Pokemon’s back. Of course it’s back—it’s one of Nintendo’s biggest cash cows. Every few years we see a new Pokemon generation that includes over a hundred new Pokemon, a handful of older ones, and the exact same formula of the previous games. This time the generation is Pokemon X and Y for the Nintendo 3DS. Yes, it’s formulaic. Yes, it hits all the same notes as previous Pokemon games. Yes, it’s barely changed mechanically. But you know what? A great series doesn’t have to change much, and Pokemon X/Y are must-buy titles (well, title; you don’t need both) for $39.99 (direct). This is the best-looking Pokemon game yet; it makes your Pokemon battles actually look like the anime. So what if not much else has changed?
Editors’ Note: This review is based on a playthrough of Pokemon X. Pokemon Y is effectively identical, except for some of the Pokemon available.
Pokemon were barely animated sprites in the main titles for over a decade, and now they’re cel-shaded, 3D characters that come to life on the screen. The Pokemon look and move like they’re from the anime, a far cry from the sprites of previous games, and while attack animations and effects are still limited and often just appear as waves of particle effects, there there’s enough variety in animation and action to make Pokemon battles actually seem like battles from the anime and not just two pictures of Pokemon shaking at each other. This is a massive upgrade over earlier Pokemon games, and a welcome change.
The overworld is rendered in 3D (though strangely not displayed in 3D on the 3DS screen) like in Pokemon Black/White and Black/White 2, and it generally looks very good as well except for a few frustrating camera issues. The 3D camera tends to get cinematic in certain caves and in Luminoise City, the large hub city in the Kalos region, and it can make navigation much more disorienting than if it was the more conventional top-down view used in other towns and open areas. If you want to navigate Luminoise City, it’s easier to spend the 1,000-odd Pokebucks and hire a cab to take you where you want to go.
Sound didn’t get nearly as much of an upgrade as the graphics, but it did see a notable change with the series’ mascot. Nearly every Pokemon has the same type of synthesized growl, scream, or shout as every Pokemon in every previous game has, but Pikachu (which you can now catch easily and early on Route 3) is now voiced with the same cute “Pika!” sounds it makes in the American dub of the anime. It’s small, but adorable. Like Pikachu.
Combat is nearly the same as every other Pokemon game. Your Pokemon has four moves of different types based on its own type (Normal, Fighting, Psychic, Fire, and others) and a handful of other characteristics and abilities that determine how it fights. You take turns with other trainers or wild Pokemon to make the opponent faint or weaken a wild Pokemon enough to catch it. If you’ve played a Pokemon game before, you know what to expect.
Two significant changes to the mechanics can shift how you play, and a few other tweaks give the game more variety. There’s now an additional Pokemon type, Fairy, which further complicates the elemental rock-paper-scissors strategy at the core of the game. You can also temporarily evolve some of your Pokemon with Mega Evolutions that give them Super Saiyajin (or, if you prefer, Digivolved) forms that enhance their stats for a fight. These forms require special Mega Evolution stones you have to hunt for, and not all Pokemon can Mega Evolve. There are also Horde battles with wild Pokemon, where one of your Pokemon is surrounded by five weaker wild Pokemon and has to attack them one at a time or use certain skills that affect all other Pokemon to hit them.
Pokemon X/Y gets started faster and makes things easier than in previous Pokemon games. To start, you get your starter Pokemon, Pokeballs, and Roller Skates (the equivalent to Running Shoes) almost immediately and before you even meet Professor Sycamore, the Pokemon Professor of the Kalos region. There are fewer and faster tutorials, which means experienced Pokemon players can jump in much quicker. You also get the Exp. Share item early, and it’s much easier and simpler to use than in earlier games. Instead of a held item that splits the experience you win between the active Pokemon and the Pokemon holding the item, it’s a key item you can toggle on and off that splits experience between the active Pokemon and all other Pokemon in your party. This means you can level up other Pokemon besides your main ones much faster and you don’t have to juggle items between them.
The story is minimal and almost identical to every other main Pokemon series game. You wander around a region (in this case, the France-inspired Kalos region), battle through eight Gyms and defeat the Gym Leaders to get badges, fight the Elite Four and the Champion at the Pokemon League, and while you do it thwart the plans of a nefarious Team that wants to destroy the world and rebuild it. This time, your criminal organization of the generation is Team Flare, but you can feel free to call them Team Failure. They’re silly at best and downright stupid at worst, and the pseudo-philosophy of their evil plan seems so tacked on and random that two criminals chasing a ten-year-old for years to get his fairly common Pokemon makes more sense. You don’t play Pokemon for the story.
What to Do
It’s easy to get distracted catching Pokemon, and there are plenty of non-story activities you can enjoy while playing the game. The new Super Training and Pokemon-Aime menus let you play minigames and respectively train your Pokemons’ stats and happiness anywhere you are. You can’t show off your Pokemon in contests anymore, but you can make promotional videos of yourself as a trainer, work in hotels, sit in cafes and see rare Pokemon, and perform battles, trades, and other activities to get items.
After you’ve beaten the Elite Four, there are still plenty of things to do in the Kalos region. You can find several legendary Pokemon in addition to the main game legendary Pokemon (Xerneas for X, Yvetrai for Y), and another town is unlocked where you can use the Battle Maison and Friend Safari. The Battle Maison is like the post-game battle settings in previous Pokemon games, where you can form teams of three non-Legendary Pokemon de-leveled to 50 for each match and have a purely strategic endurance run against other trainers. Friend Safari lets you collect rare Pokemon based on your Friend Codes. Each friend you register becomes a different safari where you walk around a small patch of grass and catch up to three Pokemon, depending on if they beat the game and have been online when you are online at least once (otherwise there are only two). The Friend Safari Pokemon include some highly sought after Pokemon, including the first and sixth generation starters, Ditto (useful for breeding), and several Ghost and Dragon-type Pokemon you wouldn’t be able to catch otherwise.
Online options are of course plentiful. You can trade and duel with people online if you exchange Friend Codes or locally, and Friend Safari makes Friend Code collecting surprisingly addictive. You can send messages to each other and even give special O-Powers that give temporary boosts to yourself or other trainers. You can’t trade Pokemon from the previous generation to this one, but that feature will be offered in December when Nintendo launches the Pokemon Bank and Poke Transport services.
Pokemon X/Y doesn’t change much besides graphics because it really doesn’t have to. The Pokemon formula still holds up as fun, accessible turn-based RPG that focuses on collecting more than story. The graphical updates in combat are great, finally giving Pokemon the action and animation they’ve needed for over a decade. There aren’t many surprises in the game and the addition of the Fairy type doesn’t change the mechanics in any noticeable way, but it’s still one of the best games on the 3DS. It’s simply enjoyable.
|ESRB Rating||E for Everybody|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc