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Pokemon X and Y review

AT A GLANCE
  • Having a reason to care about your Pokemon
  • Exploring the immersive, 3D world
  • A slew of small changes to the Pokemon formula
  • That some elements of the franchise are in dire need of update
  • Strange technical and consistency problems
  • Mega Evolutions aren't as interesting as they are cool

Every Pokémon game you've ever played has lied to you. They've assembled a web of deceit wrapped around the idea that the series is, in some way, about being friends with your Pokémon. The best trainers, they've said over and over and over again, are the ones who are the kindest to their monsters. The ones who trust their monsters. The ones who care about their monsters' feelings. You know that's never been true; you've known all along. But with Pokémon X and Y, the developer has finally lived up to the 15-years of lip service. It has finally addressed the thesis of the franchise, making a game where your bond with your Pokémon actually, truly matters.

It matters in combat, when you're battling 3D Pokémon against other 3D Pokémon. Pocket monsters that have high affection for you (as gained by minigames and the newly added ability to pet your Pokémon) will simply perform better--they'll dodge attacks and land critical hits and shrug off status effects more often. Having your Sylveon survive not one, but two attacks after being at one hitpoint just because it loves you so damn much makes a compelling case for being friends with the little guys. It feels random at times, which is sure to enrage the kind of fan that takes the statistical side of Pokémon hyper seriously, but it's entrancing for those willing to allow themselves to be immersed in the charming world.

Thankfully, Pokémon X and Y works hard to make you feel like a part of its universe. The jump to 3D makes for beautiful, lifelike environments in a franchise that has never been all that aesthetically ambitious. From the protagonists--both of whom can be customized with different outfits and hairstyles--to the caves and dungeons, X and Y shows off some of the best visuals on the handheld, where previous games have mostly looked subdued.

 If anything, it feels as though the vast environments and detailed Pokémon are simply too much for the handheld. There are occasional framerate drops, and much of the game disables the 3D slider, which is a shame considering how many areas look as though they were designed specifically to take advantage of the added depth stereoscopic 3D delivers.

But while the more detailed world does wonders to make the franchise look more advanced, it also has the downside of making some other elements of the game feel a bit dated. Most notably is asking players to remember the differences between the many types of colorful creatures, which are starting to become trickier to manage now that there are over 700 to choose from. Expecting players to learn which types are strong or weak against others is fine, and worked well for the first few generations when most of the Pokémon looked like the type they were. Part of the fun of the game is in the discovery, but it's impractical to expect players to remember every type of every Pokémon they've ever encountered--something that could be resolved by just giving you access to the Pokédex during battles.

That's not to say no adjustments have been made, and many fix problems you might not have even known you had. Game saves are now near-instant, and the interface has been streamlined to make just about every action from checking the map to trading Pokémon with friends as painless as possible. EXP Share has also received, allowing you to share experience among all of your Pokémon to keep them around the same level. Even more impressive is the change to EV (Effort Value) Training--the previously hidden mechanic has been surfaced and made more manageable.

While none of the changes feel like they take away from the game, there are some that simply don't live up to their potential. Horde battles pit you against a slew of low-level Pokémon at once, which just ends up feeling annoying rather than compelling, and Sky Battles happen so infrequently that you might forget they even exist. More dissapointing are Mega Evolutions. Certain Pokémon can temporarily evolve mid-battle, and will have different stats than they would in their regular form, but there's rarely a compelling reason not to use the ability since there's no real negative to it. The only restriction in place is that you can only Mega Evolve one fighter per battle, but that's hardly enough to make a huge strategic difference. You're still going to want to do it, because the Mega Evolutions are way too visually impressive to ignore, but don't expect much bite with the bark.

While the franchise has always had an emphasis on playing with friends, no Pokemon game has truly embraced connectivity like X and Y have. The bottom screen displays the P.S.S. (Player Search System), which includes a list of your active friends and nearby players, all of whom can be interacted with in a matter of taps. When a friend is in need, you can even provide them with temporary buffs to help them out. It's compelling and social without being obtrusive.

Setting up trading and battling were time-consuming and clunky in previous games, but X and Y have integrated it all into experience. Now, you're able to trade or battle from anywhere, with audio chat letting you chastise your friends or ask them to swap specific 'mons with you. You'll still be in your own game off on your own, personal adventure, but you'll definitely feel like you're playing alongside your friends as you play through X and Y.

Even with all of these renovations, innovations, and--yes, we're going to just go ahead and say it--evolutions, Pokémon X and Y still feel like a Pokémon game in the end. Sure, you're going to spend some of the time petting your Pikachu and you get to choose multiple starters, but X and Y eventually land in the comfort zone fans have found themselves in for six generations. Though they don't reinvent the core concept of the franchise, they do a fantastic job of cleaning up the aging mechanics and creating a Pokémon world you'd be crazy not to explore.

More Info

Release date: Oct 12 2013 - 3DS (US)
Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Nintendo
Franchise: Pokemon
ESRB Rating:
Everyone: Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence

If you get hooked--and you'll likely get hooked--you're going to find a few hundred hours of Pokemon battles to look forward to, even if the game falls back on some old tropes a bit too much.

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  • ObliqueZombie - October 4, 2013 8:13 a.m.

    Third paragraph down, you have "in a in a". Anyway, good review Coop, very fair. When the core concept of a franchise doesn't change too much, it's hard to knock the game for it. But the only real "disappointment" for my is the technical issues. That doesn't sound too fun to experience. Alas, very excited for this game, if only to see every monster ever made in gorgeous 3D character models!
  • GR HollanderCooper - October 4, 2013 8:16 a.m.

