It’s been a long time since a new Pokémon game has truly impressed me. As entertaining as every new entry into the series has been in the last 10 years, none of them have broken the mold that the original “Red” and “Blue” games set and the sequels “Gold” and “Silver” perfected. New features have been added with every generation, like special abilities for each Pokémon and more differentiation between physical and special attacks, but none have come so powerfully or dramatically as in “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y.”
However many changes there are, the most basic elements remain the same. Pocket monsters fight other pocket monsters. They gain advantages based on their types and the types of their attacks. Everything that makes a Pokémon game a Pokémon game is still there.
The most obvious change is the visual presentation. The 2-D battles of previous entries have been done away with, replaced with fights in a 3-D environment reminiscent of the classic Pokémon Stadium games for the Nintendo 64. Pokémon each have their own unique animations, many of which have more than one. The result is a more realized flow of battle that makes the game seem faster. Outside of battles, the world has been given much more detail. While still stylized in classic Pokémon fashion, character sprites feel more lifelike. Cities, like the Paris-inspired Lumiose City, are some of the most impressive and lively urban settings in any Pokémon game.
Battles have also introduced some significant changes. First, there are the well-advertised Mega Evolutions. Mega Evolutions are introduced early in the game and allow certain Pokémon to evolve again. At the start of the battle, the player can select the option of mega evolving, which changes the form of the mega-evolved Pokémon and greatly alters their stats and, on occasion, their types. The only downside is that you can only mega-evolve once per battle, adding a new layer of strategy for player-to-player competition.
Additionally, for the first time since “Gold & Silver,” a new type has been added. The fairy-type is strong against dragon, fighting, and dark types but weak against poison and steel. It’s an interesting addition that attempts to counter the dragon-types that have dominated the competitive game for a long time now. Many old favorites gain the type as well, such as Clefairy and Jigglypuff, meaning strategies that players had with certain Pokémon now need to be reevaluated. New battle systems have also been added. The first, horde battles, occur at random when you run into a Pokémon in the wild, where instead of one appearing, five partially under-leveled ones show up. The second, sky battles, are scattered throughout the game and don’t change much at all. The only thing that sets them apart is that only Pokémon who can fly or have the ability to levitate are allowed to participate. The last one, reverse battles, are the most enjoyable. All type advantages and weaknesses are flipped completely, making one of the most confusing and downright crazy battles I’ve ever witnessed.
In addition to being able to use roller skates, players can now, to a varying degree of success, ride certain Pokémon. Rhyhorn, Mamoswine and the new grass Pokémon Gogoat are all rideable within the game. But while the thought of riding each of these may sound enjoyable, they’re not used nearly effectively enough. Rhyhorn and Mamoswine are excruciatingly slow and are only used to cross short rocky and snowy routes that could just as easily have been normal routes. Gogoat is a lot more fun to ride as transport around the gigantic Lumiose City and for pure pleasure on a farm midway through the game. While riding Gogoats is much more fast-paced and enjoyable than the other two, it didn’t hold much significance to feel like it needed inclusion in the game at all.
Unfortunately, the story was a bit shoddier than the one presented in the previous installment, “Black & White.” The conflict with the flamboyant Team Flare feels shallow. Inevitable twists and turns in the story could be easily seen from a mile away. The more interesting story in the game actually focuses on the player character and your closest friends, and for the first time in a Pokémon game, I actually felt like my supposed closest friends were actually close. Their growth throughout the game was much more apparent than any rival stories I’d ever seen.
The most improved feature in the game, overall, is player connectivity. The Player Search System, or PSS, lets you see if any of your friends are online and allows you to contact them to battle, trade and even voice chat simply by using the touchscreen no matter where you are in the game. As well as allowing interaction with available friends (and acquaintances, if you’ve connected with others, but have not exchanged friend codes), the PSS also tells you if anyone else in the real world is nearby, letting you connect with other players as they pass by. This is a really excellent feature that makes the “X&Y” community far excel that of any other game on the 3DS.
The big changes in “X&Y” are often and many, and while there have been excellent additions, it’s the little things that entertain me the most, things like the player character bending over to more easily talk to a more diminutive child, Pikachu actually saying “Pika-Pika” instead of using the old 8-bit generated call and, most importantly, being able to choose your clothes, hair color and even race. And that’s not even a sliver of it. Everything about “Pokémon X&Y” feels personalized and detailed. Add in GameFreak’s exquisite level of quality and you have a game that not only everyone who owns a 3DS needs to get, but one that’s even worth buying a 3DS for.