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Pokémon X & Y Versions Review

Despite the numerous changes it brings to the series, something seems to be missing in the latest generation of Pokémon.

Review by Dustin Quillen, .

Primary Reviewer Dustin Quillen

When the 3DS launched back in 2011, I couldn't wait for a proper Pokémon game to arrive for the thing. As much as I loved and obsessed over Pokémon White at the time -- ultimately investing around 2,000 hours between that game and its sequel -- I still longed for more than what the antiquated DS hardware was capable of delivering. The Pokedex 3D app only served to fuel my impatience with its fancy, high-poly models and total lack of any gameplay whatsoever.

Now that I've finished my journey through Pokémon's 3DS debut, however, I find myself wishing Nintendo had taken more time with X and Y.

Don't get me wrong -- Pokémon X and Y are, in many ways, precisely what you'd want from a new Pokémon RPG. They look fantastic. They're packed with fresh gameplay mechanics that will no doubt fix and break the competitive metagame in all sorts of fun ways. Even some of series' less accessible elements turned out a little more transparent this time around. Overall, I very much approve of the direction Pokémon is headed with X and Y.

Why would a squid like Malamar here live on land? Because shut your mouth or he'll totally cut you.

With that said, I cannot think of another Nintendo game that felt as rushed as these two -- a strange development considering the company's reputation for holding projects back in the interest of additional polish.

The most immediately apparent sign that things may not have gone according to plan during X and Y's gestation is the lack of 3D functionality throughout large portions of the games. The handheld's depth slider flat-out doesn't work while traversing the overworld or in the vast majority of dungeons. It's also disabled during fights involving more than two Pokémon at a time, leaving just select cutscenes, minigames, a few special locations, and one-on-one battles to take advantage of the device's stereoscopic capabilities. Furthermore, switching on the 3D in these unrestricted scenarios turns an already inconsistent framerate into a rotten one. Don't bother.

Ignore the 3D altogether, though, and Pokémon X/Y look really, really nice. Previous attempts at rendering Pokémon with polygons rather than 2D sprites always had this plasticine, toy-like quality to them. With X and Y, on the other hand, the developers have applied a thin, black outline along the edges of 3D models -- it's very subtle, unlike, say, Pokémon Rumble Blast's harsh cel-shading. As a result, Pokémon in X and Y come closer to duplicating their official Ken Sugimori-drawn artwork than they have in any other game to date. I can only hope the style carries forward as the franchise inevitably spreads to more powerful platforms.

Pokémon in X and Y come closer to duplicating their official Ken Sugimori-drawn artwork than they have in any other game to date

Beyond the switch from pixels to polygons, Pokémon X and Y introduce a ton of changes to the games' core set of rules. The addition of Fairy-type Pokémon and other tweaks to pre-existing type matchups render old threats less fearsome while also granting renewed purpose to Pokémon who've historically suffered from limited competitive viability. Similarly, Mega Evolutions allow previously known quantities like Charizard and Venusaur to surprise us once again by transforming mid-battle. And that's all on top of the requisite pile of new Pokémon, abilities, and moves. Hardcore players should have plenty to digest over the coming months.

As for Pokémon's more casual audience, X and Y have them covered, too. The new Super Training mode provides a series of simple minigames as an alternative to older stat-boosting methods that, frankly, are too complicated for me to go into at length here. The games themselves aren't super fun on their own, and it still takes a long time to train a Pokémon to its full potential, but it's a welcome option nonetheless. In addition, X/Y let you interact more directly with your Pokémon by feeding them treats, petting them, and getting them to do tricks à la Nintendogs. None of this stuff really does anything for me, personally, but I can see kids going nuts over it.

The trouble with all these new toys is that they highlight just how stagnant other aspects of this series have become over the years. If you've played a Pokémon game going all the way back to the original Red and Blue, then you know exactly what to expect from the dungeon and gym design in X/Y. Recycled puzzles and too-familiar environments drain much of the joy from exploring Pokémon X and Y's world. And where Black and White deviated slightly from the near-interchangeable stories of prior Pokémon games, X and Y revert back to the same uninteresting plots Pokémon fans are well accustomed to by now. Yawn.

Not every Mega Evolution looks like a member of a Whitesnake tribute band, I promise.

