With only four days left until the Pokémon franchise makes its proper debut on Nintendo’s current-generation portable, the internet is a veritable Combee hive of excitement. (See what I did there?) Making the release of Pokémon X and Y even more notable is the fact that this title marks the series’ first ever worldwide launch; Pokémaniacs the world over can easily get the game in their own region without having to worry about the hassles of region-locking or the trials of a fierce language barrier.
Still, all this pales in comparison to the buzz surrounding the games themselves. Yet while the general consensus seems to be that X and Y mark the biggest evolution in Pokémon world-building since the second generation standout Pokémon Crystal brought the franchise’s extended offering fully into the world of the Game Boy Color, I can’t help but disagree. Personally, I believe that Pokémon X and Pokémon Y represent the greatest single leap in engagement, gameplay and overall scope since the series debuted on American shores in 1998.
This first installment of the sixth Pokémon generation begins as expected – with the introduction of your player character, a child destined to shape the future of a world populated by fantastical creatures – but even this comes with its own uniquely modern slant. X and Y add, in addition to the standard boy and girl character models, three distinct skin tones. This simple inclusion allows for a more accurate representation of the diversity of gamer culture, and it further hints at additional customization offerings, like adjustable eye color and hairstyles, that become available later in gameplay.
Its Kalos Region is lovingly rendered in a polygonal third-person overhead view as your son/daughter of a noted Rhyhorn racing mother (and, again, notably absent father) takes to the highways and byways to capture and train Pokémon, earn respect from the battling elite in the form of gym badges and combat the unraveling conspiracy of new series baddies, Team Flare. X and Y really make the most of the 3DS‘s processing power, and the sweeping camera angles only hinted at in Black 2/White 2 truly pop in all its cell-shaded, 3D-rendered glory.
As much as these beefed-up visuals add to the vast and disparate environments of Kalos, it’s the Pokémon themselves that get the most drastic facelift. The fully rendered models of new starters Chespin, Fennekin and Froakie are impressive, sure, but X and Y even manage to make old stalwarts like Bulbasaur and Mewtwo, who’ve been with us since the low-res days of yore, seem like living, breathing creatures. (Hell, Mr. Mime’s resting animation now includes a trapped-in-a-box performance that’d make Marcel Marceau jealous!)
Fairy Pokémon make an appearance, adding the first new proper Pokémon type since the Gold/Silver/Crystal era of the early 2000s, but this addition is likely less significant than the new ways X and Y allow trainers to interact with their Pocket Monsters via the 3DS touchscreen. Your trusty Pokédex – this time split up into sections that correspond with Kalos’s various regions – is now tricked out with even more interactive options. The Player Search System makes battling and trading with nearby players a breeze, and the Pokémon-Amie function lets you lavish your team with attention and affection, strengthening the trainer/monster bond. An ever-expanding series of on-demand mini-games also makes it easy to power-level your Pokémon’s core stats in a manner that’s both useful and genuinely entertaining. Further supplementing the games’ core offerings are a pair of new battle types and the much talked-about Mega Evolutions. The latter is so central to the overall plot that I’ll resist my urge to elaborate and instead say that it’s a satisfying new twist to classic Pokémon combat that’s far more balanced – read: less exploitable – then I originally feared.
Still, despite this grocery list of new features, my three favorite new aspects of Pokémon X and Y were rather minor tweaks. The first, an updated version of the classic Exp. Share item, really helps to strengthen your Pokémon party as a whole; it now splits shared experience between all your benched Pokémon rather than just a single unit. Also revamped is character movement. The old walk/run system is now supplemented by a pair of inline skates that automatically engage when moving with the Circle Pad. While it’s still inferior to riding your trusty bicycle, this new, faster mode of transportation works well most of the time, although diagonal movement (not to mention lining up so as to talk to or challenge a passerby) can be a little trying.
