Review: Pokémon X and Y

Pokémon X and Y have been out for a while now and we're only just writing a review? Well we are well aware that nobody reads this, it's just we felt that the reviews that came out when the game did were just a bit lazy. We can understand why, it must be horrible for an RPG to land on your desk, especially if you're not a fan of a series like Pokémon. Plus, is there any point in a review of such a mega franchise? Unless the series curators massively messed around with the recipe, it's going to sell like hot cakes anyway. Might as well phone that review in (and many did). Job done.

So we're writing this for ourselves more than anything. When the aliens are poring over the remnants of our burned out civilisation maybe a media studies student might pull this review of the charred remains of a Google server somewhere. So we're writing this for us and the alien.

Evolution not revolution is the phrase that hacks might turn to when reviewing a new Pokémon game. We're gonna go in subtle like and suggest that Pokémon X and Y is more of a culmination than evolution. Or revolution. It seems that a lot of the systems that have been toyed with over the last five generations of games have finally found their stride and there's a lot that's in here for the European crowd. 

First things first, the new Pokémon. As it increasingly is the case with these games (what there's more than 150 QQ) it's a mixed bag. Some of those taxonomic gaps have been filled. We know that we've been waiting for a panda, mantis shrimp and barnacle based Pokémon since red and blue and they're finally in here. The candy floss with a face and the Pokémon inspired by a bunch of keys. Well the less said about those the better. What is a nice touch is that the starters seem to be Pokémon via a rather Japanese reading of the animals of farthing wood with a fox (we already had one of those) a frog (there were already two of those) and a hedgehog thing (that isn't sandslash). There's also a new type which may or may not have interesting implications on the 'Pro scene' were the 'Pro scene' to exist (I know a guy who's sister dated a prop Super Smash Bros player). 

There's also mega stones which may or may not be a game changer. At the moment an eclectic mix of Pokémon have special items which allow you to 'evolve' your Pokémon into it's ultimate form for the duration of a battle. No doubt more Pokémon will get mega evolutions down the line (hello DLC. Free DLC we hope but DLC nonetheless). The strategic weigh up is that mega evolved Pokémon get some mad stat boosts, however, they can't hold other items so it'll be interesting to see if mega evolutions break the competitive game in upcoming global tournaments, the last of which we got utterly spanked during.

A Proper MMO
One massive improvement is that this game finally feels like a massively multiplayer game. Previous generations included all kinds of gubbinz and features that worked great in Japan where it's okay to stand on street corners wifiing fellow players (lowlights were the fucking platinum flag and the method of getting Spiritomb in Pokémon Sapphire) but were nigh upon unusable elsewhere where Pokémon tend to actively avoid each other rather than congregate in public. So now, if you're connected to the Internet, the bottom screen is nothing but other players from all over the world. Our game tells us we've had a staggering 41,374 other players whizz along that bottom screen and each one we could have suspended our game to trade with, battle, kill with kindness in the form of O powers or share our trainer PR video with (a short ten second film you 'shoot' in the game). Also, remember how Nintendo systems were all rubbish because the friend system didn't work like the Xbox 360? That's fixed now. You now have three levels of other Pokémon players you've interacted with, passerbys are other people playing the game at the same time as you, acquaintances are people you've had some interaction with, either trading battling or video sharing and it's just one more step after a couple of interactions with acquaintances to make them fully fledged 3DS friends. You'll want them too. The new friend safari offers some great benefits in that any Pokémon you catch will have guaranteed high stats. The rub is that each friend will only ever have three Pokémon of one randomly(?) generated type to catch. So you NEED more friends to help breed that super-killer new team. It can be slightly annoying to be bombarded with challenges when your trying to get on with other things but already we've interacted with hundreds of other players without the displeasure of ever having to you know actually interact with them. This is a huge step forward and one we're deeply surprised more reviews didn't mention or focus on. It's a novel way to incorporate online play into an RPG that doesn't have a completely separate front end and gets around the previous problems of having to know someone to play with them online. And this is all on a handheld console. Impressive indeed.

Super Training
The other major step forward is that EV training has become so much easier with this game and interestingly, this is the most transparent Nintendo and Game Freak have ever been with the systems at work behind the scenes (that serious players all knew about anyway). For those who don't know, EV training is a way to train up your Pokémon to give them the best chance of reaching their maximum stats within a spread that is part genetics, part luck and part hard fucking graft ensuring your stats don't get botched. In previous games it required a notepad, hatching a bajillion eggs with carefully bred parents, a family tree, some held items and some crossed fingers. You'll still need most of that if you want to get the top percentage of rattattas (in joke) but it's every so slightly easier and ever so slightly more transparent through super training. Super training involves grinding a it-could-be-so-much-worse minigame and you can plan and observe how your stats improve after each round. This replaces the endless running around in long grass laboriously KOing 152 lillipups to ensure your stats ended up where you want them. We'd prefer if Nintendo and Game Freak just cut the cryptic bullshit all together and let you see the stat increases you'd earned up front. The information is already out there on sites like Serebii and Smogon, we don't see why they continue to pretend it's some sort of magic trick as to why one Porygon may end up with better attack stats than another one. So we can't quite ditch the web tech, spreadsheets and notepads yet but it's becoming a helluva lot less laborious to train Pokémon 'properly'. 

