franchise. The Fairy type helps bring dragons under control, as they’re immune to attacks from that type. There’s plenty of them to be found as well, as several pokémon have been given the Fairy-type classification as a secondary attribute.
One aspect of Pokémon that is missing though, is a decent story. Pokémon Black and White managed to craft a compelling tale back in 2011, but X and Y largely does away with this, offering a mere hint at a tale that gets briefly told near the end of the game, then quickly wrapped up and left to be forgotten about.
It’s a golden opportunity that is completely glossed over, as players have to instead deal with an annoying quartet of friends who would make even the most devout Buddhist question his no-kill policy. By then 20th time that your mates refer to you by your badly chosen nickname, you’ll want to introduce Tierno to the business end of your feet so that you can get him to shut up about assembling a dancing pokémon crew.
At least this year, your rival is less annoying, but only slightly, ambushing you at several locations for an impromptu battle. Still, this is a part of Pokémon, and not having a rival would be unheard of in this franchise.
But the biggest change in the game, has to be the visuals. I’m a keen advocate of gameplay over graphics, but in Pokémon X and Y, it’s about damned time. After years of sticking to sprites and low-res visuals, going for broke with three dimensions has made one hell of a difference.
Battles look fantastic, dynamic and feel unique. There are hundreds of animations, with various pokémon popping out thanks to the 3DS tech powering the game. It’s beautiful, but not without a few catches. Turning on the 3D option can lower the frame rate considerably, and bring gameplay to a standstill during some of the more animated attacks.
But other than that, the game looks fantastic. Most of the time, the world is rendered in 2D, with select areas offering a 3D perspective. But the Kalos region looks fantastic. Grass rustles, the wind blows over the waters and characters look great. The signature artistic style of Pokémon has been retained, and while I’ll always miss hand-drawn sprites, GameFreak has done a helluva job in making hundreds of various pokémon look unique and charming.
Players can now also hit the streets in up to eight directions, giving the franchise that little nudge that its been needing to feel like a current-gen title. Beyond that, there’s a new side to trading and battling random persons to discover, while winder-trading proves that jackasses are everywhere. Honestly, I trade a Gengar and get a Bidoof in return? Geddafugouttahere!
But with the formula intact and new visuals making this sixth generation of Pokémon stand out, it succeeds in creating a richer universe for people to battle and trade with each other. By standing firm with its age-old model of gameplay, X and Y runs the risk of becoming stale, but it somehow manages to evolve that. Just battling your way up to the Pokémon League is an easy 2-25 hour journey, and every hour feels well spent along the way.
Thanks to some proper use of the second screen, raising pokémon is now also a more intricate affair. The biggest change, that is certain to piss off the community of EV Points enthusiasts who math the hell out of evolving their pokémon to have the best possible stats, is the Super Training simulator. While its not necessary for players to make use of it, playing several of the mini-games inside of it will allow them to bypass the rigorous training needed to get those maximum values, and join those elite ranks of players.
Pokémon-Amie gives players a virtual pet, whether it be an Eevee that you just captured, or a god of space and time such as a Giratina that you just imported. You’ll need to invest time and effort into this system, if you’re looking to evolve certain pokémon such as Sylveon and Crobat.
Pokémon X and Y is the same old Pokémon game in a flashy new wrapper, throwing in several new creatures and features. And really, that ain’t so bad at all.