Pokémon X & Y Review: A fantastic celebration of both new and old
The core Pokémon franchise has largely remained unchanged, both graphically and mechanically, since its inception with Pokémon Red and Blue. While Game Freak has kept adding on various elements to keep the games fresh, each new title didn’t really present a whole lot in terms of variety. I also admit that both Pokémon Black and White 1 and 2 completely lost my interest. I never even got past the second gym. It was Pokémon fatigue at its worst. Pokémon X and Y changed all of that. I was a fan again. I couldn’t stop playing. I couldn’t stop catching and collecting.
It's more than just a fresh new coat of paint for the franchise. Pokémon X and Y almost seems like a reboot of sorts, allowing players who never ventured into any previous games to comfortably ease in and get used to the mechanics.
Old and new come together
There is no denying that Game Freak wanted us to feel a healthy dose of nostalgia upon booting up Pokémon X and Y. Including Pokémon all the way from Generation 1 was an absolutely perfect way to invite players back that were there from the start, while giving younger and newer fans a chance to see those older Pokémon in action.
The game also has slight nods to past titles and pop culture references which make the games feel totally relevant. The tradition of having a Nintendo console in your room continues with a Wii U. Characters you meet speak of the Hoenn region. Even Professor Oak gets mentioned. Additionally, while Game Freak has nostalgia on their side, there is still a slew of new mechanics.
Training your Pokémon can now be done outside of battles thanks to Super Training. These little mini-games will ask you to dodge soccer balls while simultaneously shooting them at giant blown up balloon Pokémon. Once completed, they’ll raise your Pokémon’s base stats like Speed, Attack, and Defense. It almost feels like cheating, but the edge you get on Gym Leaders is definitely worthwhile. Still, Super Training is definitely optional, and you can get through the entire game without even touching it. However, if you plan on taking on trainers around the world, Super Training might be mandatory.
Another new feature is Pokémon-Amie, a Nintendogs-lite mode where you can interact with any and all of your Pokémon by petting them, feeding them treats and playing three different mini-games with them. It’s mostly novelty, except for a few Pokémon that rely on the happiness affinity to level up, like Sylveon.
Battles also feel mostly familiar but have a new twist. It’s still six Pokémon in your party, with only four moves at a time per monster, but now Pokémon have new Hidden Abilities, which can give them a separate edge in battle. For example, the Torchic which is available as a Mystery Gift, comes with the Hidden Ability ‘Speed Boost’ which raises its speed after each turn taken. Knowing and utilizing these Hidden Abilities to your advantage will be beneficial to your success.
Mega Evolutions take your Pokémon to a new level. They're rather imbalanced and almost unfair, but they're definitely cool to look at. A certain selection of Pokémon have the ability to evolve past their final evolution, but only in battle, and only if they're holding a special stone that allows this. That means your Blastoise will turn into a Mega Blastoise, wielding even more guns. Some Pokémon have version specific Mega Evolutions, such as Charizard and Mewtwo.
Personalization and customization bring out your personality
For the first time in a series, your hero isn’t confined to just a male or female persona. You can now choose a skin tone and eventually outfit your trainer with a myriad of clothing options.
Each city has a clothing shop that changes its stock daily, giving players a plethora of options to change up their look, and motivation to keep checking back for new clothes.
A great way to show off your trainer and your personality is through Trainer PR videos. These 10 second, customizable videos allow you to pose, set up cool camera shots, spotlight your favorite Pokémon and add cool effects and background music. Other players can then view your PR videos which are located on your profile page, located on Player Search System, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Staying connected with friends never felt so rewarding
For the first time in Pokémon history, you can be connected online to your friends and strangers as long as you’re near a wi-fi signal. By opting to be online, you can see other players in real-time, as well as any friends who happen to be online and playing the game.
However, the Player Search System is merely a hub for a myriad of options. It allows you set up a Pokémon trade, battle someone, send a Shout-Out when there's something you want everyone to know about, and be good sport by bestowing O-Powers on others. O-Powers are three minute buffs that you can either cast on yourself, or on others, that will boost stats like Catching Power, Attack Power, and Encounter Rate. Using these O-Powers costs a certain amount of points, which recharge over time. Using them on others will always cost less than using them on yourself, which encourages player interaction far beyond just battling and trading. These O-Powers also level up the more they’re used, making their effectiveness grow.
There is also a random trade system called Wonder Trade. There, you choose any Pokémon you're willing to give up, and in return you'll get another players Pokémon randomly. More often than not, you'll end up with something less than stellar, but there are a few cases where Wonder Trade pays off. It can definitely be addicting.
A story worth telling, even if it feels rushed
Unlike the morally ambiguous Team Plasma of Black and White, the enemy in X and Y, Team Flare, is evil right from the outset. This disappointed me at first. Even though I didn’t care for Black and White, I did like that Team Plasma was open to interpretation. Team Flare’s main goal is world domination, if only at first. The story does go a little bit deeper into their motivation and what their true goal is, but by the time you learn what it is, it’s all over.
X and Y's antagonist was intriguing, but his complete underutilization made him feel rather pointless, and definitely not as menacing as Giovanni back in the day.
There is also a secondary story, regarding a 3000 year old guy roaming the land and searching for his Pokémon. How this is all related, I'm still unsure, but even this side story wraps up rather quickly.
Visuals are great, if only for 50% of the game
While Pokémon X and Y is the first 3DS game for the franchise, it certainly doesn’t utilize the 3D capabilities much. In the overworld, the 3D effect is turned off completely, which according to Nintendo was to ensure the game plays smoothly. The game teases you with the fact that it can support 3D on the map screen whenever you enter dungeons or caves.
The battles themselves are where the game shines in the graphical department. Seeing old and beloved Pokémon, as well as the slew of new ones come to life on your screen with gorgeous animations is glorious. Sure, we’ve seen it before in the Stadium and Colosseum games, but it’s been a long time coming for the core games to move away from pixel art.
You can battle in full 3D, though I highly advise against it. Since Game Freak had a hard time optimizing the game for 3D, the framerate dips down to pretty unbearable levels. If you like your gameplay to look smooth, just keep that 3D slider down the entirety of the game. Trust me.
Terrific post-game content will keep you on your toes
After you beat the Elite Four, you’ll have access to the entire Kalos region once again, with an added location of Kiloude City, home of the Battle Maison and the fantastic Friend Safari.
You also get access to new areas which will allow you to hunt the Legendary Pokémon Zygarde, Mewtwo, and even one of the Legendary Birds from Red and Blue, Articuno, Moltres and Zapdos. It doesn’t come close to Gold and Silver’s ability to go back to the Kanto region, but the variety is certainly there.
Is it the very best, like no one ever was?
Thanks to some sweet updated graphics, new gameplay mechanics, new Pokémon to catch, not to mention the nostalgia overload of being able to catch and train Gen 1 Pokémon, X and Y certainly delivers on the full package. Its online capabilities allow you to be completely connected with players all around the world as well as your friends, making Pokémon trading and battling easier and more accessible than ever.
Even if you've never played a Pokémon game before, X and Y can be considered great starting points. If you've ever wondered what all the rage was about, now's the perfect time to jump on.
It's not without faults. The 3D effect is completely useless thanks to framerate problems and Mega Evolutions, as cool as they are, are way too overpowered and unfair. However, as far as Pokémon experiences go, you can't get much better than this.