Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near PerfectionPokemon X and Y is the first 3D core game in the series. GameCube had a couple of side games that rendered the pokes in three dimensions, and even the Wii had the Pokepark series, but for the first time the core series gets the much needed graphical enhancement. And it is splendid.

The Pokemon franchise hit North America in 1998 for the original Nintendo GameBoy. The graphics were dot matrix representations of the little pocket monsters, with MIDI sound bytes to represent their little cries. At its core, the game–which became a true worldwide phenomenon–was a rather lengthy Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) that left the battling and leveling up to the character’s team of Pokemon, all the while the character saved the world from a team of bad guys and became the grand champion Pokemon Trainer.

With each new core game in the series, the franchise leaped further and higher in presentation and playability. It always retained its top-down, 2D style, but the interactive features changed with each new game. This was especially evident when a new Pokemon game came to a new system. Whether it was the GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, the Nintendo DS, or the Nintendo DSi, developer GameFreak found a way to make the game feel new and fresh, all the while keeping to the core JRPG elements that fans have loved for over 15 years.

Now, finally, Pokemon makes a major leap in the way it is presented, and the top-down 2D has finally been updated to fit the Nintendo 3DS system and the end results are nothing short of phenomenal.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

The character is now fully rendered in polygonal 3D and the top-down game style has evolved to highlight this. In fact, Pokemon X and Y plays much more like a true third-person action game than a true JRPG, even though it is a true JRPG through and through.

Battles are now fully animated from beginning to end, with random encounters opening with the flash of grass, a mysterious shadow and then the reveal of what poke dared challenge you. It happens quick, but it’s fun and builds anticipation, especially when you are hunting a specific poke to fill your Pokedex.

The animations don’t stop there as the player character tossing out the pokeball is completely rendered, and then when the face-off begins, all participants are in full fluid motion at all times. Charizard’s wings flap as he waits for a battle command, Pikachu’s ears twitch, and Greninja, the fully evolved form of the water-type starter Froakie, has a scarf around his neck (it may actually be his tongue) that bobs behind him as he battles. It is stunning, especially in stereoscopic 3D.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

GameFreak opted to use the 3D only when needed, which in this case is in the exploration, most battles, and of course, in the use of a poke’s MegaStone. By turning the 3D on and off as needed within the code of the game, each time a 3D element happens, it’s almost like the first time. I’m 80-plus hours into my game and I still marvel at the mega-evolutions each time I pull it off.

Other huge advances come in the form of your player character. For the first time, the character can be customized, as most of the cities and bigger towns in the Kalos region have boutiques that sell shirts, pants, shorts, hats and other accessories, and even shoes. Each Pokecenter has a change room in the back so creative players can keep their character looking fresh throughout the entirety of the game. Also, early in the adventure, the character is given a pair of roller skates that become the default mode of travel whenever the circle pad is used for control. If the player opts to use the standard control pad, the roller skates effectively turn off. Skating adds speed to the game, but at the cost of precise control. Be warned.

GameFreak didn’t stop there. For the first time since the first sequels in the core games, Pokemon Gold and Silver, a new Pokemon type–Fairy–has been added. The Fairy-type is designed to counter the too-powerful Dragon-type. This is good for me, but bad for my dragon-raising wife.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

A new level of evolution, the Mega Evolution, is revealed here in the Kalos region. The mega evolutions are a battle-to-battle transformation, and they can only be pulled off by a pokemon holding its designated MegaStone. The Mega Evolutions are incredible, not just in the eye-popping transformation animation, but in the level of power the poke has in its move set while in mega form. I’ve never felt more powerful as a trainer than I do with three pokes holding their MegaStones in my party. The one drawback is that only one mega evolution can be used per battle. If you are in a marathon tussle with a trainer or gym leader who has six available pokes, holding off on issuing the Mega Evolution might be smart. Even if the Mega Evolved poke faints, you still cannot mega evolve a second poke during the same battle.

There are now horde encounters, where a group of up to five pokemon will attack at once. There are moves that attack whole groups of pokemon, and it’s encouraged that players have at least one while exploring/hunting, because the surprise horde encounter could be devastating if you aren’t prepared.

