Late last year, I finally managed to escape from the unrelenting grasp that Pokemon has had over me for so many years. I mused at the time that if Nintendo could back up Pokemon's transition to Nintendo 3DS with new features and fresh ideas, I'd probably be back.
So here I am, at three in the morning, not just back under Pokemon's spell but convinced that Pokemon has never felt better than this.
Pokemon X and Y isn't just a revamp, or a simple transition to a properly-3D perspective - this is the biggest shot in the arm that the franchise has ever seen. It's a new beginning, and one that may prove just as important as the seminal Pokemon Red and Blue.
You play as a young boy or girl who lives in a world filled with monsters - some friendly, some less so. You're given your own Pokemon by a local professor and asked to go out into the world, capture additional Pokemon, and battle them to become a Pokemon champion.
Let's deal with X and Y's biggest new feature first - everything in this new Pokemon world of Kalos is rendered in full 3D, with fully 3D Pokemon animations. The camera is often snapped into the regular Pokemon top-down angle, but the feeling of openness that these new visuals give off is insane.
The world is a million times more exciting to explore now - you can really feel life pumping through the Pokemon universe. Other trainers run around in the tall grass catching Pokemon, the sights on offer are spectacular, and Lumiose City in particular feels like a real bustling hub of activity.
Battles have been completely overhauled in terms of visuals, taking place with proper surroundings, and with Pokemon attacks and animations that look fantastic. Game Freak has finally imported the battles from the Pokemon console versions to handheld after years of static back-and-forths.
Essentially, the Pokemon series has now been brought in-line with so many other Japanese turn-based RPGs, like the Persona series, and it feels so much better as a result.
It's not just the visuals that have been overhauled - Pokemon X and Y is a much more streamlined and feature-packed experience than past games, leading to a more snappy, action-packed, and exciting experience.
The bottom screen can be switched to display a whole host of different menus and features, a number of which run alongside your adventure, and these act as side-orders to the main course.
And Kalos is so pumped full of things to see and do that it was dozens of hours before I felt like I'd even scratched the surface of what Pokemon X and Y has to offer.
Cafes, museums, castles, photo spots, gyms, Mega Evolution, the Battle Chateau, the variety in landscapes from snowy mountain ranges to seaports - believe me when I say that the fan-built Wiki for X and Y will end up being the largest by far once the game is launched.
And there's plenty of attention to detail. The hero kneeling down to talk to kids; all the references to past Pokemon worlds and characters; the look and feel of battles depending on the time of day in real time; the horde attacks, which see multiple low-level Pokemon attacking you at once.
This all works together to form a much more expansive and substantial journey than your average Pokemon title. Customisation of how your character looks in also a lovely touch, and helps to pull you even further into the world.Pokemo' of everything
As you'd expect, there are plenty of new Pokemon to discover, and these come as a mixture of the conventional and the unexpected.
The new Fairy type is particularly interesting, and adds plenty of new tactics to play thanks to its super-effectiveness against Dark, Dragon, and Fighting.
And, of course, there's a whole new team of wackos to deal with this time around. Team Flare aren't as memorable or interesting as past teams, but the story that twists and turns around them ends up being one of the more flamboyant and explosive in the Pokemon canon.
The aforementioned Mega Evolution is also a fascinating addition to the battling formula. Certain Pokemon can temporarily evolve further through Mega Stones, and receive new stat boosts depending on their type.
Experimenting with these new abilities will become a massive part of future multiplayer Pokemon battling. The vast potential is there, and we're going to see some unimaginably eccentric Pokemon team combinations come into play.A little help from my friends
Speaking of multiplayer, Pokemon X and Y boasts some of the most exciting multiplayer options to date. The bottom screen features the Player Search System, which shows players that are nearby, people who you have battled or traded with before, and 3DS friends who are playing the game.
It's a pretty fantastic system that's both easy-to-use and expansive. You can set up a profile that other players will see when they connect with you, send messages to each other, then trade and battle with just a few simple touchscreen presses.
There's a neat "O-Power" system, too, much like Pass Powers in previous Pokemon games, which allows you to send other players temporary boosts - or you can just use them on yourself. These replenish over time, and can be levelled-up to add an extra dimension to proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Pokemon-Amie features allows you to make better friends with your Pokemon, and share their space with other people's Pokemon. There are some pretty dull mini-games included in this part of the game, but overall it's a pleasant addition.
Finally, the Super Training screen allows you to boost each of your Pokemon's base abilities through even more silly mini-games, and tapping on punching bags. Again, it's throwaway second-screen stuff, but as a side-helping that strolls along as its own pace while you play it's perfectly enjoyable.
Let's talk problems. Nintendo recently announced the Nintendo 2DS - essentially a 3DS without the stereoscopic 3D. It signalled a move away from stereoscopic 3D for the company, and judging by the 3D issues with Pokemon X and Y, it's not difficult to see why.
When you have the stereoscopic 3D slider up, Pokemon X and Y runs incredibly poorly, with massive frame rate issues. They're so bad that they cause issues for the rest of the game too - you have to hit touchscreen menu buttons multiple times to make the game register your inputs.
The issues are so ingrained that for the most part you can't even turn the 3D on. Most of the game's world exploration has no stereoscopic 3D option, and even some of the more strenuous battle scenes have had the stereoscopic 3D removed from them.
Of course, you can simply turn the stereoscopic 3D off to solve these issues, although there are still some notable frame rate drops even with the slider down. It would appear that X and Y is seriously pushing the 3DS to its limits.
Pokemon X and Y is also notably a much easier game than previous Pokemon titles. I can't claim to be the best Pokemon player, and I've always found myself wiping out multiple times in past games. Yet in Pokemon X and Y, I've been wiped out just once in my dozens of hours of play, and most battles I've managed to plough my way through with little resistance.
This all feels mildly disappointing - especially when you mow down gym leader after gym leader with ease. The crux of the issue relates to EXP SHARE: it's no longer a held item, and instead is a bag item that automatically gives experience to all of your party Pokemon during each battle.
Note that it doesn't share experience - it instead gives additional, free experience. This means that all of your Pokemon are constantly levelling-up, and you are always a much higher level than any of your competitors or wild Pokemon.
You can choose to turn EXP SHARE off, but then it just feels like you're missing out on one of the game's features.
If you can look past the stereoscopic 3D and difficulty issues Pokemon X and Y is essentially the perfect Pokemon game. I haven't had this much fun with a Pokemon game since Pokemon Gold and Silver, and I'm in no doubt that we'll look back on this as a defining moment for the franchise.Pokemon Y version was used for the purposes of this review.
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