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Pokémon X and Pokémon Y (Nintendo 3DS) Review

Review for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

As with many Nintendo franchises, Pokémon has survived the ever-changing landscape of technology and game design over the years. With over 650 critters and ten main series titles, Pokémon has truly evolved to become one of Nintendo's most loved and lucrative franchises to date.

Developer Game Freak could have continued with the same tried and tested formula for many years to come, but decided that a shake-up was due for the latest portable installments, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. A new look, flexible controls and refinements have been woven into a bustling new world to explore, but do these new games live up to the Pokémon legacy?

It all kicked off when series creator Satoshi Tajiri teamed up with Pokémon illustrator Ken Sugimori and a small team at Game Freak to produce the concept over six years. Together with mentoring from the father of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto, the games were born and the rest is written in millions of plushies, trading cards, films and much more. Pokémon is a household name amongst gamers, casuals, kids and parents, remaining still relevant today despite the onslaught of Angry Birds and Candy Crush.

For those who haven't yet stepped into the shoes of the digital animal trainer, the premise of Pokémon is remarkably simple. A young lad or lady comes of age and decides to leave home, embarking on an adventure across the country to catch and raise wild bugs, birds and beasts, pitting these newfound companions against others. Sparkling badges are earned by conquering gym leaders and everlasting friendships are forged with these Pokémon. At its core, this formula has yet to have been tampered with in the seventeen years on the market. Players still set off from home as a youngster, still go through a gruelling development process and still emerge victorious at the end of it all. What Nintendo and Game Freak have done over the years is gently nudge the games here and there, constantly refining and enhancing the experience. When it comes to Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, there certainly is more of that, but Game Freak have taken bigger strides, leaps, this cycle instead of those smaller steps, to make this pair of games the definitive take on the much loved adventure.


 

What's immediately apparent in the new games are how even the smallest changes can make a significant impact on the experience overall and the opening minutes are a testament to the need to take the franchise forward. You still wake up and wander downstairs to a jubilant mother whose main objective is to usher her offspring out the house and into the wider world. The main difference in the opening scenes, however, is that it isn't an immediate trip to the regional professor's house or meeting a scientist for a starter Pokémon, but instead trainers are introduced to a rowdy group of teenagers. The token big chap then presents our budding Pokémon trainer a standard choice of one of three new critters to adopt - the fiery fox Fennekin, the adorable grass-type Chespin or the slightly clumsy looking Froakie. Once settled, it's time to wander the world with companions in toe, each of these friends seeking to accomplish something different - not just being the master of the Pokémon.

Screenshot for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Shauna is a curious, energetic girl who tags along to find a dream of her own. Tierno is a dancer who's inspired by Pokémon moves in his routines and Trevor is the token bookworm, wanting to be the first to complete his Pokédex. There's also a more toned down rival, whose gender is dependent on if players choose to set out as a boy or girl. Whilst the group of travelling friends do eventually scatter and leave players to their own devices, the setup makes the adventure this time round lean more towards the animé series than a standard solo story.

Graphically is where Pokémon X and Pokémon Y have taken a leap in the right direction. Both games are rendered in full, 3D. Gone are the charming pixel sprites of yesterday and the middle-hybrid 3D of the past DS games, in favour of a sublime new look. Nintendo have blended the more traditionally Eastern guise with more Western tastes and a splash of Parisian delicacy scattered across the land. Cafés and boutiques line the streets, building a sense of culture and a more refreshing take to the previously standard allotment of houses and gyms.

It's not just the visual designs themselves that have been spruced up; the slick animation defines and creates a need to see more. The delicate raindrops, smattering of leaves, subtle dust particles as players stomp over mounds of dirt; the world echoes that sensation of childhood exploration. Where the game's animation department really shines is in the sheer amount of work that's been put into the battle sequences. With well over 650 critters to choose from, each of these are modelled with distinct personalities - even the same movesets can vary due to shape, size and occasional accessory. It's a joy to see, particularly with the 3D switch cranked to high, and would encourage the Poké-collecting even more this time round. The camera zooms, pans and makes good use of the space as these beasts go toe-to-toe, mirroring console classics Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Battle Revolution, yet keeping the pace and intensity as snappy as the past Pokémon titles.

It isn't quite perfect, however, as the 3D effect does have the disadvantage of generating a fair bit of slowdown, especially during an elemental move like "Fire Blast" or "Thunderbolt". It's a shame given how much more impressive battles look with the 3D output enabled, but Game Freak has opted to keep the experience a generally 3D-less affair for the majority of the game. The overworld itself can only be played in a less state, likewise interiors and the mini-games are in 2D too. Even the Pokédex is mainly played out on the lower 3DS screen, a missed opportunity to be able to zoom in and see critters in full 3D.

