Shortly after starting the game, players receive a Pokédex to help them catalog the Pokémon they encounter. Unlike past games however, this Pokédex offers a host of new options. These include mini-games you can play with your 'mon to boost various attributes, a Player Search System that makes finding new battles and trading partners a quick, simple affair, and an app that lets players pet and feed their critters in an adorable first-person view. These are relatively small additions, but they go a long way toward making the Pokémon of Pokémon X/Y the most relatable, interactive creatures Nintendo has ever designed. Pokémon X/Y is the first game in Pokéhistory to offer a fully three-dimensional world to explore. Every character, object and Pokémon is cast as a simple 3D model wrapped in a whimsical, cel-shaded skin. This brings Pokémon X/Y as close to the aesthetics seen in the Pokémon cartoon as the franchise has ever been. Of special note is the developer's subtle use of the 3DS' 3D effects, which you won't see throughout most of your time in Pokémon X/Y. Instead, such effects are reserved for Pokémon battles and certain dramatic moments. This prevents undue eye strain and keeps players from growing tired of the gimmick, but it also lends additional tension to instances that warrant it. Unfortunately, Nintendo seems to have overestimated the power of the 3DS, and Pokemon X/Y suffers from moments of slowdown. It's never bad enough to disrupt gameplay, but all players will inevitably come across the issue - particularly those who leave the 3D slider cranked to maximum. Turning 3D off helps the slowdown, though it doesn't eliminate it.
The new 3D world lends a number of modern accoutrements to the gameplay. Players can customize their characters with new clothing options, and the camera pans and zooms into and out of combat, lending the proceedings a dynamic feel not seen in prior Pokémon games. Despite these changes, long-time Pokéfanatics will be comfortable with most aspects of Pokemon X/Y - Nintendo took great pains to ensure that movement, battles and menu navigation function almost identically to prior entries - but 3D movement runs into problems when combined with the franchise's traditional grid-based paths. Without the traditionally fixed camera angle, the sudden access to diagonal movement proves initially awkward, though it's easy enough to come to grips with.
Beyond Pokémon X/Y's 3D additions, its gameplay should be familiar to fans. Pokémon has always been heavily menu-driven and Pokémon X/Y is no exception. Selecting attacks and capturing Pokémon is a simple matter of selecting the proper option, either using buttons or the 3DS' touchscreen. The plot is relatively rote, asking players to once again travel an expansive region, capturing Pokémon, building a combat team, and eventually defeating gym leaders and then the Elite Four. It's the same basic plot found in every Pokémon game, though the opening segment does a far better job of explaining how the world works than its predecessors, and the new functionality and creatures found in Pokémon X/Y makes it more engrossing.
Sky and Horde Battles are the two new battle types in Pokémon X/Y. The former asks players to battle using only flying Pokémon against other similarly aerodynamic critters. Horde battles pit your Pokémon against up to five others simultaneously. Both of these new types of battles appear sparingly, and always come as a nice change of pace from the standard one-on-one brawls you encounter most often.
Pokémon X/Y also adds a number of new diversions for players to discover. You may find yourself taking tourist photos at various landmarks (which are conveniently saved to the 3DS' Flash card) or browsing boutiques in a hunt for new clothes for your character. Everything from hats to socks to tote bags can be altered at will. It's a small feature in the grand scheme of things, but if Nintendo had hoped to make Pokémon even more addictive, giving players the freedom to play virtual dress up with their avatar is a clever step.
The way Nintendo has refined the series' mainstay features is also impressive. For example, "Exp. Share," which splits earned experience among your whole party, is no longer an item that must be attached to a Pokémon. Instead, it's a toggle that appears once you're given an Exp. Share item. That occurs roughly three hours into the story, ensuring that for the majority of your adventure all of your Pokémon will receive experience points, regardless of which 'mon is doing the battling.
By combining refinements like these with classic gameplay, a revamped aesthetic and plenty of new gameplay options, Nintendo has created a Pokémon sequel that will not only be adored by Pokémaniacs, but should also draw new players to the series. With less of a learning curve and a wealth of new content to discover, Pokémon X/Y both builds on its pedigree and redefines what players should expect from the franchise. Most importantly, the game seems to have been designed with usability in mind, while also maintaining the endless reams of Pokémon trivia and esoteric references that longtime fans demand.
Whether you've wrangled dozens of Charmanders or couldn't pick a Pikachu out of a Safari Zone lineup, Pokémon X/Y is hands-down the best in the series.
This review is based on retail copies of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, provided by Nintendo.
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