Ever since its first American appearance back in 1998, Pokémon has been a consistent source of some of the most finely tuned gameplay Nintendo has to offer. Between the careful balance struck with the type matchups, the incredible variance between different moves and abilities, and the surprising depth behind Pokémon stats, the battles are far less simple than they appear to be on the surface. That's a big part of what keeps players coming back again and again.
Of course, there's also the other reason that just about everyone knows: You've got to catch 'em all!
If you're a Poké Fan, you already know whether or not you want Pokémon X or Y, and your only decision to make is which version you want. I can't help you there, as that's a decision that you and only you can make.
However, if you're new to the series or haven't played a Pokémon game in quite some time, you're in luck! I'm proud to say that Pokémon X and Y are easily the best entries in the series to date.
As for why these games are so good, there are myriad reasons. I'll start off with the most visible one: They're no longer rendered in 2D! For the first time ever, a handheld, main-series Pokémon game has ditched the character sprites, both in battle and on the overworld. The 3D-rendered Pokémon all positively ooze charm and character, often having unique idling animations or attack animations that just serve to make your partners feel more alive than ever before. The overworld is also rendered in 3D, as it has been to a certain extent since Diamond and Pearl, but the characters have now joined the world in the glorious third dimension, adding depth to each and every one of them.
Speaking of the characters, these games also mark the first time in a main-series Pokémon game that players have been able to customize their characters! Starting with a simple skin-tone choice that comes with pre-set hair and eye colors and pre-set clothing, we've already got more choice than ever before. Soon, however, players will come across boutiques selling new hats, clothes, and accessories to wear, with new shops in new towns offering new items. They will be able to find a contact lens case, as well, letting them change their eye color. Not far from where you get that delightful item is a hair salon that will let the player change their hairstyles, with more styles becoming available as players participate in more activities within the city where the stylist can be found. It's been a long time coming, but we can finally adjust our characters to suit our tastes and to stand out from all the other players of our gender online!
And let's not beat around the bush: Online is a critically important feature of any modern Pokémon game. Between trading with or battling faraway friends or using the GTS to trade Pokémon with people from around the world, online revolutionized Pokémon when Diamond and Pearl came out. Well, X and Y have gone and made online even more integral to the game. By default, the Player Search System is displayed on the bottom screen while playing the game. With the touch of a button, players can connect to the Internet, so that their friends will show up when they're online, making connection easier than ever. A near-constant stream of “passersby” will fly by in another row, enabling players to request a trade or battle with any stranger who catches their eyes. Whenever a player has connected to another player in this fashion, that passerby is added to the “acquaintances” row, making for easy repeat interactions. Interact enough, and the game will even prompt players with the ability to register one another as friends automatically!
The PSS isn't just for connecting in this way, though. It also features the Wonder Trade, which allows players to trade a Pokémon of their choice with a random trainer from around the world who is using the Wonder Trade system. This can be a great way to get some interesting Pokémon from other trainers, though players are advised to only send out Pokémon that they would be pleased to receive, themselves. Remember, the person whose Pokémon you get will be getting your Pokémon, too!
There are also O-Powers, which can be used on yourself, or (more cheaply!) on others for simple, temporary in-game boosts, like an Attack or HP boost, or a boost in the amount of prize money gained from battles. These may seem small, but if used regularly they can really add up and make your, or somebody else's, day!
Of course, at the end of the day, these are Pokémon games, so it's time to get to what we all really care about: There are new Pokémon! There are dozens of new critters to get your hands on, and for the first time in thirteen years, a new type has been added, type matchups have changed, and some Pokémon have had their types changed. Pokémon X and Y have introduced the new Fairy type, which is immune to dragon-type attacks and will surely have a huge impact on competitive battling. Pokémon both new and old have gained the Fairy type, making sure that there are plenty of options to consider when picking your pixies.
Fairies and other brand-new Pokémon aren't the only new kids on the block, however. There are also horde battles, in which you can encounter five enemy Pokémon at once; Sky Battles, where only flying or levitating Pokémon can participate; and Inverse Battles, swapping all type matchups so that super-effective becomes not very effective and vise versa. In addition to these, Mega Evolution has arrived on the scene, and provides some Pokémon with powerful new forms and abilities that can only be used in-battle, reverting back to normal afterward. In fact, it's so powerful that only one Pokémon per team can Mega Evolve in each battle! And to make sure you have something worth Mega Evolving, Pokémon X and Y give you your choice a starter from the original games, so you can have a Mega Venusaur, Charizard, or Blastoise to accompany you on your journey.
Mega Evolution is truly a fantastic metaphor for Pokémon X and Y, themselves. They're still the same Pokémon game we've been playing for over a decade deep down, but they're stronger, have an updated look, and are far more modern than the old grayscale games we once knew.
Of course, as with any game, even Pokémon X and Y have their flaws.
The games are in 3D for the first time ever, but most locations in-game don't utilize the 3DS's 3D mode. For those playing on a 2DS, this means nothing, but on a 3DS or 3DS XL, it's quite noticeable. Double battles, triple battles, horde battles, and the vast majority of overworld areas do not make use of the 3D feature. It's said that 3D is only used in certain dramatic moments in the story, but there are also some places that completely lack any sort of drama or importance but which have 3D enabled, so it feels more like Nintendo just didn't get finished implementing it before deciding to release the 2DS. However, where the 3D is used, it's a fairly subtle effect that adds a very pleasant sense of space to the games. Single battles suffer a bit in terms of framerate with the 3D enabled, becoming a little jittery, which is a shame because otherwise they'd truly shine with it on.
While the overworld is finally in full 3D, character movement is initially limited to eight-direction movement, which feels very stiff when controlling with the Circle Pad instead of the D-Pad. Soon enough, however, players are given the Roller Skates, which are used with the Circle Pad and which allow for freedom of movement, relegating walking to the D-Pad alone. The Bicycle also allows freedom of movement with the Circle Pad or eight-direction movement with the D-Pad.
Online communication is more convenient and easy than ever before, but some bad apples have been hacking their games and producing illegitimate Pokémon, which can break players' games if they receive one via Wonder Trade, so one of the game's most interesting features carries some significant risk with it.
Of course, even these negatives aren't enough to make Pokémon X and Y anything short of a delight to play. The story is your traditional Pokémon fare, with a new villainous group up to nefarious deeds in need of stopping, but the adventure is still just as fun as ever, if not more so, enhanced by incredible Pokémon diversity between even neighboring routes and a fairly large world through which to travel. Upon finishing your adventure, there are even more new features to enjoy, some of which make catching and raising a solid team easier than ever before, which will let more players than ever before participate on even footing in competitive matches.
New players and old Pokémon fans alike will find Pokémon X and Y to be some of the most solid experiences present on the 3DS, so I find no difficulty whatsoever in awarding these games a 98/100.