Hello, I’m Jonny, I’m 24 and I’m a Poké-Holic.
It’s been 15 years since I got my first taste of this fantastical world, where children pit monsters against each other for badges and insane amounts of pocket change and I’ve never looked back. With that said I, for one, will be the first to admit that Pokémon has been slow to evolve over the years. Sure they made marginal tweaks, like adding slightly new features but overall Pokémon hasn’t changed its formula and aging aesthetic, well, ever and we all just kind of got used to it.
So when I popped this sucker into my 3DS for the first time, I made the mistake of not strapping on a helmet… ’cause it blew my freaking mind!
Brace yourself for this one guys, developer Game Freak has finally heard our collective plea of the last 10 years and taken the plunge into the realm of 3D! Not that semi-3D malarkey we got in Pearl / Diamond, but actual full 3D! The new region of Kalos (which is Parisian themed, so you know this is a classy game) is just plain beautiful to behold. Sure, it’s full of the same archetypical areas the series is known for (grassy fields, hazardous rocky caves and other places well-suited for a ten year old kid) but each one now takes on a new lease of life, feeling vibrantly alive and, most importantly, fills you with childlike excitement.
The graphical overhaul doesn’t end with the scenery though; each of the bazillion Pokémon (or 718 if you’re keeping count) is now fully rendered in 3D too! “Big deal” I hear you say “We had that in Pokémon Stadium”. No! This is a huge deal! Every Pokémon from the lowliest Bidoof (I still love you buddy!) to mighty Charizard, now has their own custom animation. Each Pokémon now attacks differently, gets hurt differently and faints differently, hell, they even express happiness differently. This simple addition makes you get far more emotionally attached to your battle hardened monsters, to the point where they actually escalate from tools of combat to pedestal of virtual pets.
Even further hammering that feeling of companionship home is one of the new game modes in X&Y called Pokémon-Amie. Here you can undertake a medley of mini games with your favourite critters like feeding and nurturing them, patting them or even kicking it old school with some hackey sack. Sure it comes off as a sparkle-infused waste of time but even folks who only want to battle may find it wise to invest some time in this mode, as friendship actually gives ridiculously useful buffs in combat, and that’s given me the edge at least once or twice!
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The visuals aren’t the only overhaul Game Freak has implemented this generation, with the underlying mechanics having also received notable changes. Before you Pokémon purists get your Poké-balls in a twist, hear me out, this is a good thing! For years Pokémon has been divided into the casual player and (this sounds so weird to say) the hardcore player. This separation has forged by one major mechanic, yes; I’m talking about the elusive EV training.
For the uninitiated EV training is the process of battling against specific Pokémon to give yours subtle base stat increases, which overall leads to your Pokémon being an unstoppable super beast. Problem was it took forever (as it usually involved only battling level 1 Caterpies) and was as boring as a weekend of watching paint dry. Game Freak has remedied this by introducing a new mode called Super Training, which is a far more enjoyable mini-game where you fire soccer balls at targets to increase your EV distribution. There’s actually a fun way to do this now and I for one am so down with it!
Another major change in X&Y is the re-working of the EXP. Share which now levels up your whole party at once. This makes training easier and encourages experimenting with different types without the hassle of having to grind for hours to progress through the story. These changes are great, as they make the whole game more accessible and easy to get into for everyone, which allows us all to become Pokémon Masters!
The developers have also remembered the feeling of togetherness and co-operation the original Pokémon series made gamers feel, way back when in the distant past of 1998. Back then we got together in large groups (with people we may never see again) whipped out our Gameboy link cables (mine was glittery pink) and traded and battled, all in hope of get that enigmatic 151 Pokémon and claiming our Poké-diploma. Game Freak has emulated that feeling perfectly with the most robust and actually functional online feature out of any Nintendo game ever! Trading, battling and even buffing other players has never been easier, achieved only with a couple of taps of the bottom touch screen. No more annoying friend codes and needing to be in specific places to do it, the world of Pokémon X and Y feels alive and inhabited by real life trainers, getting you as close as you’ll ever get to living the real thing!
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All this being said some things (like my uncontrollable need to sing along to theme from the anime) will never change. Pokémon is still the story of an over eager child leaving home with nothing but his back pack and can do attitude to beat a series of gyms, best the Elite Four and catch ‘em all whilst doing it. All the hallmark tropes are present and accounted for. Having your path blocked by a giant sleeping Pokémon? Check! Turn based battles where you exploit elemental weaknesses? Check! Uninspired plot you spam the A button through? Surprisingly not! Sure it’s camp as anything, revolving around believing in yourself and the power of friendship but sometimes it touches on mature themes. I think this the first Nintendo game I’ve ever played that’s addressed the horrors of war, death, loneliness and even suicide. That’s some pretty heavy shit for a predominantly kid marketed game and that’s a bold and praise worthy step in my books.
Pokémon X and Y are truly the Pokémon game we’ve all been waiting for. It’s by far the most vibrant, fun and easy to get into instalment of the series, which is amazing since it doesn’t sacrifice the complexities that make it loved by long running fans. If you own a 3DS, Pokémon X and Y are totally worth your money, time and crippling addiction that will surely follow. Because deep down, I think everyone of us wants to be the very best… THAT NO ONE EVER WAS, TO CATCH THEM IS MY REAL TEST, TO TRAIN THEM IS MY CAUSE!!!!