We were recently lucky enough to get some hands-on time with Pokémon X & Y, and see in advance what sort of impact the new 3D engine and gameplay has had on the core Pokémon franchise. As two of us were able to attend the event and both experience the game individually on some shiny 2DS systems, our first impressions piece has actually Mega Evolved into two previews for you. Aren't you a lucky bunch?
Our ever-diligent Events Correspondent Katy Ellis has shared her thoughts below, followed by Retro Reviewer Martin Watts' views further down the page. We'd also like to send our thanks to Nintendo UK for hosting this event.
For those of you concerned that this is yet another all too familiar Pokémon iteration, it's time to put those worries aside. Not only does Pokémon X & Y look like a brand new experience, but it plays like one too.
It's easy to undermine how radical the inclusion of 3D environments is to X and Y; heck, we've had polygonal 3D Pokémon games since the N64 days. However, by bringing to life the overtly French region of Kalos with the wonders of 3D game design, X and Y truly feels like a proper RPG, a true adventure, and one which you will be exploring in depth thanks to those flexible new camera angles.
Aside from its awe-inspiring 3D make-over, Pokémon X &Y boasts a good selection of interesting new features for trainers to get to grips with. Core and Super Training aims to take the hard-work out of EV training (also known as Effort Value training), a rather long-winded method of raising base stats to create a stronger, more specialised offensive or defensive Pokémon. Core and Super Training provides players with mini-games, which will help enhance specific elements of your Pokémon’s stats. For example, there’s a mini-game where you must use your 3DS circle pad and touch-screen together in order to direct footballs into the back of a net, with a giant balloon Geodude as a competitor. By regularly completing different mini-games you'll be able to raise your Pokémon’s HP, Defense, Speed, Sp. Attack or Sp. Defense outside of battle.
Pokémon-Amie is another feature new to the Pokémon series, and one which Director Junichi Masuda is really excited about. Pokémon-Amie uses the 3DS’ 3D technology to make you feel like you are truly interacting with your Pokemon. In this mode you can feed your Pokémon different colour PokePuffs, give them a good stroke using your touchscreen and stylus and play copy-cat mini-games with them too. Feeding your little Froakie and playing with your Pancham every now and again is not only a heart-warming and delightful experience, but is also beneficial in battle, as your Pokémon may begin to evade attacks more often or deal out more critical hits.
But it’s not all new. Older fans of the series will really relish that sentimental moment when you first encounter a wiggly Caterpie in the long grass, only paces away from your new home in Vaniville town, or face plenty of other Generation I and II Pokémon in battle before even reaching Santalune City and Viola, the photography-obsessive first Gym leader.
From our playthrough of the start of the game, up until the end of the first gym battle, we did notice one small issue. The health bars of Pokémon in battle are now noticeably smaller, and hold less of a presence on-screen than in previous games. The issue with this is that it’s now all too easy to accidentally take your eye off of your own health, especially as text often pops up at the lower section of the top-screen, completely covering your Pokémon’s on-screen stats. It’s a small issue, but one which we really felt detracted from the otherwise incredible experience we had with the game.
There’s no doubt about it: Pokémon X & Y look absolutely stunning. Seeing a core Pokémon game rendered in full polygonal 3D for the first time was always going to be a special event, but what makes Pokémon X & Y truly spectacular is that it still retains the same level of authenticity and charm for which the series has always been renowned. Nothing has been butchered in the transition and this is a game that truly makes the most of the graphical grunt afforded by the 3DS system.
From the moment you set off on your new adventure in Pokémon X & Y’s Kalos region, it's clear that a lot of effort has gone into the overall visual presentation. In particular, the game’s introduction is uncharacteristically cinematic for a Pokémon game. GAME FREAK has stated in the past that it approached the development of these latest instalments with the theme of beauty in mind and, as a result, drew inspiration from the real-world location of France. We could certainly see this influence in the early part of the game that we tried; café culture permeates the many cities and towns you visit during your adventure, each of which is filled with plenty of outdoor seating and delightful little menu boards containing Limonade and Chocolat Chaud. It’s perfectly suited to the vibrant and colourful world of Pokémon and gives this new region a look and feel that’s quite distinctive from what we've seen before.
Despite this rather impressive visual overhaul, Pokémon X & Y should feel instantly familiar to veterans of the series. While the game is obviously filled with new features and Pokémon, the gameplay is more or less structured in the same classic way. Those of you who are eager to get going on your quest will be happy to hear that the story in Pokémon X & Y gets going a lot quicker than in previous games, and is free from long-winded narratives and excessive tutorials at the start. Moreover, you are gifted roller skates by a kind soul before you even reach the first gym, which makes travelling around a much quicker affair – not only that, but they’re also pretty of fun to use!
When it comes to the battle elements, GAME FREAK has clearly opted for minor refinements over major innovations, which is by no means a bad thing. From our short time with it we were pleased to learn that each of the starter Pokémon has one of their own base-type elemental moves (such as Water Gun or Ember) from the moment you receive them. This certainly helps during the early stages as you come across a surprisingly varied mix of Pokémon types almost immediately.
With regards to how the battles are presented, your Pokémon are now fully animated in a similar fashion to the Pokémon Stadium series; they make small movements when attacking and taking damage, but are otherwise rooted to the spot – a bit disappointing given the otherwise grandiose level of presentation. Nevertheless, it’s still a vast improvement over existing games and as Pokémon trade blows, their expressions change to reflect the situation. It’s really hard not to feel bad when you see an adorable little Pokémon faint, with it usually stumbling a few steps before finally hitting the deck.
Finally, Pokémon X & Y makes it much easier to battle friends and even random people in your vicinity. The touchscreen contains a menu that enables you to battle and trade with these people on the fly. We were able to try this out and it worked seamlessly; simply sending an invite to your opponent and them accepting it would immediately set up a battle. It's may seem like a relatively small improvement, but the fact that you can do these things so effortlessly and without deviating from your in-game path is a real blessing. This is where customising your trainer comes in handy, allowing you to stand out from the crowd!
Steeped in nostalgia and boosted by its lush graphical style, Pokémon X & Y look set to offer a deep and exciting new chapter in the core Pokémon series.
Both versions of the game will launch worldwide along with the Nintendo 2DS on 12th October. Are you looking forward to starting your own new adventure in the Kalos region? Let us know in the comments section below, and keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming interview with Game Director Junichi Masuda and Designer Hironobu Yoshida.