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Every so often, evolution takes a significant leap.Pokemon X and Y is smarter, better, and faster than its predecessors, but it’s the impressive online social features and fantastic new 3D look that make the latest game in the 15-year-old RPG series amazing. As long as you’re within the range of Wi-Fi, you’re never alone in Pokemon X and Y, and we finally have the tools to express ourselves over the course of this 35-hour adventure.
Much like its predecessors, Pokemon X and Y appeals to a wide audience, from veteran fans to timid newcomers by challenging them to become knowledgeable trainers or fill the up the encyclopedic Pokedex. Thanks to an impressive amount of depth from elemental-based combat, it manages to pull off this difficult task right from the start.
A lot of smart decisions went into Pokemon X and Y. The first big change is an opening that’s considerably faster-paced than the sluggish first hours of the previous games.In less than an hour, you’ll have access to a diverse roster of capable pokemon from current and previous generations, your first gym badge, and even roller skates! The significantly sped-up pace also means you’ll spend less time sitting in lobbies or fumbling through menus and more time in the action.
This is the first fully 3D Pokemon game, and it’s made the transition beautifully, with some great art direction in its many characters. Take Charizard, for example – this fire-type pokemon has been intimidating since he first stomped onto the scene in the original games, but his new look is absolutely stunning. He quietly hovers in place looks large and majestic, dwarfing his old 2D look. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the hyper-cute Pikachu, whose adorable animations effectively sell his personality. And the all-new Mega Evolved versions look similarly impressive, with intimidating features such as the additional thorns and hair that give Mega Lucario a ferocious visual edge over its normal form.
Just as importantly, developer Game Freak has finally opened the door for unique avatars and creature customization beyond simply picking our gender. We can now choose a basic skin tone and dress up with a variety of nifty accessories. These simple tools finally give me the ability to distinguish myself from the thousands of other people playing, and that makes Pokemon a much more personal experience.
It needed to do something to make it feel different, because Pokemon X and Y’s story follows a predictable arc that’s very similar to previous games, albeit with a charming cast of four NPC friends this time. Sadly, the one-note design of these characters is still pretty disappointing for a predominantly single-player RPG. I know that it’s aimed at kids, but as a Pokemon fan for the past 15 years, I couldn’t help but wish for a story that appeals to fans of all ages.
At its core, Pokemon’s gameplay core bores down to battling and trading, and both systems have been carefully refined over time. There are small improvements to note here though, like the ability to restore pokemon before they’re switched into battle. Although the tried-and-true formula is still largely the same, these small improvements are smart in that they remove unnecessary downtime between battles.
Perhaps the most significant change to combat is the role of Mega Evolutions, which will have a major impact on the way Pokemon battles are played. These special transformations can alter pokemon types, and those changes make battles much more strategic. Charizard’s and his Mega Evolution, for example, switches him from Fire/Flying to Fire/Dragon, which basically removes his weakness to Water. It adds a potential seventh option to your roster of six pokemon, and the possibilities increase dramatically.
Game Freak wisely imposed some limitations on that powerful upgrade: you can only summon a Mega Evolution once per battle, and not every pokemon can assume one of these altered forms. And there’s an unintentional limitation as well: while battles against humans feel more strategic, the trainer A.I. still doesn’t know how to react to or counter elemental weaknesses. So after a certain point in the campaign, a player with the right pokemon will steamroll through rivals in single-player.
What makes Pokemon X and Y feel dramatically new and more modern are its forward-thinking online features. Specifically, the Player Search System, a communication tool that debuted inPokemon Black & White, receives considerable upgrades that make playing together a much more graceful experience. You can quickly battle and trade at any time, or share helpful O-powers – think of them as unique buffs that enhance a stat like attack or evasion. You can also share all of that new customization. For instance, each trainer can share a brief video that shows off acquired creatures or general traits about themselves. It's a fun form of expression.
But a lingering question remains for what will happen long-term in a post-Pokemon X and Y world: what impact will Super Training – a regimen of training that you can use to easily boost base stats – have on the multiplayer community? This interesting feature could potentially upend the balance at the heart of Pokemon. On the other hand, it makes the practice of boosting stats much more approachable compared to the grind of EV training. Only time will tell.