Back through the mists of time in 1996 a game series came to the Nintendo Gameboy that changed the gaming environment for millions of people. No matter who you were you could play and enjoy Pokémon. It has brought people together the world over and continues to do so to this day. With additions to the franchise including a successful and long running TV series, the epitomy of playground trading card games combined with heavy merchandising capitalised upon this obsession. For the past 16 years this hasn’t changed and neither has the game in its essence. Top down movement and levelling monsters should be showing its age but instead is more popular than ever. Now X and Y brings the 6th generation of Pokémon and this time, something’s very different.
The 6th generation is as far as you can get from a simple reiteration. Instead it’s more of a concerted rebuild of Pokemon into the best it can be. The basic mechanics are all still there. Running around collecting new creatures. Training them up through combat to level them to unlock new moves and evolve. Taking on other trainers to prove you’re the best. Within X and Y though something interesting happens. Menial tasks such as throwing Pokéballs or wandering around towns even encountering random Pokémon you’ve seen before are glossed with the sheen of something special. Going to capture that Farfetch’d that just won’t get in the ball and the tension that comes as the ball rocks side to side is imbued with that very same tension.
There is one noticable factor here which hasn’t really moved with the times like most of the other features however. The story of previous Pokémon titles filled with some evil organisation has never really hit the mark and seems to be used as a means to an end. Now, while in X and Y it is nowhere near as intrusive and the game doesn’t spend such a long time feeding you story beats for the first couple of hours and first towns, its still relatively uninspiring. The flip side to this is Pokémon, Pokémon everywhere.
Generally when you first wander out of town with your first Pokémon at your side you’ve got a choice of 2 maybe 3 Pokémon you can capture and train without spending a good two hours going for the rarer spawns. Even changing the DS internal clock to get them to appear. By the time I felt as though enough time had been spent in the first two routes I was in possession of a full team of 6 Pokémon and another 5 in the PC box which were all of different types. Even right at the start every trainer is likely to have a totally different team. Add to this the opportunity incredibly early in the game to pick up one of the original classic starting 3 with a Mega Evolution stone.
Alright explaining Mega Evolution. This is going to be interesting. Straight off the bat from the start I’m not someone taken by Mega Evolution. They seem to me as more of a way to pull people towards certain pokemon instead of building teams of their own. Personal gripe out of the way, Mega Evolution stones are essentially a held item which you equip a certain Pokémon, with that it gives it the ability to evolve past it’s usual final form to something greater. A totally new selling point for X and Y which in terms of what can be seen from numerous internet memes and popularity figures on websites many people love It’s an interesting system who’s popularity and staying power will be judged not by the single player experience but that of the multiplayer crowd.
Having touched a little on multiplayer lets look at what there is. First up we’ve got the Global Trading System. A pretty bog standard trade finding system which can be done while offline so you don’t need to actively find trade partners. It’s been around since Pokémon hit the internet enabled handhelds but always nice to see. Then there’s the battle spot which gives you the opportunity to free battle with people or indulge in rated battles (however you do have to sign up to the Pokémon global link first). There’s as always your normal battle and trade functions and then a little something else. A little delight called Wonder Trade. Essentially its gambling with the Pokémon you’ve picked up. For the distinguished Pokémon trader this is a little too random but if you’ve caught a second of the same Pokémon by mistake or you simply enjoy risk it’s worth a try.
There’s a few more firsts in X and Y that while not really changing how the game plays, they pull it to a whole new level. Watching your Pikachu actually jump up to do a tail whip never, ever gets old. The addition of character customisation doesn’t affect gameplay in any way what so ever but the sense of emotional connection to your little avatar is massively increased. Right up to seeing your Pokémon in 3D, the emotional attachment is exponentially increased. Even enviromentally, towns and cities follow the same basic patterns as before but seeing them in 3D they suddenly become whole new dimensions of the world to explore. Pokémon-Amie arrives to rear its head as well, allowing you to tickle and stroke your Weedle or indeed any Pokémon just like Nintendogs. Again not a game changer, but nice to see.
Finally we come to Super Training, probably X and Y’s most controvertial new feature. Super Training consists of two parts. Part one is a mini game much like the gameplay of Kid Icarus Uprising where you move your Pokémon on a small platform using the analog stick and shoot soccer balls into nets on a massive balloon Pokémon. The name of the game in these, shoot balls into nets until you finish the score. Finishing these little games increased the stats of the creature you choose to do it and you will usually earn a punching bag after each. These go into a secondary UI which sits on the lower screen and the chosen Pokémon attacks the bag automatically or with your help. The controversy here stems from the planted EV training system from some previous games and comparing it to the Super Training system. It’s drastically simpler than before which to some of us means great it’s more accessible. The problem however is that some hardened veterans who indulge in battles and tournaments feel that the metagame is derivative of the training struggle. As a point, I personally love it.
In closing, Pokémon X and Y is a complete change in visual style with a minor change in gameplay in one of the most surprising places. Pokémon has for over a decade stuck to the same factors with only minor changes. Here the developers took a leap into the unknown and it has most definitely paid off. If you’re a Pokémon fan you either already have the game or have it preordered which you should. Even if you barely game any more, with the even more accessible changes you can get somewhere with much less of a time investment. That’s not to say it’s a short game either. Pokémon X/Y is a rare creature that spawns in the games industry these days. No matter how much time you put it you are greatly rewarded. Where people usually look to Pokémon for familiarity and may be worried too much has changed here they will instead find a brilliant experience which pulls you in and never lets go.