So with the addition of super training, all the online activities and the tamagotchi distraction of Pokémon Amie, playing Pokémon becomes less an RPG and more like the micro management of an RTS or MMORPG. O powers are buffs you can grant to yourself, passerbys, acquaintances and friends, which level up the more you use them and it's cheaper to use them on others than yourself forcing you to dish them out like an altruistic fairy godmother when in fact you want to just level them up as quickly as possible. You only have a fixed amount of energy to grant O powers that regenerates over time and regenerates quicker the more steps you have on the 3DS pedometer. So just the daily routine becomes a schizophrenic juggling act for maximum efficiency. You'll be juggling O powers both the ones you want to use on yourself (eggs hatch quicker, heal boosts, prize money and exp up) with levelling up the other ones with stuffing your Sylveon with poké puffs in amie, with trading and battling with randoms to add to your friend roster and test out your team whilst breeding and hatching eggs to level up your next Pokémon for your team. There's rarely nothing to do and criminally in the age of climate change it's tempting to leave the 3DS on all the time either to fill up your O power meter or accrue gifts for Pokémon Amie. Our 3DS hasn't been off charge since the day Pokémon Y launched.

All That Glitters is not Heart Gold
It ain't all that though. There are a number of things we'd have loved to have seen improved. Firstly, although the full feature set hasn't gone live yet, StreetPass and play coin features are extremely poor. StreetPasses generate poké miles but as yet there's nothing to do with them. Play coins aren't used at all. Although we are grateful for features that don't rely on face to face interactions this seems like a massively missed opportunity. In fact compared to Pokémon Black and White's online functionality the new Pokémon Global Link is a bit of a let down. There's virtually nothing to do (again, with Pokémon Attractions yet to launch) and bizarrely the addictive medal rally, think achievements, for the hardcore Pokémon fans, only exists online with no notifications in game. Okay so this might be one reason why you'd bother checking the online linked profile but actually I'd like to know when I got medals as I get them. Surely, that's the whole point?

Another downside is that compared to Pokémon Black and White 2 and Pokémon Soulsilver and Heartgold, there's little to do once the credits roll. Yes there's filling out the Pokédex and EV training for competitions but there's very little else. Even the dailies seem a little less interesting than previously. There is a battle tower and thankfully it's been tweaked so it isn't quite as hard to earn those battle points for the top items but it's no battle frontier, Pokélympics or the sheer diversity of distractions in Black and White 2. This is always a problem with the first Pokémon games every generation and we'd expect the companion to this pair, Pokémon Z or Pokémon X and Y 2 to be the definitive version of this game in the same way that Emerald, Platinum and Black and White 2 were the definitive versions of their 'trilogies'.

Lastly in the gripes bucket remember all those features that got lip flaps a flappering? Sky battles, riding Pokémon around and walking diagonally? All more or less bullshots. You get to have maybe a dozen sky battles ONCE. The Pokémon riding sections are slow, annoying and oddly you can't use your own Pokémon. There's literally one sequence in the game where walking diagonally helps you but by that point, it's a ice sliding puzzle, you forget you can move diagonally at all making a simple 'puzzle' seem impossible. All three of these that were extensively shown off before launch could have been more than they turned out to be. Instead, to our mind, they were rather naughtily used to pretend that this Pokémon was shaking things up much more than it actually was.

Nintendo have a real problem with all of their main franchises and increasingly their hardware are becoming niche platforms for the franchises you are a fan of. We picked up a 3DS just for this game and subsequently have picked up a couple of other outstanding titles and have really enjoyed them. We just needed that kick up the arse. Before Pokémon came out it just felt like a series of re-runs we already own three times before. Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem. The latest Wii U Mario game pretty much summed this issue up, previews were lukewarm but the reviews were glowing, sizzling even. It's the Nintendo polish that makes all the difference. Yes they are games we've played a million times before but hey, they're really really good. Pokémon is the same. Get over the feeling that it's another Pokémon game, there's enough polish and love in there and what many have described as dusty mechanics are actually robust dynamics that were well ahead of their time and have stood the test of time in the way that the mechanics of games like Gears of War, Assassin's Creed and Uncharted are already feeling very very tired a mere four or five games in.


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