Pokémon hasn’t made a concerted effort to step outside of its comfort zone ever since it first released in Japan in 1996 – and for good reason. It found its hook nearly 20 years ago and has held on firm for better and worse. In this way, changing things in Pokémon presents a certain degree of uncomfortable risk. X & Y offer no significant changes in direction to the Pokémon series, but this is the most drastic step the series has ever taken.
Pokémon X & Y looks far different from previous Pokémon games. Pokémon are no longer restricted to 2D sprites, and participate in combat as fully modeled creatures. Instead of making a couple of two-dimensional images butt heads, you now see creatures with their own idle animations and combat moves come to life on screen. It may be a cliché to say they, “come to life,” but the new models make a difference. The Pokémon now feel more real than they ever have. The polygonal models also allow the camera to move around the combat arena making every battle more engrossing.
The world itself also benefits from the new dimension. This isn’t the first time we’ve walked around in a modeled, non-flat Pokémon world, but this is the first time that the full game has been presented this way. In previous Pokémon games, only certain parts of the world were 3D, creating a disconnect between the landscapes. With every building, plant, character, and signpost modeled in 3D, there’s no separation and the world feels more fluid, consistent, and explorable.
The path through the game and its interconnected cities and towns is more rigid in X & Y, with fewer branches and opportunities to get lost. Pokémon fans who love exploring dense maze-like regions are going to be disappointed by the lack of opportunities to veer off the beaten path, but it helps the pacing tremendously. It also makes the world more inviting to new players and those who have stepped away for a few years and are interested in returning. The streamlined world meant that I always had a good sense of where I was, and never felt like I was venturing into areas that I shouldn’t have.
Despite the smartly implemented world constrictions, walking around and tracking down wild Pokémon in the tall grass is still exciting. That exciting feeling of coming across a brand-new Pokémon you’ve never seen before, or finally catching that one that has been eluding you still comes through, and is aided by the game’s new look. And watching them evolve into new forms continues to be the ultimate reward for leveling your team.
As you explore the Kalos region, you meet hundreds of trainers who like to stop you for no particular reason, and politely fight with you. My favorite was a young girl in pink dress in the middle of a rainy swamp who made me stop everything I was doing to ask me, “Do you like fairy tales or reality more?” Then we battled. These bizarre interactions are often entertaining, and sometimes worth a chuckle.
Many familiar pocket monsters return in X & Y, which is exciting as you get to see them in their new 3D models. Some of the new Pokémon are laughably bad, like Spewpa, who looks like a bug’s head wrapped in a blanket. However, the new Pokémon who are meant to be cute (like Bunnelby) are exactly that, and the cool and ferocious Pokémon like (Tyrantrum) are worth adding to your team. Even the bad ones are fun to discover and show off.
Mega Evolutions are one of Pokémon X & Y’s most publicized new features and while they are cool, they don’t drastically change combat. Once you find the appropriate item and attach it to the appropriate Pokémon, mega evolving can be performed during battle, and does not eliminate a turn. It’s a free move to make your fighter stronger, and seeing the additional evolutions are exciting. The one downside to the Mega Evolutions is the necessity of sitting through their animations each time you use them – which is often.
Other new features add less to the game, but are welcome changes regardless. I liked being able to change my trainer’s clothing, but I wish the options were more diverse. Pokémon-Amie lets you interact with your Pokémon like you would in Nintendogs, but is thankfully not necessary for progression. Taking time out of my busy training schedule to pet my Pokémon and feed them chocolate was something I was happy to ignore. Super Training allows you to passively train your Pokémon’s attributes, which is great. As you explore and battle, your Pokémon practices on a punching bag on the lower screen without your interaction. There are forgettable minigames that you can choose to play to speed Super Training up, but thankfully they are optional.
Pokémon X & Y does not break the mold of what we expect when we play a Pokémon game. It goes down the checklist of important Pokémon features, neatly ticking them off one by one. It still feels like a Pokémon game, but the ease of player control, the updated art direction, 3D graphics, and the scaling of the world make everything more inviting, attractive, and fun. It’s a great stepping-on point for new trainers, and a worthwhile continuing adventure for those who know what to expect.