    Fiiiiixed! And yeah, re: technical stuff, it's not frequent, but it's so rare to see a Nintendo-published game have ANY hiccups, let along graphical ones like this.
  • winner2 - October 4, 2013 8:16 a.m.

    I'm kind if disappointed to hear about the lack of strategy with the megas and the technical issues, but oh well I guess.
  • BladedFalcon - October 4, 2013 8:22 a.m.

    Very nice review Coop, And I'm glad to hear the overall experience seems to deliver. And well- I always kinda disliked the idea of Mega-Evolutions, so I'm not disappointed to hear they are broken so much as I am annoyed, because that's what they felt they would going to be from the start. You didn't mention anything about the story though... Which I guess that in itself is telling, I'm assuming the whole plot is nowhere near worth talking about, eh? XD
  • Doctalen - October 4, 2013 8:24 a.m.

    What kind of draw backs were you hoping for in mega-evolutions? I was under the impression that mega-evolutions were a new mechanics introduced to buff up some mid tier pokemon (except mewtwo I'm still baffled at that). Also were these frame rate drops in 3D mode or 2D? That sounds like somethin that never happens to a Nintendo game and I am giving a bias towards 3D mode causing it
  • GR HollanderCooper - October 4, 2013 8:25 a.m.

    For Mega Evolution, I was hoping for just something that would add a layer of strategy to them, since as is it's just a button you'll always hit to always make them always stronger. Frame rate drops were mostly in 3D, but I noticed them in 2D as well.
  • Doctalen - October 4, 2013 8:33 a.m.

    That sounds good, I doubt I'd ever use the 3D much. Have you been able to battle online? In game most mechanics don't make much of a splash against AI but online I can see megas being a major problem. Also hae you been able to determine if "hard mode" returns? I enjoyed that in Black and White 2
  • MrKart - October 4, 2013 9:37 a.m.

    This is a good review, and I'm sure during the story arc, that fact about always hitting the Mega Evolution is completely true. But in a competitive scene, it's going to be further from the truth. The competitive scene is completely made up of type matches and item holds, because it's usually 1 or 2 turns and your Pokemon is knocked out. In that sense, altering the type of your Pokemon with a Mega Evolution is not always going to be the most viable option, not to mention, having to have that stone equipped instead of Choice Scarf, Leftovers, or anything else is a HUGE hit. So I think from a competitive standpoint, it's a pretty huge new element of strategy.
  • Y2Ken - October 4, 2013 8:35 a.m.

    Nice review Coop. I'm very much looking forward to it, glad to hear it's made a pretty smooth transition. Shame to hear about the frame-rate drops but I've well-established that I have the blessing of an almost blindness to low framerate. So that shouldn't bother me too much.
  • SpadesSlick - October 4, 2013 8:43 a.m.

    The drawbacks to mega evolutions will be seen in competitive battling where you have to forgo a choice scarf or leftovers for the stone. That is a pretty big drawback in itself.
  • Doctalen - October 4, 2013 9:02 a.m.

    For a venasuar I'd think its worth it to use a mega stone Mega-Venasuar: Sunny Day Synthesis Solarbeam/Sludge bomb Poison powder/ Reflect That sound like a decent set up
  • SpadesSlick - October 4, 2013 9:06 a.m.

    I'm not saying that it won't be worthwhile in competitive battling, as the whole point of mega evolutions are to make old pokemon that are popular competitively viable again. Bu t the inability to use any other item and being limited to only one are drawbacks. You just aren't going to see these when going up against dumbfuck bug catcher in the forest.
  • Arobadope - October 4, 2013 10:18 a.m.

    Personally, I always figured that's what the mega evolutions were for, the competitive scene of pokemon, not just playing through the game.
  • bobob101 - October 4, 2013 7:09 p.m.

    All I can say is that no review would matter to me, I planned to get this game during the announcement back in February. But I have to ask, will you be able to keep doing X and Y weekly continuing onwards. Maybe you should start a week or two after the game is released to talk about all the features.
  • shawksta - October 4, 2013 10:35 a.m.

    Frankly its for balance, it makes it tough to choose if its worth going mega, I wouldn't call it a drawback but basically a trade off one should think about
  • C.King - October 4, 2013 9:26 a.m.

    are there any streetpass features?
  • slimjim441 - October 4, 2013 9:53 a.m.

    Great review. Good to see improvements have been made. Unfortunately, the pokemon series has ALWAYS lacked in reinventiveness. Improvements and new features out the wazoo, but actual reinventing of gameplay mechanics? Never. Maybe one day, we'll see some real evolution in the Pokemon franchise. Still leaves me with one question: are there any notable differences between the versions aside from the version exclusive pokemon/legendaries?
  • Arobadope - October 4, 2013 10:17 a.m.

    Let's be honest...what the hell else could they do? The strategy of the game is set and pretty solid, the flow of it is more or less about as close to perfect you can get, outside of doing a pokemon game on console that plays out something similar to the TV shows/Comics, I really can't imagine what else they could do to the actual portable pokemon games and still keep the same feeling alive.
  • Zepaw - October 4, 2013 10:01 a.m.

    Glad to have a reason to care about the series again. I got so bored Black/White 2 is the first in the series I didn't even bother playing. I've got my Pokemon 3ds xl, I'm ready!
  • shawksta - October 4, 2013 10:37 a.m.

    Great review coop its nice to see Pokemon step it up and I'm excited to get on and collect new Pokemon. The mega's come more into play in the competitive scene and even then, their pretty awesome on a Pokemon. The 12 cant come soon enough