The story and formula of mainline Pokémon games haven't changed much over the years. You set off on an adventure to become the very best trainer in the world, picking one of three starters (grass, fire or water) and catching many, many more to assemble an unstoppable team.
We have entered the sixth generation with the recent release of “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y” for the 3DS, which sold more than 4 million copies worldwide in two days. Fans who've been waiting for Game Freak's first mainline Pokémon titles on the 3DS will not be disappointed.
“X and Y” take place in the France-inspired Kalos region. After saying goodbye to Mom, meeting up with friends and selecting a starter, it's off to the first of eight gyms to win the necessary badges to challenge the Elite Four at the end of the game. Along the way you'll meet up with the games' villains, the bright orange and stylishly dressed Team Flare, who have suspicious intentions. While there are references to past games, story has never been why people play Pokémon. It's all about the creatures.
The new Fairy-type is a welcome addition to the series as it balances out the game more evenly, especially against Dragon-types which dominated previously. Along with new Pokémon, older ones like Mr. Mime now have Fairy abilities, switching things up nicely. Mega Evolutions allow specific ones to evolve even further after their last stage, however only during battle. This is done by having them hold certain stones, and evolving gives them stat boosts, mixes their types and unlocks new abilities.
As usual, running through tall grass and colorful flowers will activate random encounters with wild Pokémon to capture or defeat. Each section has its common and uncommon appearances. Then there are the challenges from strangers along each path, who cough up money after being defeated. It's a tough life out there.
Special encounters keep things fresh, too. Sky Battles take place in the air with only flying types, but can be very challenging if you don't have that many on hand. I wasn't a fan of the horde battles, though, where you fight a group of low-leveled Pokémon all at once. To beat these quickly you'll need an all-area attack, and if you don't have one you could be stuck in it for a while if they paralyze you, lower your attack or launch other negative status effects. They don't appear often, but when they do it's easier to just run away.
Key items are obtained early to make playing much less of a grind. Roller skates move your character a little bit faster, although it can be difficult to line up properly to enter a door or talk to someone. The bicycle makes a return to really speed things up.
The most controversial item is Exp. Share, which is retrieved early. If turned on, it allows all Pokémon in your party to gain experience points even if they don't appear in battle. When it comes down to it, it has its good and bad parts. The best thing is it eliminates hours of grinding battles in the wild to individually level up your party. I also found myself experimenting with a lot more different types instead of sticking with a few like in past games. The downside is it makes the games much, much easier. With multiple in my party five to 10 levels above wild Pokémon and random strangers, and several above gym leaders — this without any grinding at all — I was blowing past them with little effort.
Pokémon can also get their base stats improved by playing soccer mini-games and beating up all kinds of special punching bags. There's even a Nintendogs-like portion called Pokémon-Aime where you play with them to boost your relationship.
Online options are very accessible in “X and Y.” The Player Search System lets you keep track of friends and strangers, which you can easily engage in battle and trade with. Wonder Trade is a cool feature to make blind trades with anyone in the world. It's a great way to fill up the Pokedex.
With its fully polygonal 3D graphics, a Pokémon game has never looked better. The world feels much more alive now that the camera zooms in behind your trainer along certain routes and in the big city. Battles have much-needed pizzazz with each attack featuring a quick and exciting animation. Even though the 3D effect during battles puts a beating on the frame rate, it still looks great without it.
While the core ideas remain relatively unchanged, the tweaks to gameplay, upgraded visuals and online improvements make this newest set of Pokémon games the best in years. Once you start your latest adventure, it'll be hard to put down.
3 1/2 stars out of 4
Downloadable codes for “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y” were supplied by the publisher for this review.