X & Y is successful in enthralling it’s player in it’s massive, vibrant and mysterious world. It proves Pokémon still has room to grow, despite it’s repetitive nature. Not all of the innovations are great and long-lasting franchise annoyances still appear here and there, but the intentions are good and are a step in the right direction. Game Freak have yet again forged a worthy Pokémon entry, but one that – despite being a great game – may go down in history as little more than the moment Pokémon became 3D.
With every generation of Pokémon games since Red, Blue & Yellow, each game has maintained the same progression structure, and you know it well:
- You choose a starter (fire, water or grass).
- You’re given a Pokédex and tasked with catching ‘em all.
- As you journey accross the land in search for Pokémon you challenge and defeat eight gyms.
- Once you’ve defeated the the eight gyms you challenge the elite four and it’s champion – the greatest, strongest trainer in the game.
- Along the way you’ll encounter a criminal organisation and foil their sinister plot.
It’s the classic Pokémon shtick which all 22 games follow. Beneath this repetitive structure lies a hidden wealth of unique experiences within every single game, and X & Y is no different in this regard.
Though it may attempt to shed the stigma that all Pokémon games are basically the same with it’s shiny and new features and the revamped presentation, but at the end of the day, X & Y is still a Pokémon game through-and-through.
The 3D world (that is to say, the three-dimensional overworld – not the optional 3D effects within battles and/or cut scenes) of X & Y adds a great deal of enjoyment and spectacle to the adventure we all know and love. Pokémon has never been this visceral or pleasing to the eyes. It’s exciting for a long time Pokéfan like I, to see my beloved franchise take the plunge into modernity. Indeed, it’s a daring leap for publisher Nintendo along with developer Game Freak to make, and for the large part it actually pays off.
Unfortunately, whilst they succeed in the presentation of the game, their implementation of many of the new, and supposedly ‘innovative’ elements fall short of the mark due to ham-fisted delivery, and lazy, trivial design choices.
Main offender on the list? Mega Evolution, without a doubt. At first it was intriguing. The prospect of somehow drawing forth a hidden reservoir of power from your Pokémon, affecting their appearance and battle capabilities. The reality of it is less appealing. A true innovation should go in almost unnoticed, it should speak for itself and it should feel as if it always should have existed; Mega Evolution is precisely the opposite of that. Why do they exist? What purpose do they serve aside from making what was already an easy game, much easier? Their implementation in the story feels forced and alien to the Pokémon universe, like it’s been shoved in where it doesn’t fit. Also they are ugly (with exceptions, of course… god damn Mega Alakazam is majestic), most of the Mega Evo’s look like primary school level fan-art at best.
What’s next on the list… Ok, ‘super training’, ugh, more like ‘not-super training’. Whoever conceived this at Game Freak should be fired, or at least issued a pay decrease. Seriously? Is this really a thing in a Pokémon game? Let me break it down for you: ‘super’ training consists of a series of mini games which are somehow more effective at training your Pokémon than actually, you know, training your Pokémon. In one of the mini-games (the one I believe to be the main one), you literally play soccer with a giant Pokémon. Ok, that does sound awesome, but at the same time it sounds horrible. Awesomely horrible. Game Freak, let’s leave soccer to the pro’s from now on, ok?
Not all the innovations are as bad as super training though. In terms of general playability, Pokémon has never been better. Menu’s are super streamlined, items are easier to use, Pokémon easier to manage. Nothing here has been dramatically overhauled but it’s the little things that make a difference.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is also better than ever. The ability to trade and/or battle with anyone around the world is a constant option on the bottom screen of your device. It’s really well implemented: it’s easy to use, it’s fun, and it is never intrusive on the single player. Wonder Trading is a new feature for the series, it’s simple and very, very addictive: you choose one Pokémon, and in return you are given a Pokémon. That’s it, you don’t know what you’ll get and neither does the person you’re sending your Pokémon to. It’s a delightfully surprising.
Lastly, the Exp. Share, an item that has featured in Pokémon games since the series’ inception, has undergone a radical change this time around. Previously, the Exp. Share was an item you gave a Pokémon to hold, who then split the earned experience with whichever Pokémon you were using in battle. Now, the Exp. Share awards all Pokémon in your party 50%of the experience points (used to level up your Pokémon) gained from either defeating, or capturing an attacking Pokémon, whilst the Pokémon at the head of your party gets 100% of the experience – the item’s functionality is as simple as switching on/off in the bag menu. This comes off as a double-edged sword, one the one hand it makes the game a lot easier, as your Pokémon suddenly are very easy to train. On the other hand, the Exp. Share is a great tool for experimenting with different types of Pokémon, as it hastens the rate in which you can catch, train, and get Pokémon up to the same level as the rest of your party. In the end, it’s an optional element, so the offense is minimal if at all.
Really, X & Y shines most brilliantly when it isn’t trying to be new. When it has the confidence to relax and simply let you do your thing, you’ll realise that beneath all the glitz and glam, X & Y is still an incredibly fun game full of adventure, a vast and beautiful world full of interesting places to explore, exciting challenges, hundreds of incredible Pokémon (both old and new) to train and capture… The list goes on – everything you know and love about Pokémon games is back, only this time it comes with extra, unwanted baggage titled ‘Wasted Potential’.
At times, X & Y comes off like a toddler screaming for praise, demanding attention for it’s antics. Sure toddlers can be endearing, but they can also be bloody annoying.