When we reached out to Nintendo about our upcoming review for Pokémon X and Y, we didn’t anticipate the company’s PR branch would send us download codes for both games… but it worked out rather perfectly as it allowed two writers with two very different takes on the series to weigh in on what has been touted as the first major evolution in a series that has come to be defined by its sameness. Our main review (and the site’s official score) have been written by the young and hopeful Eric R. Miller, who’d barely stopped drinking from a bottle when the original Pokémon Red and Blue games came out in 1998. Providing a second opinion will be Invisible Gamer’s founder and resident grizzled oldman, Michael Burns, who hasn’t been able to stick with a Pokémon game since giving up on Silver and Gold in high school.
Read on for our thoughts… you might be surprised!
Youngster Eric Wants to Battle!
For an entire generation that came into gaming after Japanese development ceased to be the behemoth it was in the ’80s and ’90s, Pokémon was our first proper introduction to a certain kind of RPG… one that has slowly been dying for the past decade. With their turn-based battles, deceptively simple mechanics and addictive collecting hook that encouraged players to get together with friends and swap and battle a roster of 150 unique monsters, the first Pokémon games released for the Game Boy were rich, rewarding, and instantly likeable experiences that many still look upon fondly. 15 years, 22 games and 600 more Pokémon later, Nintendo aims to recapture that magic with the release of Pokémon X and Y for the 3DS. While by no means a complete overhaul of the franchise, these new entries have changed the basic mechanics enough to breathe new life into a series of which many have long grown tired.
If you’ve played a mainline Pokémon game in the past 15 years, X and Y will be instantly familiar: you choose one of three free starter Pokémon, head out into the wild to battle and capture others you might be interested in — whether you’re attracted to their unique abilities, or simply think they’re dang cute — and train and evolve them until you have a team you’ll use to challenge gym leaders and become the best Pokémon trainer known to man or beast.
Significantly, nearly every core mechanic underlying this pursuit has received significant upgrades. The most immediate improvement is the pace at which the game starts. Within the first half hour of play, your character is given roller skates in order to speed up movement. Though the skating controls are rather clunky when you’re trying to navigate around buildings, the fact that you’re permanently equipped with a set of wheels makes it significantly less of a chore to grind levels when raising your Pokémon, move forward through the Kalos region world map, and backtrack for any creatures you might have missed during your hunt. Also, you can use the d-pad to walk normally, but with the button layout on all 3D-equipped 3DSes, that’s more of a chore than it’s worth.
In regards to story, there’s not a whole lot here to excite veterans or newcomers. X and Y tries to entice players with a plot involving mega evolutions — special evolutions that happen to only a select few Pokémon during – but unfortunately, that mystery never fully resolves, acting more like a sort of carrot on a stick that doesn’t realize most kids don’t even like carrots. It never really moves anywhere, and it leaves more questions than it answers. On the other hand, the pursuit of filling out your Pokédex by finding as many of the creatures as possible is present as always, though it’s been sidelined as the game’s characters encourage you to experience your own unique journey with your Pokémon.
On the note of “playing your way,” another significant new feature is the way trainer-monster interaction affects the way your parties perform. In the past, certain Pokémon have benefited from a little-defined “happiness” system, improving their stats and sometimes unlocking secret evolutions. In X and Y, the new Pokémon Amie tool allows you to directly interact with your pocket-sized companions, petting them with the touch screen, feeding them treats, and playing games with them. All of these interactions improve their affection for you, which makes them land more critical hits in battle and even boosts the experience they gain from each victory — a feature that was previously unlocked only for Pokémon you’d received during a trade.
Still amazingly adorable after all these years.
The graphical fidelity of X and Y brings often striking improvements to a series that has historically relied on serviceable, barely animated sprite work. X and Y ditch sprites in favor of fully 3D modeled environments, characters and creatures, with lovingly animated battles being a particular treat for those of us who have always imagined what our favorite pocket monsters would look like if they actually moved. It’s all quite glorious to look at… it’s just a shame the game struggles so much in the few instances it actually allows you to view it in 3D.
Overall, Pokémon X and Y is a fantastic step forward in a series that began to feel stagnant years ago. Playing Pokémon Y, I get the distinct impression that this is the game I always imagined playing as a 7-year-old playing Red and Blue. With its charming 3D graphics, new Pokémon, faster gameplay, and an online connected Pokémon experience, X and Y delivers on a level that previous games in the series haven’t even come close to. Whether you’re a die-hard Poké-maniac or a former fan who gave up on the series years ago, I urge you to give Pokémon X or Y a shot. It’ll be the best portable RPG you’ll play all year.
Second Opinion: I Choose You, Trash Bag-shaped Pokémon!
Pokémon X: a love letter to Airborne (1993), the Best Rollerblading Movie Ever™
Considering how deeply my love runs for all things Nintendo, it comes as a pretty big shock to most people when I say I have absolutely zero interest in Pokémon. It’s true that I was obsessed with the games when Pokémon Red and Blue came out during my freshman year of high school–everyone was–and I have fond memories of selling freshly caught Mews for $5 a pop to every kid in school who wasn’t fortunate enough to have a Game Genie, but Pokémon Silver and Gold failed to hold my attention like their predecessors had, and the games have only become more unwieldy since then. With far too many Pokémon to capture and a competitive metagame that has become all but impenetrable to those of us who don’t have the time or inclination to make it a full time job, I didn’t expect any Pokémon game to ever draw me back in. I was wrong.
Pokémon X and Y seem like they’ve been designed specifically for those of us who’ve long abandoned the series. With a roster of monsters to capture that’ve been drawn largely from the first couple of games in the series, charmingly animated battles that draw on our memories of the cartoons, and enough nips and tucks to the Poké-formula that the pace seems infinitely improved over the past couple of games (which I dabbled in before ultimately giving up in frustration), Pokémon X is a game I’ve easily spent 40 hours on so far, and I’m still completely enraptured by it. What I appreciated most about X is the way the previously obscure EV training element has finally surfaced as a feature that anybody can get into; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the time I’ve played has been taken up by Super Training. I want to be the very best–like no one ever was–and it’s to Game Freak’s credit that I’m able to say that with a complete lack of irony.
Um…yes. Yes, I do want a wild pet that looks like a pair of friggin’ swords
There is one thing I absolutely loathe about Pokémon X and Y, though, and that’s the way Game Freak has completely failed to optimize its engine for 3D. It’s a huge problem to me that a game that looks more or less like a second year DS game can’t cope with stereoscopic imagery, not to mention the fact that the feature is completely nonexistent for the vast majority of the game. Some interior locations have the 3DS’s trademark pop, and you can utilize it during battles, but you might as well just turn the 3D slighter off while you play, since the frame rate takes a devastating hit when the game has to push out the 3DS’s full 800×240 pixels. It’s obvious the game was rushed in order to meet the winter holidays (and sell a few million 2DSes), but I would’ve preferred Game Freak had completely disabled 3D rather than the messy implementation the game shipped with. And that’s coming from someone who always plays with the 3D slider on max on every other 3DS game.