Review: Pokémon X & Y (3DS)

Evolution or revolution?

Do you remember that first time you rushed home with the latest copy of Pokémon, gleefully slotting it into your handheld and dreaming of becoming the next Pokémon Master? Everything was new, fresh and exciting. Every time that pixelated grass flickered and you encountered another never-seen-before monster you held your breath, and every new environment offered fresh experiences and adventures. Pokémon X and Y does everything in its power to let players relive this wonderful first-time experience, while simultaneously delighting you with nostalgic blasts from the past. This may not be 'the future of Pokémon' we have been crying out for, but it's certainly headed in the right direction.

Set in the picturesque French-inspired region of Kalos, Pokémon X and Y is certainly a spectacular sight to behold. Small cafes, salons and roller-skating fanatics fill the streets and strange new Pokémon roam the wilds. Each town is unique and plotted perfectly in a way which allows the player to appreciate a steady progress from one area to the next, from the great metropolis of Luminose City sitting at the heart of Kalos, surrounded by the beautiful seaside city of Shalour to the west, and a snow-glazed city to the east.

What really helps bring the beauty of Kalos to life is the inclusion of polygonal 3D environments and character models, especially when watching an elegant 3D Lapras ferry you across an azure bay. For generations the core Pokémon series has been populated by heavily pixelated 2D affairs, shown off in most cases by a bird's eye camera view, but with the move to the 3DS console comes new possibilities and the chance to really show off how amazing the world of Pokémon can be when seen from a new perspective. City skyscrapers and tall ancient rocks loom defiantly over your customisable character, with lower camera angles highlighting that sense of immense height.

While its a great disappointment that Pokémon's first outing on the 3DS is not fully rendered in stereoscopic 3D throughout the overworld, dynamic camera angles do a lot to make up for the lack of 3D depth of field. One example of the excellent use of perspectives and camera position takes place in the Glittering Caves, which places the camera behind the player, making it feel like you are personally trekking through the sparkling tunnel, with each twist and turn leading to a new surprise. Even without the need for Flash, it's easy to lose your sense of direction and wonder whether you'll ever be able to find your way out without an Escape Rope. It's a shame that not all of the caves in the Kalos region are designed in this fashion, as it truly heightens your sense of adventure and immerses you in the game.

Yet, even though wonderful camera tricks do help to fill the 3D-shaped gap in our hearts, we couldn't help witnessing crucial cut-scenes and taking our first glimpse at the awe-inspiring Tower of Mastery without feeling that Game Freak have done fans an injustice by not giving the option to view all scenes in full 3D. At least players can rejoice in the knowledge that they will indeed experience their first Mega Evolution in 3D, and trust us when we say Lucario's transformation is truly breathtaking — make sure you have your 3D slider up fully.

As always, with every new generation of Pokémon comes a new roster of monsters to discover, tame and train, and Pokémon X and Y is no exception. Generation VI has its fair share of uninspired Pokémon designs, but for every Doublade there is a Sylveon or a mighty Tyrantrum, the good far outweighing the bad. Fortunately, unlike Pokémon Black and White you won't have to wait until after the story has completed to encounter some familiar faces and neither will you be constantly inundated with brand new Pokémon among every thicket of long grass; keen to play the long game, Pokémon X and Y gradually teases you with the odd Skiddo and Scatterbug whilst inviting you to a friendly battle with creatures from the elder generations.

If you're in it for the badges, gym progression may seem slightly slower than usual, as you pass through numerous towns without a gym in sight, but this is by no means a bad thing. Pokémon X and Y isn't really about battling gym leaders, nor is it really concerned with filling up your Pokédex or taking down those bunch of trouble-makers from Team Flare. It's really more concerned with the mysterious art of Mega Evolution, a feature pivotal to the game's plot. While initially you set out on a jolly adventure with your friends — under the instruction of Professor Sycamore — to learn more about Pokémon, your journey soon takes a turn once you are entrusted with the Mega Ring, a device which allows you to temporarily evolve your Pokémon once activated with a certain stone. We won't disclose the rest of the story — that's for you to find out — but it's safe to say this particular adventure is not without its twists and turns.

Few amendments have been made to battles, aside from the fact that they're the only glimpse of true 3D action you're likely to witness in Pokémon X & Y. Dynamic camera panning and colourful environmental backgrounds help to set the scene and a brilliant score ensures your heart will be racing every time your last Pokemon's health meter drops into the red zone. While most short-range attacks still aren't physically carried through to the extent that you witness your opponent being savagely bitten by your trusty Pansear, fancy effects, nice animations and swift camera zooms liven up the experience, despite the lack of any actual physical contact.

