Love it or loathe it, Pokémon has been a constant in pop culture for nearly twenty years. Spanning trading cards, television shows, toys, and video games on nearly every Nintendo console since the Game Boy, chances are there isn't a person alive that hasn't heard of the Pokemanz. While the formula for the hit handheld games hasn't seen many changes over the years, the debut of the first Nintendo 3DS Pokémon adventures, X and Y, has flipped the series on its head for the foreseeable future.
As you start a new game, it is clear that a lot of care has gone into every alteration developer Game Freak has made to the franchise. During the standard introduction sequence, choosing a name and gender is no longer the sole customization option that sets you apart from other trainers. Now players may choose from one of three appearances for both male and female characters, and by visiting different shops across the all-new Kalos region, gamers can buy additional clothing (hats, jackets, pants, etc.). These customization options were immediately appealing, making me feel like more of an individual than just one more in a crowd of identical faces.
A whole new world...
A more notable change, Game Freak shifts the series from a top-down perspective to a full three-dimensional world, with even more dynamic angles than last year’s Black/White 2, making X and Y the most cinematic and visually stunning Pokémon games to date. Visual overhauls don’t stop there. Battles also include separate camera angles, as the perspective highlights improved weather effects, idle animations, and attacks. The only downside is the 3D-less overworld. Encounters with trainers and wild Pokémon showcase 3D capabilities, but adventuring through Kalos is a purely two-dimensional experience; the 3DS' 3D functionality is nearly nonexistent here. While it would seem this was done with worries of impairing younger children’s eyesight, the partial inclusion of it raises more questions than outright exclusion would.
Battle-wise, Mega Evolutions make their first appearance. Evolution of Pokémon has always been a staple in the series, but with the combination of a Mega Ring and a Mega Stone, Pokémon can access a new form of evolution that lasts for one battle. These evolutions typically give a Pokémon a new passive ability and type altogether, such as Pinsir changing from pure Bug type to Bug/Flying type.
Mega Charizard, even more intimidating than ever.
Pokémon X and Y include a few new features playable via the touch screen, too, like the updated Player Search System, Super Training, and the aptly named Pokémon-Amie. Pokémon-Amie lets trainers boost their friendship with Pokémon by playing minigames, feeding them treats called Poké Puffs, and petting them. The minigames, meanwhile, include Tile Puzzle, where players attempt to unscramble a picture; Head It, in which Pokémon must juggle falling balls of yarn by headbutting them; and Berry Picker, where your Pokémon requires you to feed it a handful of berry types before it gets upset and leaves. By completing these games, Poké Puffs can be restocked. Pokémon-Amie is a great addition, as it provides a way to more easily raise your party's friendship, a necessity when trying to evolve certain Pokémon.
Super Training, however, is an outlet for upping your party's base stats when outside of battle through special training regimens, and the Player Search System, or PPS for short, revolutionizes the series' online experience. In previous iterations, players were required to travel to the nearest Pokémon Center and enter specific rooms to connect with other people around the world. But with the refined Player Search System, connecting, battling, and trading with trainers can now be done from anywhere in-game with a few presses of a button. Along with the ability to play against friends, new features known as Battle Spot and Wonder Trade have simplified battling and trading when friends aren't available. Battle Spot instantly connects you with players looking for a fight, and Wonder Trade allows you to offer up a Pokémon for trade with a random trainer. The most interesting part of this feature, neither player knows what the other has offered up until the trade happens, adding a supplemental thrill when you receive a Pokémon not yet registered in your Pokédex.
Pokémon X and Y allow you to select a Generation I starter, besides Froakie, Fennekin, or Chespin.
The Pokémon series has always been held in high regard, but I can't help but notice a couple problems with X and Y. While these games are made predominantly for children, the story has always been and is still that of a young child leaving home on a quest to fill the Pokédex and become the Pokémon League Champion. After Black/White 2 expanded the story of its predecessor, delivering the feeling of a more connected universe, returning to the standard formula seems like a step backwards. There is also a heavy emphasis on classic Pokémon, making it hard to learn newer Pokémon’s strengths and weaknesses.
Beyond that, Pokémon X and Y are great games. With the pedigree of the series, it almost goes without saying, but is it the best Pokémon game? Probably not. Character customization, new perspectives, and Mega Evolutions make Pokémon X and Y stand out, but a focus on more recognizable Pokémon at the cost of learning about new ones, and a less-than-creative story, keep the 3DS’ first true Pokémon adventure from being like no one ever was.
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: October 12, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed)