My parents divorced when I was young. I saw the first ever broadcast of SpongeBob SquarePants. I loved scooters, Crazy Bones and Beast Wars. I had a huge skateboarder wannabe phase. I still remember when the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys became huge. All of this was from my childhood; the 90s. An era of music videos and innovative, new cartoons. Many of these pop culture artifacts were products of the past; they didn’t stand the test of time. Yet, what was possibly the biggest phenomenon from my childhood remains as powerful and iconic a franchise as it ever was.
Pokémon has been around since the 90s and has stood strong and relentless, remaining a massive and popular series in the gaming world. With the release of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, one thing is clear: this series isn’t going anywhere soon. The games not only adhere to their younger target audience, they provide ample nostalgia and imagination for the older, more mature Pokémon aficionado. The new titles do this by bringing many of the things long-time fans have asked for to the forefront while still maintaining the traditional formula. Despite a few frame-rate hiccups and some old, unsolved problems, this is one of the best Pokémon yet.
New, But Familiar World:
X and Y's most important new feature is its 3D world. Gone are the old sprites and static cities. Replacing these are new cities inspired by the beautiful country of France. The world comes together in its central city, Lumiose, which looks strikingly similar to Paris. Huge buildings tower over players while taxicabs drive through, able to find you all of the interesting parts of this gigantic city. Things like museums and cafes litter the city creating a much more engaging Pokémon experience than previous games.
And that’s just it. You finally feel like you are “in” this new world. Past titles like Pearl and Black looked passable and used their limited hardware to its fullest effect, but this is the first time you can see people that actually look like… well people, and buildings… that look like real buildings.
As great as the visual enhancements are for the scenery, it feels a bit belated. For many years, fans have been asking for a full 3D Pokémon world, but the company failed to truly do so because of their want to keep the franchise portable. With that said the enhancements are truly stunning and really help bring players into this foreign world.
Transportation has also seen a leap with the addition of roller blades. Push the circle pad in one direction, and you’ll soon see yourself whizzing along the path. While the running shoes and bicycles make a return, I found myself seldom using those alternative options in favour of the roller skates.
An Oddly Paced Adventure:
Ah yes, the classic Pokémon adventure beginning. The newest professor tells you of the ways in which the Pokémon world differs from ours. You then choose your character and start your adventure by meeting your mother and setting off. The tradition ends there. You don’t even get your first creature from Professor Sycamore (the new professor); you get it from a group of four friends. These four friends will be with you throughout your entire adventure. You don’t even meet the professor until after your first gym badge.
Not to mention that Sycamore gives you another starting Pokémon, from the 1
generation. Yep, you’ll be able to choose from the classics: Charmander, Bulbasaur and Squirtle. From there on, you continue your adventure, trying to gather all eight gym badges and defeat the Elite Four. And don't forget Team Flare, a diabolical organization bent on world domination. It's all pretty familiar territory to fans. Personally, I was always shocked they reduced the gym count back to eight after Gold went with 16. While a more complex and original story would have been welcome, the game is marketed for kids. Not to mention the old motto, 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'.
Luckily, many of the similarities end there because players will have their choice of almost any Pokémon. Yes, it’s fantastic, but it also ends up becoming both a strength and weakness for the game. While past titles have restricted what kind of Pokémon you can catch within in the game, X and Y seem to throw that out the window. There are a vast amount of Pokémon from all six generations available in each area.
Make no mistake, the nostalgia factor is high. Many of the Pokémon you see are from the older generations when the character designs were exceptional. It seems as the series went on (and especially in Black and White) the designs were a bit lacking. When you have to make a Pokémon that is literally garbage, you have a problem. Fortunately, some of the new Pokémon are great. The new Eeveelution, Sylveon, is fantastic as well as the starters Froakie and Chespin, as well as their evolutions. There is also a new type, called "Fairy", which is super-effective against Dragon-type. Dragon-types were notorious for being over-powered, so this may end that problem. This new variety is outstanding, but it does present an issue.
Ignoring the fact that this allows players to choose their ultimate dream teams with ease, it also brings down the challenge quite a fair bit. Throughout the eight gym battles and the elite four, I found little to no challenge with my all-star super team. Yet, the battle system has had a few welcome additions.
Pretty Punishment- Battles:
Battles have been enhanced visually to look akin to the spin-off brother, Pokémon Stadium. The new visuals look great in battle, and the attacks as well as the creature models themselves are quite a technical feat for the small-but-capable 3DS. Unfortunately, the frame-rate dips quite a bit during battles, to the point where it seems like its buffering a little. This is by no means a deal-breaker and shouldn’t deter people from playing, but it does affect the speed and fast nature of battles in previous titles.
As mentioned earlier, the lack of challenge is a huge issue. While Pokémon was never a hard game per say, certain gym and rival battles would at least demand some knowledge of a player’s battle skills. It seems like Game Freak has done little to improve the artificial intelligence of the many trainers you’ll meet on your Kalos journey.
The mini-games added like Pokémon Amie and Super Training also tip the balance scale in your favour. EV’s, which means effort values, were previously hidden stats in past Pokémon games. They are finally shown here, and you can play mini activities to raise these hidden stats. It unbalances the game even more, and the mini-games are pretty simple and boring.
Despite this, the biggest new feature to the battle system adds a lot of needed depth. Mega evolution allows certain Pokémon to go past their final evolution during battle, resulting in being mega-evolved. Mega-evolution not only changes the aesthetic qualities of the creature involved, it sometimes enhances stats and in some cases, changes the type of the Pokémon. It’s important to note only one mega-evolution can be used per battle. Much like the “X factor” in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, this can completely shift the momentum of a battle if it’s used correctly.
Another new addition is horde encounters, which involve fighting five of the same encounters at a time. This has caused Game Freak to switch some of the moves so that they hit all targets instead of one. I encountered many different hordes, but unfortunately, I would usually just run away as they weren’t mandatory battles. It may have been better if they were used by Team Flare (this generation’s Team Rocket) in battles. On the bright side, I was able to catch a Mareep easily through a horde battle, so they do have many benefits.
Finally, there are the online features. These have been revamped completely, adding a much more dedicated player search system. With this new feature, players are always around ready to battle, trade and chat. Online battles were silky smooth in my time with the multiplayer, even when battling people in Japan and Europe.
An adventure worth taking:
In the end, this is an amazing step for the franchise. The transition to 3D has been done seamlessly, making it almost impossible for me to go back to any of the older titles. While there are problems with the frame rate and the level of play could use a bit more difficulty, this is the next step in the Pokémon series we all grew up with.
If you haven’t joined the craze yet, this is a perfect place to start. And if you haven’t played since Red and Blue, this is the culmination of all the things we wanted in Pokémon since we were kids. Long live the ‘90s.