Change was bound to come. At one point, sooner or later, the classic formula of running around tall grass and catching wild Pokémon had to evolve. New hardware has been available for some time, and yet the previous entry, Pokémon Black and White 2, ran on outdated hardware. The franchise needed to re-invent itself if it was to stay relevant.
Pokémon X & Y
Developed by Game Freak / Published by Nintendo
Available on the Nintendo 3DS.
*Review copy provided by Nintendo
Thankfully though, that reinvention came much sooner than expected, as we have a whole new adventure thanks to Pokémon X & Y, the first entries in the series to eschew the classic sprite-based graphics and instead give us an all-new 3D world. Is the change good enough though to bring back Pokémon trainers from around the world however, or is this effort to reinvigorate the series a little too late?
As is the tradition, players start off their adventures as newcomers to the Kalos region. Arriving from another town, and for the first time choosing if they are a male or female, players are instantly invited by the new Pokémon professor known as Sycamore to start their quests of being the best Pokémon trainer in the region. Things, however, won’t be easy as a new menace is on the rise, one that wants to purify the world and keep everything beautiful.
At its core, Pokémon X & Y is the same game you all know and love, albeit vastly improved (and simplified too!). Players still explore an open world and run blindly into tall grass hoping to collect the Pokémon specific to the region, and still level up their parties in order to take on the Gym Master of that said area. Then it’s wash and repeat all over again, with the occasionally excursion to stores, Pokémon centers, and dungeons. However, like the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the formula that has charmed children and adults alike for years still retains its addictive nature to this day.
The allure of running through grass and looking for one more Pokémon to catch and level up is still here, so be ready to lose hours on end catching and training these colorful critters, especially with 69 more of them in tow. It also helps that the game has had a graphical overhaul, so it’s never tiring to enter combat and check out the fantastic new animations in the game (though they’re a bit lengthy, in my opinion).
Combat is just like you remember it, with the player bringing a party of six Pokémon to a battle against challengers, gym trainers, or wild Pokémon after a random encounter or challenge. With a perspective change, you’ll find yourself facing your foe, and then the turn-based battling begins.
Players have a number of options when it comes to battles. They can chose to attack with their Pokémon, issuing one of four commands that each Pokémon has. The attacks may be damaging, others add status ailments to the opponents, or status boosts to your Pokémon. Some even have element attributes, like fire or water, so they can prove effective or ineffective depending on who you attack. Players can also switch out Pokémon on the field, use items like potions to heal them or poke balls to capture wild ones, and run away if the challenge proves to be too great. Despite sounding somewhat complicated, combat is as easy as can be, and the touch simplifies things quite a bit. The only issue I had with combat is that the game occasionally suffers some slowdown during battles, especially if you use the 3DS’s 3D features. It doesn’t affect gameplay in any real way, but it does make the whole experience feel a little bit sloppy. Nevertheless, it won’t keep you from battling it up for hours on end.
Exploration is similar to previous entries. It’s still handled from a top-down perspective, but occasionally moves into a third-person view when in large locations, like cities. By following routes, players can move around the land of Kalos, battle gym leaders, collect Pokémon and find hidden loot. Progress is occasionally hindered if the player doesn’t have the required skills or items, so the game keeps players from wandering into high-level areas if they aren’t ready.
You won’t be doing the same old things as previous Pokémon games, however, as there are plenty of new additions and tweaks to the formula. Players can now use skates to navigate their environment, and some areas can be accessed by grinding across pipes. It’s a pretty cool feature, but characters can occasionally get caught on edges if passageways are too small.
Also new are the Sky Battles and Horde encounters. Sky battles restrict players to only use flying Pokémon, while horde encounters task players with defeating a group of Pokémon of the same type. While not necessary, it’s a nice touch and adds some variety to combat.
Pokémon-Amie and Super Training are also two new modes that aim to strengthen the bond between Pokémon and trainer. Both are accessed by the touch screen, and one allows players to encounter their little friends via a first-person view and pet, feed and play with them, while the other boosts Pokémon stats through mini-games. Super Training is more useful than petting your friends, but it’s a good distraction when there’s not much to do.
Finally, there’s a new type of Pokémon, and something called Mega Evolution. Fairy-type creatures are great against Dragon, Dark and Fighting types, but are weak against fire, poison and steel, so it’s a great addition to your party if you’re having some difficulties with these type of opponents. Mega Evolutions take certain Pokémon to the next level during battle, giving additional abilities and elemental properties. Not only is this ability to upgrade your team mid-battle useful, but it’s also pretty awesome looking.
When you’re done with the main quest, there’s also the game’s multiplayer modes, which will pit players against one another in order to prove who the best is. Wonder Trade and Safari Zone make a return as well, so players can trade Pokémon to get random ones (some good, some bad, it’s a gamble) and capture some Pokémon that friends already have.
At the end of the day, the quest to be the best is as great and enjoyable as the day we first set out from our homes with our first Pokémon by our side in Red and Blue. The new 3D conversion is fantastic, and the new additions only make the franchise even better. While the game unfortunately suffers from some light lag issues, especially during combat, it’s still an addictive and fun experience that’ll have you playing for weeks.