For a game that grew from its creator's love of collecting bugs as a kid, and the game rock-paper-scissors, there's an incredible amount of depth to Pokémon. From its beginnings — Red and Blue was released in the west in 1998, two years after their Japanese release — it's grown from a game that was straight up about pitting monsters against each other to something that's nigh on impossible to see the entirety of without hours upon hours of gameplay.
That core gameplay, so engrossing in and of itself, has expanded to include a game that has something for pretty much everyone. I've invested over 72 hours in Pokémon X, and, while I'm reaching the end of the main storyline, I feel I've only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.
The Pokémon stock-in-trade storyline remains in place. You play a young man or lady embarking on your Pokémon quest after receiving your first Pokémon. The aim is to travel around to all the Pokémon gyms in the Kalos region to receive the eight gym badges and become a Pokémon master — something that seems to be a bit of a rite of passage in the Pokémon universe (and which leaves the small children standing by the roadside waiting to battle passers-by something of a mystery).
Of course, no Pokémon game would be complete without a nefarious team of ne'er-do-wells with a secret plot to ruin Pokémon for everyone; so, while you're out and about collecting badges, you'll also run into members of Team Flare and their leader, Lysandre, who all claim to just want to make the world beautiful. It's certainly a curious goal; and, without spoilers, their plot is a lot more ambitious than any Pokémon villains to date. Future iterations of the game will be hard pressed to top it.
So the basic set-up remains the same, even down to choosing one of three Pokémon from a nutty professor (who your in-game mum seems to think is pretty hot. Grossssss). This serves to make returning players feel at home in Kalos, with the familiar set-up like a warm blanket.
Core gameplay remains the same, too: you travel around battling wild Pokémon in random encounters, as well as the people who loiter around the roads trying to put together the best elemental team for any other Pokémon the game can throw at you. For Pokémon newcomers, this means that each Pokémon has an elemental type; each of these elemental types have strengths and weaknesses against other elemental types, and the idea is to match them up so that you, as often as possible, have a strong elemental advantage over your opponent.
In and of itself, this makes for some pretty compelling gameplay; but Pokémon X and Y have a few new tricks up their sleeve.
The first big change you'll notice when you load the game is that it's had rather a significant graphics overhaul. It still looks kind of the same — an isometric-ish view (with a slightly lower camera angle) for the most part, switching occasionally to third person in the giant capital, Lumiose — but everything's been given a bit of a polish, with tighter shading and colouring and some subtle animations that really make the world pop: wind blows over grass, waves on water and character animations, such as idle stretches, the way your avatar crouches to talk to small children and Pokémon or tilts their head up to talk to taller characters. You can also visit in-game clothing stores and salons to change the appearance of your character.
Battle animations are likewise impressive. However, after looking at them for an hour, we did what we always do in Pokémon games: we turned them off. Not because they were boring to watch, but they just take up a lot of time and drag out the battles. Switching them off keeps random encounters from getting too cumbersome. We did, however, like that environment changes — such as rain, snow or sandstorms — induce a subtle animation on the lower screen: as you battle, snowflakes or raindrops fall across your UI.
Because X and Y are the first Pokémon games to be made specifically for the 3DS, as well, there is a 3D element. This is available in battle and cut scenes, not the open world, and it's very basic; the elements on the screen look like paper dolls at varying depths rather than a full 3D environment, so we mostly left it off.
Experience points work a little differently in Pokémon X and Y, meaning you need to think a little harder about how you play. Firstly, when encountering random Pokémon in the wild, you get more XP points if you catch the Pokémon than if you knock it out, encouraging you to catch rather than beat completely. (Incidentally, this encouragement seems to be reinforced by the new fainting animations and the new positive adjectives describing Pokéballs as "comfortable".)
Secondly, the XP Share has had a small but significant change: rather than equipping it to a single Pokémon, you activate it from the Key Items pocket, allowing your Pokémon to hold other items, such as special boosts or berries. All XP is then shared between all six Pokémon in your party, with the Pokémon that participate in battles receiving full XP (that is, if an opponent gives 1000 XP, all battling Pokémon will get 1000 XP — the number of points isn't split), and the rest of the passive Pokémon will receive 500 XP each.
This is great for levelling useless Pokémon, such as Magikarp, but it does have its drawbacks. Well, one, really: none of the gyms so far have been a challenge. You can choose to switch the XP share on and off if you find the combat boring and easy. If you don't mind, carry on.