Occasionally you might encounter a five versus one horde attack, in which a group of substantially weaker Pokémon team up on you. In order to easily dispatch a horde, you'll need to select a move which can target multiple Pokémon at one time, such as Incinerate. Sadly these battles do not reward you with any large amounts of XP, but when teamed up with Sky battles — for which you need at least one flying type Pokémon in your party — they do make a nice change of pace from the usual brawls.

A new Pokémon type has also been added to the books for the first time since Pokémon Gold and Silver back in 1999. A new challenger to those pesky over-powered dragons, 'Fairy' types such as Sylveon add a new dimension to Pokémon battles, completely reworking the effectiveness formula that you'd previously grown accustomed to. A few Pokémon from older generations — Jigglypuff and Gardevoir to name just two — have also been rebranded as fairy types, so make sure to watch out for these in battle.

Pokémon X and Y also brings with it a few technical changes that veterans to the series will be interested to hear. Experience is now given during a battle even if you successfully capture your Pokémon opponent in a Pokéball. This means you can still help level up your Pokémon even if you are on a Pokédex-filling rampage. The 'EXP Share' has also changed — it is no longer an item which can be held by a designated Pokémon. In order to level up Pokémon in your party which are not taking part in battles, you simply need to turn the EXP Share on or off. Because it is not held by a specific Pokémon, your whole party now benefits from shared experience, which is handy if you want to grind all of your party members, but not so useful if you have one under-levelled Pokémon which you need to level up in a hurry.

Not to be forgotten is the addition of two brand new and quite handy features; Super Training and Pokémon Amie. Many hardcore Pokémon fans will have tried their hand at EV training ('Effort Value' for the uninitiated), a slightly gruelling system of raising base statistics in order to create stronger Pokémon, with an unusually high parameter for defensive or offensive situations. Super Training seeks to combat the strain of this process by offering even newcomers to the series a chance to enhance specific elements of their favourite Pokémon's stats. Super Training uses a selection of soccer-inspired mini-games, combining the circle pad and touch screen, challenging you to blast balls into a net whilst a giant Pokémon balloon tries to knock you out with its own huge balls.

There are separate mini-games depending on which stat you would like to upgrade — HP, Defence, Speed, Sp. Attack or Sp. Defence — but unfortunately there is little notable difference between each mini-game, all of which consist of the same goal-scoring challenge. If you get tired of deflating Spewpas you can also retire to the punch-bags, another (albeit slower) method of raising stats of the Pokémon in your party. By collecting certain punch-bags you can gradually maximise your darling Froakie's base statistics by tapping manically on the lower touchscreen and working up a real sweat. Certain punch-bags can also give you power-ups for use in Super Training mini-games, allowing you to double your stat increase on the next challenge.

If you're not that bothered about raising a team of muscular Pokémon, you can always switch over to Pokémon Amie, a feature which allows you to interact with your Pokémon and stuff their faces with brightly coloured Poképuffs, Kalos' alternative to French macaroons. Stroking your Pokémon using the lower touchscreen and playing berry-picking and puzzle shifting mini-games also has another benefits than just filling your heart with pure delight. Feeding and playing with your cute little Dedenne every day will also form a stronger bond between yourself and your Pokémon, causing it to evade attacks more often or maybe deal out a few more critical hits from time to time. Even if you're not interested in the battle benefits, Pokémon Amie is sure to keep drawing you back in time and time again. Who can resist Froakie's pleas for more Poképuffs? Not us, that's for sure.

Conclusion

Once again, Game Freak hits the nail squarely on the head, making Pokémon X and Y an excellent new addition to the series' expansive library. Thanks to the simultaneous multi-region release date more players than ever before will be able to experience first-hand that indescribable sensation of unearthing brand new Pokémon that have nimbly avoided the dreaded internet leaks.

A wonderful blend of excitement and nostalgia, Pokémon X and Y evolves the core series with its impressive polygonal 3D environments and magical camera angle mastery, adding a few technical adjustments along with a brand new Pokémon type to the original formula that we all know and love. It's not quite a revolution — and is hindered slightly by the meagre use of its host platform's glasses-free 3D capabilities — Pokémon X and Y is sure to steal the hearts of Pokémon fans new and old alike.