Screenshot for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Visuals to one side, the adventure is packed to the brim with new and varied locations, gyms to conquer and fashion elements to tap into. Players can access a range of different outfits, make-up and cosmetic changes to inject in a little bit more personality and individuality into their virtual avatars. The different towns and back-alleys present a myriad of smaller sequences and side missions to wander down, not straying too far from the main plot, making going from start to finish less straightforward this time round. Gym leaders and baddies still make-up the guideposts along the journey, but do present gems of uniqueness from time to time. None of these battles are particularly challenging or induce moments of uncertainty if the right Pokémon are equipped, but are still rewarding once beaten.

Despite the architectural overhaul in the Kalos region, the NPC characters still haven't quite as much depth or development to them. Locales are still as peculiar and charming, each giving tips about where to go and what to do within the vicinity, but still give off the impression of being almost cardboard cut-outs in nature. Wash away the façade of smiles and regulated walking patterns and they emerge as dressed up sign-posts. There isn't a need for a Shakespearean play's worth of dialogue, but a more dynamic and less generic approach would have made the interaction more flavourful.

We've explored the visuals and storyline in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, but what about the actual meat of the game; the Pokémon themselves? There are a ridiculous amount of critters in the Nintendo book of big and beautiful monsters, over 650 now, and the newer ones do fit nicely into the already comprehensive selection. Litleo is an adorable lion cub that heats up the mood with fearsome fire attacks, Pancham is the cheekier bear variety who evolves into the ruthless Pangoro, Tyrunt takes a step back by clawing into the dinosaur age. These are just a few of the newbies, but the main focus in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y seems to be an attempt at melding new with the old, and clearly bringing back some of the favourites that made the series so popular in the first place - Pikachu, Pidgey and various others from the first three generations make appearances early on, and after besting the first gym, the Pokémon professor offers players a first-generation starter.


 

Throughout the encounters with both the wild and trainer-owned Pokémon, there's a sense of completion, acting as a tribute to the past that gradually phases in a selection of brand new Pokémon to meet - balancing nostalgia with a sense of newness.

It's not just a simple set of new names either, with Nintendo shaking up the battle specifics by introducing a new Fairy type that incorporates both new and existing Pokémon. Effective against fighting, dragon and dark, the Fairy group are resisted by fire, poison and steel. It's far more complex this time round, blending multiple types together for a head-scratching set of rules. For those unfamiliar with the battle mechanic, Pokémon are grouped by their genetic make-up - some are pure breed, for example fire, grass, rock and electric, whilst others can incorporate dual types. Each type can deal double damage to another, whilst being ineffective to some - an advanced rock, paper, scissors of animal fighting as it were. Because there's so much variety within the world, and not strictly limited to new critters, there's a strong desire to keep playing, exploring and discovering what's there in every nook and cranny.

Those wanting to push power even further can dabble in the much talked-about "Mega Evolution", an ability that can cause a handful of Pokémon to temporarily change their form, and sometimes even their type, mid battle. It can only apply to a single critter in the current trainer's party, but can instantly shift the action in one's favour during those crucial moments. It's a neat touch, and especially compelling to see which of the many Pokémon can actually mega evolve, and fortunately doesn't dominate the main game too much to become distracting.

Screenshot for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Winning battles against wild creatures, roaming trainers, baddies and gym leaders strengthens and defines a player's Pokémon team. This has remained essentially the same throughout the series and can easily rack up hours upon hours for those wanting to reach level 100 for each of their six primary Pokémon, and even more so with the rest of their digital animal collection. Fortunately with the new games, the process has been made far more streamlined, with the focus being on quick and rewarding progression, rather than a dull grind. The EXP Share, which was a key item in previous generations, is now a general item that can quite literally be turned on and off, and distributes experience regardless of which Pokémon were out during the battle. There's even experience gained when catching a Pokémon. The progression of the game is sped up - there's less roaming about, less repetition and a bigger push on getting to the next area or triggering the next part of the storyline - it's a refinement that's more than welcome in an RPG of this nature.

It's not all about battles either, as the Kalos Region Pokédex, a virtual computer housed on the 3DS touch-screen, incorporates a wealth of new mini-game training options to strengthen both the Pokémon's wellbeing and core abilities. Pokémon Amie is a breeding feature, where players can pick from their current team, feed and play short mini-games like berry collecting and tile puzzles on the bottom screen. It's a welcome extra that leans into the world of nintendogs, and lets trainers get that bit closer to their virtual pals. Those wanting to boost stats can also try Super Training on the move - either bopping a little punching bag sprite or playing through a footy-inspired set of vigorous challenges. Both of these modes are available on the fly to avoid having to wander over to a nearby town - it adds to the streamlined focus and maintains that progression.

Levelling up multiple members of the team does still require a lot of hard work and commitment, but the changes have made Pokémon a far leaner, battle machine without as much backtracking - trimming the excess fat off a succulent pocket meal.


 

At any point, players can interact with the online community through the Player Search System (PSS) that's embedded on the Pokédex. Once connected, the screen displays registered 3DS friends, acquaintances plus a selection of random passers-by who can be battled, traded with or spoken to through the in-game chat system. There's also the ability to create a short "about me" Trainer PR video for those wanting to entice others to a battle or two without words.