For Key Items that you use regularly, you can register them to the Key Items button — your 3DS' Y button. These include the Dowsing Machine, for finding invisible items, your bicycle and fishing rods. The Key Items button can have four items registered — you press the button, and then press the relevant direction on the D-pad to choose from the menu that pops up. This is deeply convenient.
Only 69 new Pokémon have been added to the world, bringing the total up to 718 from 649 in Black and White. There are some cool new ones to catch, but the biggest change is the addition of a new type: Fairy. This has recategorised some old Pokémon, such as Gardevoir, Clefairy and Jigglypuff, so you might want to check the type chart for new elemental advantages and weaknesses, and try to bear them in mind.
We didn't finish Black or White, so the number of new Pokémon actually increased for us from 493 in Generation IV — 255 new ones. We found it helpful to have a browser open to check types when entering battles — the game is not kind to users who miss a generation.
The lower screenPlayer Search System
The Player Search System (PSS) is the game's new multiplayer arena. When you're connected to Wi-Fi internet, you can use it to search for other players around the world to battle and trade. We quite like the Wonder Trade System (WTS), which allows you to do a mystery trade with another user from anywhere in the world. There are people on there trading junk Pokémon, but we've gotten some pretty sweet trades, including a Charmander.
You can also use the PSS to trade O-Powers. Remember the pedometer from HeartGold and SoulSilver? That disappeared after one try, but encouraging you to walk around is clearly close to Nintendo's heart. Aside from the Mii Plaza coins you can earn walking around with your 3DS, walking around helps with something called O-Powers. These are special bonuses that you receive from a strange fellow by the name of Mr Bonding, who shows up in hotels around the Kalos region. When you activate an O-Power, you receive a bonus for a limited time, such as higher attack power, restoring PP during battles, increasing the amount of money you get from trainer battles and so forth.
Here's where walking comes in: each O-Power drains your O-Power power; but, if you walk around with your 3DS, that power regenerates more quickly. The more you use an O-Power, the faster it levels up, so you will want to use them as much as possible — or give them to friends. Giving them to friends requires less power, so if you have a friend or acquaintance in your list, swapping might be the way to go.Pokémon-Amie
In previous iterations of the game, you could do various things to make your Pokémon love you, such as getting them haircuts and feeding them treats. That has been replaced with Pokémon-Amie, a special place where you can pet, play with and feed your Pokémon to boost their affection.
Each Pokémon in your party can be selected in Pokémon-Amie for fun times. You can pet them by rubbing the screen, feed them Poké Puffs, mimic their movements using the 3DS' camera and play with them with three mini-games.
These games are Berry Picker, where you have to find the berry your Pokémon want and feed them; Head It, which involves bouncing balls of yarn off your Pokémon's heads; and Tile Puzzle, where you solve a tile-based puzzle. The higher the difficulty level of the game, and the better you perform, the better the Poké Puffs you will receive in reward — better Poké Puffs increase your Pokémon's affection more quickly.Super Training
Each Pokémon has something called "effort values" (EVs), which are its six base stats. These mean that, even though you can catch two identical-seeming Pokémon in the wild, they can vary quite a bit; one might have a higher attack EV, for example, which means it hits harder in battle.
Super Training offers you an opportunity to max out your Pokémon's EVs. Once again, it's a mini-game. Your Pokémon goes into an arena against a "Balloon Bot" — a giant balloon Pokémon with goal baskets. The aim is to shoot soccer balls into the goals while avoiding the balls the balloon throws at you. This gives you punching bags, which you then tap on to increase your Pokémon's stats.
This gives you really strong Pokémon. This might not give you much of an advantage in game, but if you regularly go up against friends using the PSS, it comes in real handy.
It's also great for breeding Pokémon. When you leave two Pokémon at the day care, one male and one female, they can breed, passing down their EVs. If one of the two breeding Pokémon is holding an item called the Destiny Knot, the parents are guaranteed to pass down five of the six EVs. Do this with two Pokémon with perfect stats and boom — you have a super-powerful Pokémon that doesn't require much training.
If you're looking for an in-depth experience, Pokémon X and Y is it. It might be a little on the intimidating side to newcomers — OK, a lot on the intimidating side — but once you're in, you'll always be finding new things to see and do. We love how the team at Game Freak keeps trying new things and applying that knowledge to later iterations of the game; while we're certain, at this point, that we'll never catch 'em all, we're still certainly keen to keep on trying.