the updates really are significant this time around”
Pokemon and I go way back; Iâve been playing the series ever since the first games to make it outside of Japan (Pokemon Red / Blue.) If youâre new to the franchise, the idea of releasing pairs of games at a time has been around since the start, as has the ability to trade your âpocket monstersâ (pocke-mon - geddit?). This pair of features at the heart of the experience has meant the focus has always been on social engagement, and thatâs not ever going to change - something Pokemon X & Y - 17 years on - further underline.
First, the basics - X and Y, afterall, are a great place to begin your Pokemon journey - no prior knowledge is required. A role-playing game, the core of Pokemonâs gameplay is about traveling the world, completing quests, and encountering a bewildering array of the titular pocketable creatures. Youâll meet wild ones (which you can battle with and capture, if youâre good enough) and those that are already part of someone elseâs team (you canât capture them.)
Itâs strictly singleplayer, but the existing trading stuff has been iteratively augmented over the years to the point that X and Y - the sixth generation of the series - include quite deep ability to trade, battle, and otherwise interact with other players (be they local to you or anywhere in the world, via the internet.)
The combat is a fairly simple affair which centres around a rock / paper / scissors match-up table that means certain pokemon are strong or weak against others. While there are hundreds of Pokemon in X and Y (the exact number isnât widely known, but it could be as many as 600+) they all come from a few different âfamilies.â Learning whatâs strong against what is important, and itâs also generally a good idea to ensure youâve got high-level pokemon from most families in order that you can appropriately stack your team for the given situation. It sounds complex, but it really isnât, and the game does a great job of introducing you to the overlapping tactics systems bit by bit.
For those who have played before (and for many, itâs a tradition; if thereâs a new Pokemon, you play through it - even though theyâre each very similar to the last), there are quite a few major changes this time around. The most obvious of which is the change to a true 3D graphics engine, complete with detailed models and animations for each of the gameâs hundreds of creatures.
It looks astonishing; the Pokemon really come to life, and those who are familiar with the TV series will be amazed at just how similar the characters in the game are to their television equivalents. Expressions, attacks - even idle animations ooze personality and the whole presentation package packs an impressive punch.
About the only downside to the new look is that the framerate during battles frequently chugs, and thatâs with 3D set to âoffâ; with the slider pushed up to "on", things often turn into a slideshow. That right there could explain why, outside of battles and a handful of other unique situations, 3D is actually disabled by the game - the only 3DS title I can think of that behaves in this way.
Another change is the fact that you can now customize what your trainer looks like, beyond simply selecting their gender (as it has been up until now.) In fact, if youâre familiar with Animal Crossing, a similar level of customization is available here, and it even works in much the same way - youâll come across various shops in the towns you visit, each of which will have a different array of clothing and accessories available for sale on a given day. The net effect is that youâll have next to no chance of meeting someone dressed exactly like you once you start to experiment with the gameâs online functionality. Itâs peripheral to the purpose, sure, but itâs a really nice addition and is surprisingly fleshed out. I ended up spending far more time choosing my outfit than Iâd have suspected going in.
The online functionality is easily the best yet implemented on a Nintendo system. Enabling Internet functionality means that random other players will appear on the bottom screen, in the lowest of three âtiersâ of other players (called âpassers byâ.) You can interact directly with them, should you both be willing, by granting them special powerups (increasing their ability to catch Pokemon, perhaps, or healing their party.) Once you interact with someone, they become an acquaintance, and you can now battle or trade with them. Once you do that, you have the option to add them as a friend; not only does this move them to the upper-echelon of your Pokemon friends, it actually adds them to your console friend system too; no more mucking about with friend codes required (you can still add people using friend codes, of course, and they will go straight to the top tier within Pokemon X / Y.)
The internet options let you do all sorts of stuff, including accessing the Global Trade System (GTS) which does pretty much what youâd think - lets you trade with other players around the world. Itâs pretty basic, but it gets the job done; more filters would be nice (i.e. it currently shows ALL of the people offering up the Pokemon you want; thereâs no way to limit it to just the people who want something you can actually supply, which means youâve got to do a lot of scrolling to find a match) and the interface is a bit clunky, but after playing Pokemon games for more than a decade, that doesnât surprise me in the least.
The new internet feature that changes everything, in my opinion, is something called Wonder Trade. The way it works is simple: you offer up something random for trade and youâll get something random back. The effect of it is magical; itâs great fun (Iâve gotten some amazing things) and it completely changed the way I play. Now, I travel with HEAPS of spare Pokeballs (the things you catch Pokemon with) and I catch every single Pokemon I can; sitting down in front of the telly flipping Pokemon via Wonder Trade is a hell of a way to spend an evening, let me tell you!
Aside from the new engine, improved social features, and some tweaks to the flow of the game (like the fact you now earn XP from battles that end with you capturing a Pokemon, or that status conditions - like Poison - no longer tick while youâre out of battle), the basic game plays out in much the same way as every previous Pokemon game. You start off in some small town, are given your first Pokemon, and then head off on an adventure which culminates in you beating the âElite Fourâ to become a master trainer. There are some difference, as there always are, but the gist of it is near identical to what youâve likely already experienced several times before. As a result, there is some fatigue in the leveling / story completing process, and I couldnât speed up the battles as much as Iâd like to (it is definitely much better, than in previous games, though.)
The interface, too, still has some quirks (particularly in managing your âboxesâ, where your Pokemon are stored - why it still works in this awkward manner is beyond me), but it is markedly improved from previous versions. Sure, they could better utilize the bottom screen (different themes for touch and button-based menu usage would be a good start - the hybrid theyâve built isnât ideal for either method), and I personally would like better / more information about my Pokemonâs various stats, but it works well enough and is certainly the best iteration yet.
So, once again, itâs a case of another version, another series of improvements, but still a few core issues that really could do with tidying up. Itâs - once again - the best version available, and the updates really are significant this time around. Thereâs much more to do while youâre progressing through the story, and plenty to do once youâre done, too. The Internet functionality, while short of actual multiplayer, is deep, accessible, and makes a big difference in the way you approach the experience. Thereâs plenty here for RPG fans through to hardcore battle-weary pokemaniacs. Get it and if you donât have a 3DS to play it on, get one of those too. Magnificent.