The Pokemon series has been going strong for the last fifteen years, with each new successive generation of games adding hundreds of new critters to capture and train, even if many see them as largely incremental updates. With a greatly improved graphical look and new social-like features, Pokemon X and Y bring some welcome modern features to a series that has largely stuck to its traditional roots.
As with every other Pokemon title you play as a young trainer who has been called by a Professor to venture out on a grand adventure where you'll try to complete your Pokedex by logging in each new cutesy monster you encounter. Professor Sycamore also wants the player to uncover the secret of a mysterious ability called ‘mega evolution’. Rather than an antagonistic rival as with the earlier games, the player is loosely accompanied by a group of friends who will reconvene at various points in the story, aiding and challenging the player to battles.
Making your way from one town to the next will be familiar to anyone who has played any previous Pokemon title since the originals. Routes to each new town are generally quite linear, littered with different Pokemon types to battle and capture as well as rival trainers to duel with. There is limited scope to explore off the beaten path and obtain extra healing items or special PokeBall types.
The main challenge in passing through each new area are the gym battles, which act as dungeons of sorts where trainers must defeat several challengers before taking on the gym leader. Each different gym is themed toward a particular Pokemon type, meaning players who have a selection of monsters that are particularly strong against them will have little difficulty in defeating each successive leader.
Random battles or trainer duels are traditional turn-based battles. Players can have up to a maximum of six Pokemon in their team at a time, with the rest being stored in computers accessible in Poke Centres across the Kalos region. Each Pokemon has direct attacks, status-boosting abilities and ailments to inflict on opponents, although against the A.I. your tactics aren't likely to get too complicated unless facing off against real players who are far more clued up on all of the battle systems.
Players who have been with the series since the beginning will find a lot of nostalgic throwbacks to the original Red and Blue with familiar early monsters such as Pidgey, Pikachu and Caterpie making an appearance very early on, almost welcoming those who may be returning to the series for the first time for a few iterations. There are a great variety of Pokemon to catch very early on, making it very easy to gather a decent team of different types very early on. With well over seven hundred different Pokemon in the Pokedex to log and capture, players will truly have their work cut out for them if they do indeed want to catch 'em all, especially as many Pokemon must be traded both between X and Y and with previous generations of the series. Players will get genuinely attached to their roster of critters, watching them grow and evolve over the course of the adventure.
The familiar elemental types return, determining which Pokemon types are the most effective to use against each other in battle. Electric types destroy water types, who in turn are able to douse fire types quite comfortably even if they aren't quite at the same level. The amount of grinding for each different Pokemon in a team has been greatly reduced. A new item received early in the game called ‘EXP share’ gives every other Pokemon in the team half the amount of experience points as any monsters who have actively participated in an encounter. By reducing the amount of time spent grinding it allows trainers to plough on ahead with much greater ease than before, with teams staying at a similar level without the need to focus on each individual. Players who enjoy grinding with each individual Pokemon can disable the EXP share and simply gain experience the old fashion way.
A new technique trainers have at their disposal is the new mega evolution system in which it is possible to enhance a fully evolved monster's abilities even further, complete with new temporary transformations. These momentary evolutions bolster the Pokemon's power and can even change what elemental type they align themselves with. This great increase in power does come at a cost though, as this ability is only allowed to be used once in a battle, which makes selecting the right timing and Pokemon in battles online or locally with other real players much more strategic.
Beyond grinding in the more traditional battles, trainers now have other means to bond with and train their team. Pokemon-amie is basically Nintendogs with Pokemon as players can stroke, feed and play with their critters to increase their bond with the trainer. Playing with them involves participating in simple minigames such as puzzle matching and giving a group of Pokemon the right treats as fast as possible. These are a nice little distraction from grinding away in Pokemon encounters and the increase in difficulty when a player performs well fleshes out the feature a little more than many might expect. Super training is a way to improve some of a Pokemon's core statistics through either hitting a punching bag or playing a shooting minigame on the touchscreen.
Players can freely connect with anyone around the world thanks to the Player Search System. By manually connecting to the internet in-game the bottom screen will fill up with portraits of 3DS Friends, random online passers-by and acquaintances. It's possible to interact with any one of these other players as long as they are online at the time, challenging them to battles, request a trade or offer a temporary status boost. When the online functionality is activated it does work beautifully as players constantly want to challenge and trade, making players genuinely feel connected even if the game world itself is strictly a solo affair. Unfortunately, activating and deactivating the online features isn't the smoothest experience as if the wi-fi connection drops, an intrusive generic error message halts the game rather than subtly disabling the function.
There are several different methods of obtaining Pokemon that are exclusive to the X version, or indeed older generations. The standard trading can be done either locally or online with random players although communication can be quite primitive with players simply switching around Pokemon until they apparently agree. Wonder Trade is essentially a random trading method in which players can send a Pokemon away for a random trade, which obviously requires the player on the other end to be relatively generous and not just send a low-level Scatterbug. The Global Trade system acts as a trading post allowing players to find the exact Pokemon that they want. Players can post Pokemon they are willing to trade, along with what they want in return. There are more than enough methods to find which Pokemon you want especially as other players will likely be breeding their own sets of rare monsters for trading purposes.
It's possible to link up your game save with the Pokemon Global Link, a web service that allows players to track their game progress in a more detailed fashion on the website. On the website you can unlock achievements and view saved photographs that have been uploaded automatically whenever you save a linked game. Along with the P.S.S. system this feature does add nicely to that sense of connectivity with other players around the world by making use of a more traditional web presence, although it would have been appreciated if more of these features were accessible in-game without the need to access an external web browser – especially as the Global Link website isn't optimised for the 3DS's own version.
Being the first entry (alongside X) in the long-running series to ditch the sprites and utilise modern 3D rendering, Pokemon Y still manages to retain the series' charming, adventurous spirit of its predecessors. The game doesn't make the most out of the 3DS's titular functions as generally when exploring the overworld the stereoscopic screen is disabled entirely. With 3D being activated during battles the performance can take quite a hit, with the framerate dropping sometimes quite drastically. Even when playing exclusively in 2D the framerate can get erratic during battles and while generally traversing the environment. While it is occasionally irritating, these hiccups aren't too distracting even if they are more frequent than many would expect.
Outside of the new social features Pokemon Y and its counterpart do largely stick to the traditional JRPG formula and mechanics that have made the series the global phenomenon it has become. Hardcore Poke fans will still find a lot to like in this instalment and even players who may have lost their way with the series might find the new features and major visual upgrades worth jumping back on the wagon for. It may be iterative and lacking in radical innovations but Pokemon Y is still immensely fun, even if catching them all from a fresh start does feel more than a little daunting.