A screenshot of “Pokemon X/Y.” — Submitted photo
After more than 20 iterations in the main series canon, and a 20-year franchise that stretches well beyond 50 pieces of software, several animated series and movies, it’s easy to look at Nintendo’s “Pokemon” franchise and wonder what a new release could possibly do that wouldn’t come across like a week of turkey leftovers.
With “Pokemon X/Y” marking the main series’ first foray into a fully 3-D world, developer Game Freak has got its formula worked down to near perfection, sanding away just about all of the rough spots of the earlier titles, and polishing the game until it gleams like chrome.
The entirety of “Pokemon X/Y” (whichever version you decide upon) plays smooth as silk. Walking and roller-skating have been individually mapped to the analog stick and the D-Pad, and other items can be brought out at the touch of a button.
It feels very similar to the post “Ocarina of Time” Zelda titles, a smart design decision — as was the controversial call to have XP automatically shared amongst the entire party of one’s Pokemon. It’s entirely optional, so old-school Pokemon players can stick to their challenging roots, and newbs such as me can streamline the experience and enjoy the game without a lot of tedious switching of monsters.
The world-famous “Pokemon” combat didn’t need a reimagining. It’s worked since the first release. What “X/Y” does is give it a much-needed recharging.
There’s a new Pokemon type to mix things up, and returning classes have had their weaknesses and strengths tweaked just enough to level the playing field and allow for appropriate breathing room and a sense of diversity that, after 17 years, is like a gulp of crisp winter air.
I’m sure some will lament the debuffing of the famed “Steel” type, who now boast a couple of new chinks in their legendary armour — but it works magic in making the old monsters feel just as relevant as the new ones.
Another huge addition to the pocket monster brawl is the ability to retrofit certain Pokemon with the ability to “Mega Evolve” into an incredibly powerful alternate form for the remainder of the battle. It’s limited in one use on one monster for the entirety of combat. They may get giant boosts in speed and strength, or they may get a host of potent new abilities, or game-changing immunities.
This comes with the price of taking up a Pokemon’s entire inventory of hold items. It’s a fun new wrinkle to combat, that while it doesn’t play a large role in the single-player campaign, can drastically alter the way battles are waged online.
Speaking of which, there are a host of online features in “Pokemon X/Y.” The 3DS’ bottom screen displays members of a gamers’ friends list, and a small list of random players as well. Here we can challenge to battle, send messages, trade Pokemon or participate in a fun little “Wonder trade” that lets players swap Pokemon blind.
These bonuses add some needed flesh to a title that is admittedly easy. It’s not uncommon to raise levels in the span of 3-4 battles, putting players far ahead of the difficulty curve for the majority of the game. There’s plenty to do, and you can spend hours in between gyms with all sorts of activities from bicycling to fishing … but you’ll steamroll over everything the game has to offer just the same.
As the first main series Pokemon game to be presented completely in 3-D, “Pokemon X/Y” is staggeringly pretty. The cel-shaded visuals keep the series pleasant art-style, and the animations in battle are stuffed with life, thanks to tons of charisma and cute little flourishes. The 3DS’ gimmicky 3-D screen only works during battle, so as a recommendation, turn it off and enjoy the longer battery life.
I’ve never been much of a Pokemon fan. Maybe I was too old once it landed on North American shores, or maybe the fact that I never owned a Gameboy until I was in college. That’s not a knock — rather it’s an admission that this is a series I’ve never gotten behind.
What I can get behind is great game design, and that is something “Pokemon X/Y” has in spades. It isn’t the sort of game that I personally enjoy, but it’s the sort of game that if you have even an inkling of interest in, I’d tell you to check it out.
Everything that made the series a powerhouse for Nintendo is present, and it has been fine tuned and turbo charged. The streamlined battle mechanics, gorgeous visuals, fun online elements and refreshed Pokemon types make this game irresistible to fans both new and old.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (X version reviewed)
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2013
Rated: E for Everyone.
Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via email@example.com.