Pokemon X and Y Review

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Version Reviewed: Pokémon X
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: (€42.99/$39.99)
Release Date: Oct 12, 2013 (Worldwide)

We all knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when. Now, two and a half years after the release of the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo have finally released their killer app – Pokémon X & Y. From what Nintendo have already showed us, both games look good, sound good and contain a range of new and exciting features. But have developer Game Freak done enough to keep Pokémon relevant, or has the series missed out on a much needed evolution?

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STORY

After moving to a new town, the children of the town are invited by Prof. Sycamore to go on a Pokémon adventure through the region of Kalos. Armed with one of three starter Pokémon and a handful of Pokéballs, the player must fill up the Pokédex, obtain all eight gym leader badges and investigate the secrets of Mega Evolution. Along the player’s path to victory there’s small quests to complete, people to help and the wholly unoriginal Team Flare to beat. Needless to say, those familiar with the inflexible Pokémon storyline will find no surprises here.

This being said, Game Freak have done Pokémon X & Y‘s storyline some justice by introducing Kalos as an utopian neo-France type setting as well as adding some sorely needed backstory. Through trips to museums, landmarks and a Pokéball factory we learn of a wealthy king, a 3,000 year old war and a legendary Poké-weapon of mass destruction.

Also of note are the four companions that will join you throughout your journey. None of your friends actually accompany you in the literal sense, but they do wander through particular areas as you do, pop up for battles and engage in story elements with you.

Although each of these four trainers, including your rival, have cardboard personalities, they still each have their own goals and personalities traits, and help negate the feeling of loneliness Pokémon games often generate.

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GRAPHICS

The major improvement to Pokémon X & Y over previous versions is, of course, a graphical one. With the power of the Nintendo 3DS at its disposal, Game Freak have finally evolved the Pokémon series from a world of pixels to beautiful 3D generations.

The act of viewing battles is far more engaging, with each Pokémon having a fully animated character model that fluidly changes with each attack and action. A dynamic camera adds to the liveliness by zooming and panning around the battlefield, showing off each of the beautifully colourful cell-shaded Pokémon.

Outside of battles, players are treated to vivid and varied landscapes, such as coastal regions, mountain paths, flowery fields, soggy marshlands and more. Being based off locations in France, Kalos’s cities are unlike those found in previous Pokémon games. Most cities contain several cafés and boutiques where coffee and clothing can be purchased and enjoyed. If this wasn’t enough, Kalos’s capitol Luminose has over ten different cafés, a taxi service, a Gogoat shuttle bus and more.

SOUND

Pokémon X & Y‘s soundtrack has also had a healthy boost in quality yet has changed very little i.e. brass instruments for grassy routes, slow strings for caves and orchestra-backed rock tunes for battles. The game’s composers did however try something new with a few catchy electronic and synthrock tunes such as that for Team Flare battles, Gym Leader battles and inside the Kalos Power Plant. Ironically, the most forgettable tracks are the two all players will hear hundreds of times: the wild Pokémon and trainer battle themes.

Also of note are the new sound bites for older, first and second generation Pokémon which have either been remade, or are completely new. A bold step for Game Freak, who have kept hold of the old, 8-bit sounds for far too long.

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GAMEPLAY

Battles are exactly the same in Pokémon X & Y as they have been in the last few iterations of the series i.e. a giant game of paper-scissors-rock, except the two items of stationary and the rock can level up and evolve. Pokémon must be weakened before they are caught and trainers will approach you for battles. Introduced in both Pokémon X & Y are Mega Evolutions – special Pokémon forms that can be activated by a single Pokémon per battle. Mega Evolved Pokémon are far more powerful and help shake up online battles, but don’t significantly impact main game battles.

Unfortunately, random battles are still annoying, caves are still a chore to get through and trainers are still placed in the most awkward of places. It’s a real pity that the core mechanics of battling, which is still the main gameplay element of Pokémon, haven;t received an upgrade in the same way that almost all other elements of Pokémon X & Y have. Game Freak have attempted to reduce the annoyance of such events by making a good proportion of trainers and Pokémon rich areas avoidable. But the points in Pokémon X & Y where such annoyances were intentionally placed will see most players putting the game down; at least temporarily.

But for those who can overlook the irritating side of Pokémon battles will benefit from the myriad tweaks and upgrade Game Freak have made in practically ever aspect of this new generation. Pokémon gain experience from captured Pokémon, EXP Share gives much more experience, dependence on HMs is reduced, the speedy roller skates are given to players early on, time spend saving data is drastically decreased, even the low-HP alert sound ceases after four annoying bleeps – the list goes on and on.

On their own, these tweaks are just that – small enhancements that don’t significantly alter the game experience. But when combined with the newly introduced Super Training – which allows for the manipulation of Pokémon base stats and can be performed at any time –these upgrades result in far fluid gameplay experience and zero need for grinding.

Pokémon X & Y‘s greatest achievement though is its online features. Any any point in the game, outside of battles, players can battle and trade with other players from any corner of the world. Not only that, but Pokémon can be traded randomly through Wonder Trade, or searches can be initiated for trainers willing to part with a particular Pokémon. Most importantly, these features are incredibly robust, speedy and hassle free – a far cry from the days of Game Boy link cables.

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RANTS

Aside from the aforementioned and annoying random battles and trainer encounters, there’s not much that Pokémon X & Y does wrong. This being said, both games give the strong impression that both Game Freak and Nintendo are working to the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Many welcomed alterations have been made to gameplay in terms of mechanics and flow, but at its core Pokémon X & Y is the same old, tried and tested Pokémon formula – albeit with gorgeous visuals. For most Pokémon fans, this is reason enough to warrant the game’s purchase, however, graphical flare won’t be half as desirable once Pokémon X & Y‘s successors arrive.

Playing it safe is one thing, but Game Freak completely dropped the ball with their poor utilisation of the Nintendo 3DS’s capabilities. Of course, no one was expecting 3D-dependant features due to the release of the Nintendo 2DS, but Pokémon X & Y‘s usage of 3D is close to shocking.

Some areas use 3D and use it well – mainly caves and inside buildings – whereas most areas don’t. Most players however will be looking to engage their 3D slider during battles and most players will end up disappointed. One-on-one battles use 3D, but double battles and horde battles – in which five or so wild Pokémon attack at once – are not in 3D. Those battles that are in 3D suffer from choppy frame rates that are smoothed out once 3D is turned off. It’s not a major issues and doesn’t impact the overall enjoyment of the game, but it’s still puzzling as to why Nintendo and Game Freak thought it worth putting 3D into Pokémon X & Y at all.

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OVERALL

As has already been mentioned, Pokémon X & Y is a great improvement over previous Pokémon games with stunning, vivid visuals, mechanical tweaks and fantastic online capabilities. But aside from Mega Evolutions and Super Training, this generation of Pokémon brings nothing new to the table. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that Pokémon fans will adore Pokémon X & Y, but those who have fallen out of touch with the previous games may want to see the game in action before returning to the series.

Pros:
– New 3D visuals are absolutely gorgeous
– Super Training and other tweaks to gameplay mechanics increase flow and reduce grinding
– Online features are the most comprehensive of any Nintendo game thus far
– It’s consistently fun and engaging (aside from random battles)

Cons:
– Battles are still repetitive and boring
– Random battles and trainer encounters are still annoying
– The use of 3D effects is very poor

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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About Michael Westgarth

Michael Westgarth is a freelance writer and geneticist for hire who has been writing about video games since 2011. Michael enjoys saving the world and building creeper-proof, vertical sheep farms. Follow him on Twitter @MegaWestgarth, Tumblr and Google+.
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