Make no mistake, I am a huge, huge fan of the Pokemon series. Blue Version was my first video game ever, and Silver Version is easily one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve played at least one game per generation and am impressed every single time – Pokemon excels at offering fresh spins on their now classic monster-taming RPG and they do no less with Pokemon X and Y.
One of my favorite changes is to Pokemon raising. The series regular Exp. Share has returned to its Blue and Red iteration, granting all Pokemon in the party experience individually regardless of participation, and capturing Pokemon will now grant experience as well. Both of these changes have pretty much eliminated my struggle to keep my team balanced vs. having an overpowered starter – now everyone is overpowered, and the game is a lot more fun when you don’t have to pick favorites out of your team to battle with.
Speaking of battling, several changes have been made to the series signature elemental rock-paper-scissors, the biggest of which may be the addition of a new Fairy-type, which are immune to the Dragon-type Pokemon that have dominated the game’s competitive scene with a clawed iron fist since its inception. Just as well, the poorly hidden world of Individual/Effort Value number crunching has become the most accessible and easy as its ever been through Super Training and its related minigames, which certainly smooths out the process for those looking to min-max their monster’s stats and have only just heard of Smogon.
There’s also the new Mega Evolution mechanic, which seems a little juvenile on the surface, but brings a lot of older Pokemon, like Mawile and Pinsir, back into the limelight. Limited to one per team, Mega Evolved Pokemon are granted boosted stats, different Abilities and in some cases, new weaknesses or resistances, providing more interesting tactical choices than I certainly expected. Mega Kanghaskan, for example, gains the Parental Bond ability, which lets every move it uses to hit twice, making it a very efficient damage dealer given the right circumstances, and as an added bonus, looks very cute, as its baby jumps out of its pouch to assist in combat.
X and Y‘s move to 3D has proven just as vibrant as the sprite art of yesteryear. Perhaps a bit of retro charm has been lost in the name of polygonal clarity, but it’s way too much fun looking at fully-modeled versions of older Pokemon, like my personal favorite, Blastoise. Pokemon now hold a real presence and look great doing it. My only gripe is that the framerate sometimes drops for a second or two during battle, a first for any handheld Pokemon game I’ve ever played. In addition, the game doesn’t seem to be very well-optimized for the console’s 3D mode. I experienced some more framerate issues when turning it on, but since it’s so easily avoidable, it’s probably best to keep the slider in the “Off” position.
Pokemon has always had an emphasis on playing with others since the beginning, and was probably the sole reason anyone ever bought a link cable. But that was then, and this is now, the age of blazing fast internet and wi-fi hotspots, and X and Y has made it easier than ever to play with friends or even random people online. Multiplayer trades and battles are no longer relegated to the second floor of the ever-present Pokemon Center, instead being accessed via the touch screen, which is really great if a friend wants to send you a joke Bidoof or beat the crap out of your team and you’re nowhere near a city. I played around a little with the game’s Wonder Trade, which allows you to trade with someone random across the world, like some weird reverse Santa Claus, and received a Charmander from a very charitable individual living in Barbados. It doesn’t get better than this.
X and Y features only 69 new Pokemon in the new region of Kalos, but the roster of catchable Pokemon has been significantly bolstered by the presence of the previous five generations. A common criticism of the last few games (Black and White and their respective sequels) was the fact that it limited you to catching only the new Pokemon until the post-game, but it’s been far more satisfying to see new and old faces alike while trekking across Kalos (in 3D, no less).
My least favorite thing about X and Y is that it has a very good chance of usurping Silver and Blue as my favorite Pokemon games. Its host of quality of life and gameplay changes easily makes this generation one of the most ambitious yet, and it delivers on every aspect with the innovation we’ve come to know from every Pokemon game since the very beginning.
Available on: 3DS; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Game Freak; Players: 1; Released: October 12, 2013; ESRB: E; MSRP: $39.99; Official Site