If you’ve not heard of Pokémon before, you’ve probably been living under a large rock. In Rockville. Which itself is also under a rock. For those of you who ARE aware of one of the biggest collection-based games around, you’ll also be aware that there was recently a new iteration that, like many prior versions, is available in two flavors: Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. Since they’re functionally identical, with a few Pokémon unique to each flavor, this review covers both X and Y.

For those of you who remember Pokémon being this:gb_pokemon

or this:pokemon-firered

it’s come a long way since then and now looks more like the TV show:

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In fact the stills don’t do the game justice. Check out the video:

For the uninitiated (the rest of you can safely skip this paragraph, or hunt through it for blatant errors), Pokémon is an RPG game where you travel a specified region, capturing creatures called Pokémon, and training them to battle it out (not to the death, thankfully, but only until they faint). These battles can happen either against wild Pokémon (which can then be captured, collected, and called George), or against other Pokémon trainers. As this is an RPG, your Pokémon have stats and abilities that change and improve over the course of subsequent battles. Certain Pokémon who satisfy specific conditions (such as a high enough level, or something as obscure as being traded) will undergo evolution, whereupon they become more powerful and kick ass more efficiently than their unevolved counterparts. The epitome of the game can be summarized, really, as “gotta catch ’em all”, although with the total topping out at 718 different Pokémon, you’re going to have a merry time gathering the lot! Still with me? Good! Onwards!

In Pokémon X/Y, you get to explore the new Kalos region of the world (which is based on France; the countryside and architecture makes that delightfully evident). Storywise, the game has you and four friends from the town of Vaniville setting out to become Pokémon masters, each for your own reasons. On your adventures, you discover that Team Flare are causing trouble around the region, and of course, it’s up to you and your faithful Pokémon friends to stop them.

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Pokémon X/Y makes so many improvements to the game that it’s difficult to know where to start. The graphical changes are the most clearly evident: the game is now fully rendered as 3D polygon objects instead of the sprites as found in prior games. What this means, really, is that your Pokémon truly come to as much life as the screen will let them. In fact, for certain battle segments, it was difficult to believe that I wasn’t watching a portion from the anime series.

When you start digging into the game, you’ll find that there is plenty of familiarity yet dozens of changes to keep old Pokémon masters happy, and enough simplicity to bring new players into the game as easily and gently as possible. One of these changes, created to bring about a sense of bonding with your Pokémon, is the Pokémon Amie, a virtual playground. Here, you can actually play with and pet your captured friends to help push their stats up. Another feature designed to push Pokémon stats is the Super Training section, which is essentially a shooting minigame coupled with some virtual punching bags. Beginner players might mess around with the Super Training, but veterans will definitely make good use of it to dominate in battle. If you’ve found yourself sick of the stock look of trainers in the past, you’ll be glad to know that for the first in a Pokémon game, your trainer is fully customizable. Well, not initially, but when you reach the hub city, there are shops that will allow you to change your hair colour and style, clothing, eye colour, hats, and so forth. Minor, but it does lend to the idea of your trainer being YOUR avatar in the game world.

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If it’s battles you want to know about, then you’ll be delighted to know that there are two new types of battle: horde battles and sky battles. Horde battles are exactly what they sound like: a single Pokémon of yours going up against up to five of the same Pokémon who are, presumably, travelling in herds due to their low stats. Your level 30 pet won’t have any trouble against a level 20 foe, but toss in four more of them, and suddenly you’re up to your eyeballs in trouble and about 100 levels’ worth of foe. It’s delicious fun! The other new battle type is sky battles against specialised sky trainers. In these battles, you can only use flying Pokémon such as Pidgey or Combee. It’s not a massive addition, true, but it makes a change.

What I found interesting was the fact that, during the single player campaign, the game is meant to be played online, a feature I’m seeing more and more in games. Even though you’re venturing through Kalos alone, provided your Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS for those who’ve gone that route) is connected to the Internet, you can at any time have an impromptu battle with others, trade Pokémon through the Global Trading System, perform blind trades through the WonderTrade, find friends, and even boost other players’ games with O-Powers. In fact, if you’re not playing this game online in single player, you’re probably doing it wrong.

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In terms of new Pokémon, there are the new legendary ones (the eponymous X for Xerneas and Y for Yveltal), new Fairy-type Pokémon (created to counter the Dragon-type), and new Mega Evolved Pokémon, which pushes specific (eg Charizard, Blaziken, and Gengar) regular Pokémon’s stats even higher than usual.

As with every game, Pokémon X/Y has its down sides. One of these is that the game can be considered a little TOO easy, especially for veteran players. You can mitigate this, of course, by playing by one of several kinds of house rules or playing through without grinding your Pokémon’s levels. Another issue some might have is the relatively low number of new Pokémon added. However, given that GameFreak had to pretty much recreate every single Pokémon as a new 3D polygon, I think it’s justified just to see them come to life.

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If you’ve never gotten into Pokémon before, trust me when I say that this is the ideal time to do so. The game could not be better or more accessible for new players. Beyond the many, many hours of gameplay in the single player campaign, there are the online battles and even worldwide ranked tournaments to play. If you intend to go up in the big league, however, make sure you know your grass types from your bug types, or whether a Flareon is vulnerable to a Mawile’s attacks. Those guys are serious. Overall, it’s a solid entry to the series, and a welcome to see the game finally catch up to the third dimension.

Final Score: 8 Poké Prawns out of 10

Detailed Information:
Developer: Game Freaks
Publisher: Nintendo
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa (CORE Group)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS
Age Rating: 7+
RRP
: R449 (in the Nintendo eShop)
Website: http://www.pokemonxy.com/