Skybattles can only be fought by two people with pokemon that have the fly ability. It adds a new level of battles and most sky battles are instigated off of cliffs and other high places, usually by trainers who sit and wait for a potential victim to come around.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

Pokemon X and Y utilizes the features of the Nintendo 3DS better than ever before. The bottom touch screen is used for menus, and to have constant access to the pokedex. Players can utilize new modes, such as Pokemon-Amie, which is a mini-game and interaction simulation that helps the trainer and his or her pokes become better friends. Super Training is another mini-game mode but success here actually leads to better stats, like attack, speed and defense.

For online social crowd, Pokemon X and Y really goes into the stratosphere with the PSS, or Player Search System. You can now challenge complete strangers to a battle or trades with a press of a button. Just queue it up and the game will find you a partner. One of my favorite features in the game is the Wonder Trade feature. Trainers can take a pokemon–any pokemon–and send it out into the world for a trade. If there is another player anywhere in the world trying to do that same, the trade happens. You can trade a level 1 Magikarp–arguably the worst pokemon in history–in a wonder trade and get back a Xernias, this legendary pokemon from the X version of the game. No questions asked.

As you can imagine, this is addictive as hell, and I will find myself catching things and storing them in designated Wonder Trade boxes just to pull off a few wonder trades. I truly love it when I get something I need. And to be fair, I have traded things that I’ve raised, so I’m not sending out a ton of level 1 Magikarps into the world–unlike my wife. If you got a level 1 Magikarp, it was probably originally caught and traded by her. And yes, pokes can be re-traded over and over. This is “Pokemon Crack.”

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

Completed wonder trades put those trainers in your acquaintances list, and can lead to some intense battles and even some real-life friendships.

While I’ve spent most of this review talking about the new features, I do want to mention that the story is basically the same as every other core Pokemon game, save for the fact that about a third of the way through, Professor Sycamore gives the players another starter pokemon choice–this time from the original three pokes from Pokemon Red and Blue (or Red and Green in Japan). The player is a new trainer sent out into the world to fill a pokedex. There is a nefarious team of bad guys–here called Team Flare–who are trying to take over the world, and the trainers need to collect eight badges from eight crazy gym leaders, and then challenge the Elite four and eventually the grand champion. One neat change is in the history of the Kalos region. We learn of a King that brought upon a great war because he lost his beloved pokemon. While the game story is virtually the same, this bit of history–and how it ties into present events–is actually very well done.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

The gyms this time out are more than ever puzzles in and of themselves, one even resembling a platformer type of game. There are also almost 70 brand new pokemon to find, and over 450 total in the game to hunt and train, and that also brings the grand total of pokemon to be caught up to over 750. If you still live by the motto, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” you will be very, very busy.

Pokemon X and Y is by far the best, most complete Pokemon game to date. The game-changing additions are stunning in how well they work, look and sound, and the soundtrack has been completely revamped as well. Gone are the tiny MIDI tones (except that most original pokemon still have their original MIDI cries, except for Pikachu, who has the same voice from the popular anime TV and film series. Pika-pika!), and instead, the pokemon cries are powerful for bigger pokes, like a Charizard or Yveltal, the legendary pokemon from version Y, and small and reserved for smaller pokes, like a Nincada.

And the game music is fully orchestrated, and sounds so good that Nintendo and GameFreak are actually selling the soundtrack to Pokemon X and Y on iTunes; a first for a Pokemon game. Some of the new town themes are inspired compositions, and of course, the tell-tell tunes we’ve all become accustomed to are there–also fully orchestrated and audibly incredible.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

Gamers have been accustomed to GameFreak and Nintendo making incremental adjustments to the core games with the leap to each new handheld Nintendo system. But never has the evolution been this pronounced. Not only is Pokemon X and Y the best Pokemon game ever, it’s one of the best 3DS games I’ve ever played. The sheer amount of content, both in catching and raising pokes, and in online interactions with other trainers worldwide, gives Pokemon X and Y a level of replayability seldom seen in a handheld game. And this is a franchise that has been doing this for 15 years. With the Nintendo 3DS gaining in popularity worldwide, new Pokemon games will most assuredly be coming (Pokemon Z, anyone?) and the developers will be hard pressed to make an evolution bigger than they have here.

Pokemon X and Y were reviewed on 3DS using copies purchased at retail. X and Y are sold separately and were released exclusively for 3DS on October 12, 2013.

Shop for Pokemon X and Y for a discounted price at Amazon.com.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Mega Evolved to Near Perfection

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