“It’s the best Pokémon game since the first generation!” How many times has that been used when reviewing a new Pokémon game? It seems like every new Pokémon game is hyped as the next Blue and Red, only to fall short of the lofty expectations due to too much recycled material and the series as a whole feeling a tad stale. It’s like the developers of Pokémon spend all day doing rich person stuff, and any time fans are clamouring for a new game, they simply decide to throw another 100 species at us, thinking that will keep us satisfied. But hey, the joke’s on us for getting excited every time, right?
Well, I’ll admit that I was excited for Pokémon Y (the version I played), just like I was excited for Silver, Sapphire, Crystal and Black. And, bar perhaps Silver, every one of those disappointed. So why was I so much looking forward to Y, I asked myself as I queued outside the game shop at 9 o’clock in the morning. Then I put the game into my 3DS and it hit me. This game is really, really good. And the explanation is actually surprisingly simple as to why X and Y actually (for the most part) live up to expectations while many of their predecessors failed. The jump in technology from the Gameboy to the Gameboy Advance wasn’t all that huge by 2001. The jump in technology from the GBA to the DS was bigger, but still not enough to really change up the trusty Pokémon formula. But now we have the 3DS, a surprisingly powerful console that helps the Pokémon series take the leap forward that it should’ve taken in 2003, when it first felt stale.
The first thing you’re going to notice is the striking update to the graphics. It’s no longer your little 2D sprite roaming around. You now have a full 3D avatar, who has real animations for everything he does, which you’ll grow to appreciate as you explore the surprisingly big map. Your character is now fully customisable beyond deciding your name and gender. You can choose skin colour as well as all your clothes; hats, shoes, bags, jackets and even socks. And it shouldn’t feel like a big deal, but you can finally walk diagonally! Praise Arceus! A little Pokemon nerd humour there. Ahem.
Other new additions to the formula includes the Mega-Evolutions, which are cool at first, but feel a little unnecessary in the way they make already powerful Pokémon even more Powerful, and the roller skates which are wonderful in terms of speeding up your character but are very difficult to control in more restricted spaces.
But as I’ve already mentioned, these were all things that should’ve been included from ten years ago, and some of those elements feel like a relief, while others genuinely feel fresh, like the series is beginning again as a new entity, something that the developers were probably going for, considering the names of these instalments.
Anyone can tell you the series has been heavily criticised over the years for creating too many Pokemon, especially with the designers seemingly running out of good ideas after the first few hundred. With the count now being well over 700 Pokemon, the developers did the right thing and limited the number of new Pokemon in X and Y, and it feels like more of a Greatest Hits, with a few new Pokemon there so make a little more interesting. This works really well, with genuinely awesome Pokemon like Lucario and the Abra family, while also throwing in some surprising or genuinely forgotten Pokemon from the past like Luvdisc and the Lotad family. But that’s fine, you’ve got to have a balance between awesome and those that getting beaten up by awesome, no one is forcing you to catch a Bidoof when there’s Pikachus running around.
While most fans will be more excited about the classic returning Pokemon, the designers haven’t slouched on the quality of the new Pokemon either. The three starters are easily the three best starters since the second generation, with each one having an evolution that actually looks like an evolution, rather than just a bigger, more angry version of whatever Pokemon you first picked. Other new Pokemon worth checking out include the psychic type cat Espurr, who has become an overnight star on Deviant Art, and the awesome new fossil Pokemon.
One of the few ways where Pokemon has genuinely progressed over the years is in the story and storytelling, and X and Y are no different. Indeed, there’s actually a pretty good story to be found here. While it seems like yet another criminal organisations (Team Flare. Yeah, I know. Really breaking the mold.) trying to steal Pokemon to make money, the plot evolves into something that’s genuinely deep and thought-provoking, touching on subjects like war, Man’s devastating effect on the Earth and weapons of mass destruction. That’s pretty harrowing stuff for a usually light-hearted series, and there are some very dark and very emotional moments. I’m of the belief that a decent story can improve any game, so I was really happy that the developers had the courage to try something so intense and serious. And it’s not just the story that’s well written, some of the NPC dialogue in here is pretty awesome, with in-jokes, pop culture references and some meta-humour, as if it was written by the guys who make Community. Between the story and the humour, it really feels like Pokemon is growing up.
But, at its core, it’s still a Pokémon game. You still have to catch ‘em all, you still have to fill up your Pokédex and you still have to battle in the Pokémon League to become the champion of the world. It doesn’t feel like a flaw so much as it is Nintendo just playing it safe. Why mess with what is essentially a perfect system, right? They made big strides with this game in the context of the series, and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future with bigger risks. While we may have been hoping for the Pokémon equivalent of Super Mario 64, we instead have been given Super Mario Bros. 3. And while that’s certainly nothing to turn your nose up at, it’s just an evolution, instead of the revolution the series sorely needs.
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