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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: Pokemon X & Y

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo


Pokémon games are frequently ridiculed for being "just for kids." This is absurd. If Pokémon is just for kids, then we have some incredibly smart kids out there who apparently know how to put together a team with strengths and weaknesses, engage socially to get what they need and help others, and juggle a series of numbers and equations in order to keep everything straight.

So, way to go, kids!

However, Pokémon games have been stuck in a rut for a while, and there have always been a few major flaws that keep getting repeated in every new version. Black & White added a few more social features into the mix, but Black & White 2 literally retreaded the same ground. There haven't been a lot of new innovations in a while, just incremental improvements.

For instance, a lot of your time is wasted grinding, unless you happen to get a new Pokémon via trade. However, trading can be tedious if you have trouble finding a partner or put up a Pokémon for trade that no one wants.

Building up your team of Pokémon was always annoying too. In order to level up a weak Pokémon, you would have to start the battle with the weak one, then swap it out for the one you really wanted to use in order to get the weak one a share of the experience. It was time-consuming, and it would cause you to lose a move at the beginning of each battle. It could also leave your team lop-sided, as only a few of your Pokemon would be powerful and the rest in development.

No one ever really said anything about these things, though. After all, that was just Pokémon. It was part of the game series, and players had long ago either made their peace with the flaws or simply ignored the series.

Pokémon X & Y did something unthinkable: They actually went through and asked, "What is tedious in Pokémon and how can we fix it?" There was no real reason for them to do this, since even lesser entries of the Pokémon series sell enormous amounts, yet they really rethought things. That led to lots of fantastic changes that make X & Y the best iteration of Pokémon yet.

For one, level grinding is severely reduced in the game. If you want to spend some time grinding, fine. If you don't, you don't have to, since the X & Y is far more balanced than previous versions. Encounters also will net you more experience, meaning that you'll gain levels a lot faster, get better evolutions a lot quicker and get to the fun parts of Pokémon instead of wasting your time messing with the same old parts.

You can also get an item that shares your experience points throughout your party that you can turn on and off at a whim. This is huge. No longer do you have to swap your Pokémon in order to get them experience in battle. It saves so much time that was otherwise wasted, and helps keep your party balanced for when you really need it.

Speaking of fun parts, one of my pet peeves about Pokémon was always that there was no real incentive for capturing new Pokémon. Sure, the point of the game is to find and collect Pokémon, but there were no tangible in-game benefits for doing so. In X & Y, they've fixed that. Now, you get experience points for capturing OR defeating Pokémon. It's such a basic change, but it makes a huge difference.

Another great feature is the new Wonder Trade system. You put up a Pokémon for trade and get matched up with another random trading partner. You must accept their Pokémon, no matter if you want to or not. If you trade away a level 50 Raichu and receive a level 2 Bidoof in return, tough cookies. However, if you trade away a level 4 Pansear and get back a level 60 Gyarados, score!

I absolutely love Wonder Trade. You never know what you're going to get. Sure, sometimes you'll get some garbage, but you can always turn around and trade it again. It's like a Pokémon slot machine, and it's never not exciting.

Another great feature is the ability to send other players bonuses. If you so desire, you can send other players abilities like an HP restore, improved catch power or improved attack power. Combined with Wonder Trade, it's really quite nice. If you get a really nice Pokémon via trade, you can send bonuses to the sender in gratitude. One time I traded away a Farfetch'd and got bonus after bonus from the grateful party. It feels good.

That being said, there are some purists who aren't happy about these changes. Fortunately, if you want to struggle through Pokémon the way you always do, you can turn off most of these improvements. I don't understand why you would, but you can if you want. However, I really cannot fathom what's the big deal. Nintendo and Game Freak have taken a game series that was good and made it better. Some people will complain about any change, I guess.

The only legitimate complaint on Pokémon X & Y is the very, very slight story. The plot in X & Y is the same as every other Pokémon game: You're a kid. You get a Pokémon. You try and capture other Pokémon in an attempt to catch them all. You go to eight gyms and get badges. Some evil group wastes their time try to use Pokémon to take over the world. Eventually, you beat the evil group and take on the four toughest trainers in the world. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you're looking for a major change to this formula, you're not going to find one.

That being said, there is just so much to love about Pokémon X & Y that one measly review couldn't do it justice. I'll put it this way: If you always liked the idea of Pokémon but could never get into the games, Pokémon X & Y is an excellent place to start. If you liked previous Pokémon games, get X & Y right now.

Final Rating: A-