The online system is quick to connect to and surprisingly versatile given the Pokémon franchise's history of limited online connectivity. A handful of battles with randomers were pulled off without a hitch, the fight wrapped into a 60-minute maximum time, with 60 seconds per action. If Pokémon are sub level-50, there'll be automatically upgraded to balance the playing field, though there is the option to remove restrictions for more intense wireless battles.

Screenshot for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y on Nintendo 3DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

The core Pokémon mechanics are in place for the series veteran and budding newcomer - players explore a world, earning gym badges and overcoming the odds against a new villain. In-between A and B, there are many beasts to encounter, friends to meet with near-boundless amounts of customisation and training. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y offers a refined and streamlined experience that maintains the pace throughout, leaving room for exploration and online battles after the final credits roll.

Graphics

Game Freak and Nintendo have attempted 3D before in the home console Pokémon experience, but the portable domain is where the franchise excels. The pixel approach has been loved by fans across the globe, but the studio felt the need to push Pokémon forward into the world of 3D polygons and dynamic camera work. The new look may not please everyone, but it makes each of the critters look and feel even more alive. A bustling, colourful cultural hub of activity can be explored and looks fantastic on the small screen. The 3D effect does have its fair share of slowdown and isn't available in a main overworld, however.

Sound

The music is still as jubilant, exciting and adorable as it's been since 1996, brimming with hope, mystery and typical Pokémon flavour. Not a bad note in sight and compliments the gameplay to a tee.

Value

Pokémon X and Pokémon Y will last the duration, and can quite easily tally up more hours than the previous titles. The key difference this time round is that the amount of variety and focus has been strengthened to make the experience far more dynamic and interesting. A hard day's grind does feel rewarding.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

At a glance Pokémon X and Pokémon Y did seem like a standard leap in numbers and a new look, but upon diving into the new world, it's more than just a pair of new Pokémon games. Developed, refined and streamlined, the new 3DS titles are a testament to Game Freak's ability to maintain the core Pokémon strengths but keep the action fresh and still exciting after fifteen years. If you've yet to play a Pokémon title, are a lifelong fan or dipped out several generations back, this is the generation to embrace. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are a tantalising pair of games that simply must be played on the 3DS and 2DS.

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14.10.2013

4

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Developer

Game Freak

Publisher

Nintendo

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (30 Votes)

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Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

I already beat the E4, and currently am in the postgame. So far loving the game!

Good review and great game with the only major flaw I noticed so far being the major FPS fails. It confounds me how GF could release such a namely title like Pokemon and have it delivered to customers so utterly in need of optimization. I never thought I would stutter on a 3DS game, let alone one like pokemon! Smilie

( Edited 15.10.2013 16:00 by Ari )

Dialzza (guest) 22.10.2013 08:33#3

Great game, but I have some significant complaints with it. (Disclaimer: these games are amazing and anyone reading this should still buy them and caress them and you get the point).  
1) lack of postgame
This really bugs me; although it is common for the first entry in a generation to lack postgame, I feel that after black and white we should've expected at least a few new routes & dungeons to explore, instead of a sidequest chain in Lumiose city.  Also the battle maison is the worst incarnation of the battle tower yet; after PWT I am very dissapoint.
2) mega stone availability
The majority are available post-game. Fine, I like that. They are available in areas you re-visit (all of them).  Ok... I can handle that.  They are only available at one specific hour.  F------
3) Plot timing
You confront the main villain, who was brutally obvious, three times.  Within the span of one gameplay hour.  Those are the only times you fight him.  I actually like his character very much, with this being my second favorite plot so far, but god that was annoying.  Also, it happens before the 8th gym.  I THOUGHT  we were done with that when gen V came around.  It always made the 8th gym leader seem like an uncaring ****.  I can excuse the E4 in this game, because (spoilers) one of them is in team flare, and she probably blinded them to the situation while it happened.  
4)The world
I love the world, I love the 3-d models, It is beautiful.  It is kinda upsetting however, that very often the camera is rather zoomed-in and focuses on the charachter, rather then the world.  Customization is great and all, but I want to take in the environment.  This is why the routes in previous gens were a lot more memorable, even thought they were probably less well-designed.  This is mostly a personal complaint, and I'm sure many would disagree.
5 (and final) ) EXP share
For any who played the game, you understand.  It's either use it and be 10 levels above the gym leaders, making them not challenging at all (they also seemed lower level compared to other trainers than previous gens, whitneys miltank anyone? Gardenia's roserade?), or don't use xp share and have to grind to stay close.  
This sounds very negative on the game, but I actually love the game.  I just felt that amidst all the praise I think the criticizms need to be talked about, so that game freak keeps improving.  I think some of these (postgame) will be fixed in X2 Y2, Z, or whatever they come up with.

My only complaint is that this game and generation was a bit... rushed? The mega evolutions were an amazing add to the game, however I feel that there is no sort of post-game stuff to do besides the Looker quests and competitive battling. Other than that, the game is fantastic. The game really was brought to life and is just quite amazing with the new additions of the Pokemon Amie where you can spend time playing and feeding your Pokemon.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  –Robert Frost

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