My pockets have been full of monsters for a long, long time. Christmas of 1998 to be exact. Pokémon has evolved (pun intended) from the pixelated, 8-bit, olive-green days on the Game Boy to a polished, colorful (sometimes Shiny), internet-enabled, sort-of-3D gaming extravaganza! Coming in as the sixth installment of the core Pokémon series of games, Pokémon X and Y bring with it a slew of enhancements, upgrades, approachability, and, of course, new Pokémon (70 new creatures, bringing the total to 719).
A brief overview of what a Pokémon game is for the “novice(s)” reading this (yes that was a reference to episode 4 of the original TV series, Challenge of the Samurai). In large part, Pokémon are creatures loosely-based on animals or objects we find in the real world, then given elemental traits, special powers, and abilities. For example, you probably know what Pikachu looks like; it is based on a chubby rodent, but is infused with electrical powers in which it might shock you or summon a lightning bolt to strike you down. You play the role of a Trainer, someone who captures Pokémon and trains them to fight in competitive battles against other trainers. You, as the trainer, will catch many Pokémon, strengthen your team, and challenge gym leaders for credibility. This all leads up to the culminating battles against the Elite 4 (well-known celebrity Trainers, like the Iron Chef’s of the Pokémon world). Once you’ve proven yourself in battle after battle you can choose to go your own route with the rest of the time you spend in the game. Some people “gotta catch ’em all”, some people like to play online against their friends or in tournaments, and others just like to raise their favorite characters and enjoy the virtual bond they make with them.
Kalos is the new region introduced in this generation, strongly based on France’s aesthetic and culture. Your starting partners stick to the old tried-and-true choices between Grass/Fire/Water type Pokémon. The trainer avatar has more variation than ever, and throughout the game you can continue to customize your trainer with more “stylish” outfits (a sad theme of the game, partnered with the terrible Team Flare adversaries and their need to be runway-ready). The first major enhancement you’ll notice is the 3D freeform walking. Sounds like a terribly lame thing to highlight, but given the series’ history, it’s newsworthy to say that you can walk in circles or even at an angle if you so desire. The gameplay itself was highly touted as a “breath-taking 3D world”. I’ll say it is a nice breath of fresh air, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is “breath-taking”. Sadly, while playing the game with the 3D toggled on there is a noticeable lag in the graphics and an overall sluggishness to the gameplay. It’s hard to believe that the 3DS is incapable of rendering 3D graphics and animations as compared to some of the other titles out there—but clearly something is not 100% working as anticipated. As I’ve said, I’ve been playing this series since 1998 and I can’t overstate how awesome it is to finally have a Pokémon game with 3D “current” graphics.
Pokémon games cater to a wide range of gamers. Face value might tell you that these games are for kids, but there is a wildly competitive and loyal group of people that play these games at an intense level. Sure, X and Y have the side games like any other generation. There are cutesy petting and feeding of your team in puzzles and mini games, and training your Pokémon by hitting the gym with some punching bags and balloon fights—but X and Y is truly a great game to first or re-dive into the competitive world. Updates have been made to training and breeding your Pokémon to be as ready for competitive play as possible. In previous generations, the tips and tricks of training your guys to an elite level were never really obvious and always clouded with fanboy analysis and googling of how-tos. X and Y gives us Super Training, simplified breeding tricks, and fewer scenarios in which getting the Pokémon you want might take days and days of intense grinding.
The sixth generation also comes with a new type, Fairy. Fairy-type moves are super effective against Dragon-type Pokémon (a previously overpowered group that was in desperate need of rebalancing). Some of the old standby Pokémon have changed their typing to Fairy to help balance out the gameplay in addition to a handful of the 70 new ones introduced.
The other major addition to the series is the Mega Evolution. Some Pokémon that were previously unable to evolve any further now have a Mega form when partnered with a special item. These forms are activated during battle and are not permanent. For example, one of the fan favorites, Charizard, can now evolve even further into either Charizard-X or Charizard-Y depending on the item you give it (one is obtainable in the X version and the other in the Y version). Stats are boosted, special abilities are added, sometimes typing changes, and the character themselves change form and/or color. I have a hard time accepting Mega Evolutions. We’ve already started to see the banning of these forms of Pokémon in some competitive competitions and I fear that the balancing that was made with Fairy vs. Dragon was nullified by allowing a select few characters the ability to get supped up on Mega Pokémon steroids and become really hard to handle. Time will tell if this was a good move for the battle balancing.
The online environment in X and Y is by far the best yet. The ability to trade and battle with friends is much more accessible (though still based on Friend Codes, BLAH). Online trading and battling could not be easier. They even added a roulette kind of trading called “wonder trade” in which you can send a Pokémon away and receive a random one from anyone in the world (needless to say I’ve received a lot of Bidoof and Dunsparce, but the occasional extra Pokémon that someone was breeding to compete gets sent over and makes up for all the crap).
I don’t know what it is about the Pokémon series that always has me coming back. Whether it be nostalgia, the impending challenge, or the odd sense of ownership and camaraderie you get with your characters—Pokémon X and Y does the series justice and puts the game back on track in the modern era of handheld gaming.