Pokemon X & Y Review: Can You Catch 'Em All?

Apartment Therapy Game Room Review

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The ever-popular children's franchise, Pokemon, has finally hit Nintendo's latest handheld system, the 3DS. The developer went back to the drawing board and made sure Pokemon X & Y would be a groundbreaking iteration with new graphical and gameplay design choices setting it apart from previous Pokemon releases. The blockbuster franchise is maturing into bold new areas, but what's new?

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A Pokemon battle in 3D? You'd better believe it.

Gameplay: For the uninitiated Pokemon is a strategic role playing game where players collect Pokemon (aka, Pocket Monsters) and then train their collection of creatures to battle one another. On the surface it's colorful and very cute, a marketing department's dream, and a longtime obsession of children around the globe. But those who look deeper will find an intelligent and strategic gaming experience that extends beyond its kiddy veneer.

Loyal followers of the franchise develop their own strategies, honed with each generation in the attempt to build the perfect team of Pokemon. Each Pokemon is exhibits specific vulnerabilities and strengths against other types (e.g. Fire type is weak against Water, Water type is weak against Electricity, etc). Each type is also restricted to 4 battle moves of varying effect, and each can hold items that can counter other Pokemon moves or strengthen their abilities. Some even possess personalities that determine how opposing Pokemon react in battle.

The player's goal is to befriend a team of Pokemon and eventually catch all 718 different species in the game.

Although there are several new elements to Pokemon X & Y, Nintendo hasn't completely abandoned the popular franchise's formula. Much like jumping is to Super Mario or dungeon puzzles are to the Legend of Zelda games, there are many elements that make a game recognizably "Pokemon". You have a Professor who sends you on your quest, there are rival characters, and there are 8 Pokemon Gym Leaders to defeat in order to go up against the elite Pokemon trainers of the region. What made Pokemon an addictive and fun game is still here but a few changes have been implemented.

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Gone are the days of the classic RPG bird's eye view, X & Y has a camera that zooms in/out and twists and turns unlike any other Pokemon title.

What's New: This new edition has broken free from flat 2D animation during battle sequences in favor of full 3D characters. Battles are spectacular to look at, bringing all 718 Pokemon up to date with a graphical style that stands out unlike anything before in the franchise. I found the new Pokemon design immediately likable (I was previously underwhelmed with previous titles, Black/White and Diamond/Pearl). In a big departure from previous Pokemon titles,X & Y changes everything entirely, making up for lost time, and is better for it.

One major improvement takes place in the first 20 minutes of the game. Rather than serving a tedious opening sequence and introduction, Pokemon X & Y omits all this and has you choosing a starter, meeting your rivals, catching your own Pokemon ASAP, a true breath of fresh air for seasoned players used to slow starts in the franchise. The formula makes diving into the game easy for newcomers to the series, and the basic explanation of the game's mechanics are still present.

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Mega Evolutions makes intimidating Pokemon like MewTwo look even more powerful

Seasoned Players: Veterans of the series may find the following additions of interest: Mega Evolutions, the new Fairy type, mini-games to strengthen Pokemon's stats and affection for their trainer, and the controversial Exp. Share item. The Mega Evolutions is the main motivation for the games dry storyline and is a fun, creative distraction to enhance already beloved Pokemon designs. This could have easily gone very wrong but it's handled well, making established Pokemon look even more intimidating especially when coupled with the new graphical style.

The all new Fairy type will have players rethinking their strategies. Fairy types introduction changes several old Pokemon (e.g. Clefairy, Gardevoir) into the new category. Mini-games based on strengthening affection and stats create a more balanced feel and offer more meat to the game. Exploits in past games don't exist in X & Y, and the only way to manipulate stats based on attack, speed, defense is through the special training mini-game, which I'm glad to say are both brief and enjoyable.

3DS Problems: The transition to full 3D models during battle sequences isn't completely smooth, unfortunately. Every battle I played exhibited a noticeable drop in frame rate, resulting in choppy animation. The issue gets much worse when you turn on the 3D feature (which is the only time I'd ever like to use that feature).

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Pokemon X & Y takes full advantage of the Nintendo 3DS capable hardware.

Bottom Line: Former fans of the franchise who fell off the wagon should give Pokemon X & Y the benefit of the doubt. The magic of adventuring in the new Kalos region with a personally crafted team of Pokemon is more addictive than ever. Admittedly non-fans who didn't enjoy Pokemon games before likely won't find any reasons to become new fans, but young gamers will be enthralled by the task of collecting their favorite characters, while developing thinking skills by strategizing the best way to win the game.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend
Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was purchased by the reviewer for game review purposes.

(Images: All characters, logos, artwork and properties are copyright of Nintendo, as linked above)

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