It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since Pokémon found a place in hearts across the world. And so it seems fitting that to mark its move into the future Pokémon X and Y is the series first foray into the world of 3D on a handheld, and I have to say, it looks pretty good. With this change it’s clear that this would be an excellent time for Game Freak to reinvent the entire series, X and Y keep the old in tact while introducing some new elements too. It’s nothing that deters or bogs down your Pokémon experience, if anything, it stands to enhance it.
The new visuals deliver a very welcome change for the franchise, giving the entire world an immersive feel that really makes stepping out of the door on your Pokémon-catching lifestyle feel like an epic journey. While the story is largely the same as always: head out into the world to record Pokémon, get gym badges and thwart an evil corporation; this time around it’s all presented in a fair slicker way, giving you a sense of venturing out into the world with your friends. It’s a little strange that, while visuals, gameplay and features have been added, underneath it’s really all the same thing.
One new feature is character creation. For the first time in the series, you’re given a choice beyond your player gender. Now you can pick how you want your trainer to look, starting with skin tone and eye colour, all the way through to more throwaway options such as clothes, hairstyle, and a caps on your head. This all has to be bought with cold, hard Pokédollars, but you’ll still find yourself visiting a boutique and trying on some clothes for a bit of fun.
Although, one unfortunate attribute of the addition of 3D is a lack of detail in some of the older Pokémon compared to their newer peers. Still, despite the somewhat blander representation of these classic critters, it’s great to see that they decided to bring back most of the older generation that older fans absolutely love. Playing in 3D also means there’s a fair bit of slowdown when it comes to battles, but this does disappear when 3D is turned off. Thankfully Game Freak turn the 3D on and off for impact, so you won’t have to deal with it too often.
Frame rate dips aside, battles in Pokémon X and Y are a different affair to normal, thanks in part to a dynamic camera and brand new animation types. However, the biggest addition is the introduction of the Mega Evolution – something you’ll spend the first half of the game trying to uncover the secret of. This final evolution form can only be used in battle, with your Pokémon reverting back to its original form afterwards. But the advantage of its use is the extra power it delivers to your team during battles – meaning online competition could certainly get fierce once you’ve trained up a Mega Evolution compatible Pokémon.
And that’s probably very likely some that’s going to happen often as the online component is far easier to access this time around, and also sports some new upgrades. It keeps the features of yore intact, but delivers a complete system of talking and trading reasonably effortlessly with friends via the Player Search System that occupies the bottom screen the entire time you play. Here you can trade with friends and strangers alike, looking for your perfect Pokémon in exchange for something potentially rare. Or you can just go online and have battles and enter tournaments, generally doing a whole bunch of things that makes you realise you’re outclassed by most others. And, for those multiplayer battlers amongst you, it’s largely lag free.
The bottom screen isn’t just used for the PSS, you’ll also make use of it for the strangely addictive Pokémon Aime mode and the immensely useful – and distracting – Super Training. Pokémon Amie sees you taking care of your captured critter through a series of mini-games designed to increase the strength of your relationship. You’ll pet them, play games and feed them treats to win their affections and thus make them far more receptive in battle and when levelling up. It’s also where X and Y really manages to fill the promise of 3D delights. As you feed, brush and play with your Pokémon, their animations and expressions are great, even if it does feel a little bit like Nintendogs. My only issue is that there’s no real reason for you to come and spend time here. It’s certainly fun the first few times, but the mini-games feel largely uninspired and the friendship trade off isn’t ever that noticeable.
Super Training, on the other hand, definitely has some benefits that can’t be mistaken for improving your Pokémon. Designed to help you raise Pokémon stats through mini-games and the passage of time, it’s a must for anyone looking to bolster their team. Although these games do feel a little repetitive and uninspired, there is a bit of a challenge thanks to difficulty increasing as your Pokémon’s stats start to climb. It’s a great way to max out your team for use in online battles – and you won’t need to worry about raising a Pokémon’s level this way either.
One big thing about X and Y compared to previous iterations is how it feels like a scaled-down version of itself. It feels quicker to get between towns and into the action, partly due to the addition of rollerblades, but it also softens the learning curve so new players don’t feel alienated by how difficult things have gotten previously. But the old experience still remains largely intact, with new additions letting you really shape your adventure to your own ways. It’s a great step in the right direction for the series, and is hopefully a sign of the innovations that we’ll get moving forward. Still, my only major gripe is that it’s really just the same game with a new look. Obviously there’s the need for ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but after having experienced most of the other new features, perhaps the core experience could do with a bit of a rejuvenation too?
Audio/visual – 4/5: A big step for the series, and one of the best 3DS games around, a shame frame rate issues let it down
Gameplay – 4/5: New features and new Pokémon, it’s a step above other installments, but at its core it’s the same
Innovation – 4/5: Mini-games and new training options are welcome, but get a bit repetitive, however the customization options make your experience rather unique
Value – 4/5: Unquestionably worth it if you’re a fan of the series, and worth a look if you’re curious about the series – but you may not finish it all