While it doesn’t add much to gameplay as a whole, my favorite new feature is surely the deep character customization. Though the aforementioned hair, eye and skin color options help to make a formerly whitewashed character model a more accurate representation of the actual player, the opportunity to purchase clothing and other accoutrements truly served to strengthen my immersion in the game world. Does that new hat and recolored messenger bag make me a better Pokémon trainer? No, but in a very real way it makes me feel more invested in my character and his journey.
From top to bottom, X and Y are undoubtedly Pokémon games, but what they represent is a deviation from the expected norm. A bigger, bolder world filled with a more varied selection of locales, citizens and Pokémon alike would’ve been enough, but to their credit Game Freak added an additional layer of features. The “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” combat mechanic is back and better than ever, but the Tamagotchi-style element of Pokémon-Amie and the very Animal Crossing-esque slant of its character customization serve to make X and Y games that are leaps and bounds ahead of their predecessors.
In fact, my only real complaint against Pokémon X/Y is the lack of pervasive 3D visual elements. Yes, all the characters and environments are obvious 3D constructs, but the titular effect of the 3DS system is sorely lacking. With the exception of battles and the occasional cut scene, X and Y eschew such visual flare.
Does the games suffer as a result? No. In fact it’s no surprise that Nintendo has chosen to launch the new, less expensive 2DS alongside these new entries into the Pokémon franchise.
For those who’ve been waiting for a new for-real Pokémon game to pick up a compatible system – or, consequently, for those tempted by the new $130 price point of the 2DS who are also looking for a phenomenal game to purchase with the system – the combination of X and Y and the 2DS is a match made in PokéHeaven. The top and bottom screens are as crisp as those found on the original 3DS, and, though the system’s single speaker doesn’t exactly ring as gloriously true as its big brothers on the 3DS XL, the 2DS’s sound system makes the most of its physical limitations.
I played around 12 hours of my continuing Pokémon Y journey on the 2DS review unit Nintendo supplied for me late last month, and I’m incredibly impressed with the system’s build quality and clever construction. The face buttons and triggers are snappy and responsive, as is the Direction Pad. Even the Circle Pad, the placement of which worried me upon the initial 2DS reveal, moves as smooth as butter despite its low-profile appearance. The re-positioned Start and Select buttons bring back fond memories of the DS Lite, and its central Home button is perfectly placed for easy access.
Most importantly, the Sleep toggle – it manually activates the standby function that the clamshell systems auto-execute when closed – quickly suspends and reactivates gameplay, saving both battery life and headaches in games with limited save-point options. Speaking of, I’m averaging just shy of five hours of play time per charge; a perfectly respectable amount, in my opinion.
Users attempting to transition from the 3DS or 3DS XL to the 2DS – not that I’m encouraging this, mind you – will likely find the need to “choke up” on their grip. Rather than attempting to grip the lowermost point of the 2DS while always keep one’s index fingers resting on the Left and Right triggers, I instead suggest simply sliding the palms up a bit and cupping all fingers around the system’s back until trigger actions are needed for gameplay. This makes the 2DS footprint a flexible size for adults with larger hands as well as younger kids who likely shouldn’t be using the original system’s 3D effect anyway.
My single caveat is that 2DS adopters should also purchase Nintendo’s own first-party neoprene case. Like the 3DS XL, the 2DS isn’t exactly pocket friendly, but this sturdy yet flexible covering will ably keep it safe within a backpack or work bag while also offering easy storage for a trio of game cartridges.
The 2DS is ruggedly-constructed and budget-priced. It also boasts a big honkin’ stylus that’s easy to use and harder to lose. All these combine to make it an ideal candidate for system newbies looking for an affordable way to enjoy Pokémon X and Y.
Still, while elements like its hinged SD card compartment door point to a well-reasoned redesign, I certainly don’t suggest that existing 3DS or 3DS XL owners jump ship for this new model. With the new limited edition Pokémon X/Y vanity 3DS XL systems already on shelves, I wouldn’t even dissuade interested parties from picking up 3D-enabled hardware, but, if thrift is more your style and 3D visuals don’t excite you, the 2DS is the perfect point of entry into Nintendo’s latest realm of portable gaming bliss.
Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America