Post-game content seems light compared to earlier titles, but then again, a lot about Pokémon X and Y feels underdeveloped. For example, X and Y contain fewer new Pokémon than any previous generation. Mega Evolutions help fill some of that void, but temporary transformations of old monsters simply don't inspire the same sense of wonder as stumbling upon an entirely unknown beast. While DLC could remedy this to some degree, I would have preferred more stuff to discover in the base product.

X and Y also currently lack any method for importing Pokémon from the DS games. Pokémon Bank, the companion app designed to facilitate cross-generation transfers, still doesn't have a release date in the U.S. as of this writing -- announcements in Japan and Europe suggest a late-December arrival. The ability to carry legacy teams forward into modern games is one of the defining characteristics of Pokémon, so I'm stunned that this crucial system likely won't be available for months to come.

I can't begin to guess whether or not a few more months in the oven would've translated into a steady framerate, a longer list of new Pokémon, and a functional import option. But I do know that Pokémon X and Y are, by some of the series' own standards, incomplete in their current form. Given the choice between a delayed game and a disappointing one, there's no question which D word I'd pick.

Secondary Reviewer Jeremy Parish

As I've played through Pokémon X and watched spoilers worm their way across the Internet to a chorus of fan freakouts, I've found myself wondering how differently the game would affect me if I were, say, 10 years younger. I feel like the most hardcore Pokémon fanbase consists of the kids who were entering elementary school around the time Red and Blue made their debut in the U.S. -- the ones who cling fondly to the original 151 and swap stories about crazy rumors they believed, like "Pikablu" and that mysterious pickup truck. The ones who coveted holo-foil Charizard cards and longed to hack Mew onto their carts.

I wonder: How will X and Y strike these diehard Pokéfans? The series' move to 3DS brings with it some of the most visible changes in the franchise's nearly 20-year history, and Game Freak has conspicuously returned to the first generation of games here to dredge up beloved characters and concepts so they can put a new spin on them. The "mega evolutions" of favorites like Blastoise and Mewtwo, I suspect, probably hit these fans every bit as dramatically as the game's more obvious move into full 3D visuals. The revised elemental match-ups and the addition of the Fairy type probably blow their minds as much as the move to a region inspired by France.

Nothing like a good face massage after a long day electrocuting strangers at the office.

But as someone who passed over the first three generations of the series, I feel like all this drama is pretty much lost on me. Instead, like Dustin, what I see in X and Y is a reminder of just how little the series has evolved over the years. Yeah, now it has PS2-level graphics instead of PS1-level, and some old monsters have fancy new forms, but the structure and story have become so formulaic that you could just hack Pokémon Gold and Silver to feature a few more French names and you'd basically have X and Y.

I don't even mind the relatively small number of new creatures in X and Y, because honestly the Pokémon bestiary become unwieldy after it broke the 500 mark. There's a reason Black and White totally wiped the existing bestiary off the table until the post-game, and every time I hear about a new generation of this series I cringe at just how much redundancy will inevitably come in tow. Do we need yet another super-common Normal-type creature that no one will bother using after the second gym? Not really, but here's Bunnelby anyway! After the freewheeling, import-crazy style of last year's Black 2 and White 2, the tame predictability of X and Y feels like a huge step backwards.

The new visuals fail to impress me, too. Sure, I like the creatures themselves -- they really look fantastically close to the source artwork -- but everything else drifts between "bland" and "awful." Battle backgrounds try to compensate for a stark lack of detail with some minor animation and depth of field effects, but they're terminally boring. Far more offensive, however, is the utterly terrible camera that makes navigating certain areas (like the main city) a maddening chore. We all know Pokémon's been slow to move into 3D, but in playing X and Y I had to wonder if that's because the developers didn't realize people have been making 3D games for decades. There's no other explanation for the fact that they fell afoul of so many basic interface flaws that were sorted out years ago by the rest of the industry.

The structure and story have become so formulaic that you could just hack Pokémon Gold and Silver to feature a few more French names and you'd basically have X and Y.

Maybe this makes me weird, but what I found most interesting about Pokémon X was the fact that I could customize my character. I found myself constantly short on cash and tools because I kept sinking all my earnings into different outfits for my trainer. When the clerk at the boutique in the region's central town hurried me out of her store with the admonition that I wasn't fashionable enough, I took that as much more of a challenge than any trainer could offer.

I feel like there must be some secret undercurrent of reinvention lurking beneath the surface of this game, something only the truly dedicated (i.e., people like Dustin) can appreciate. I'm sure they'll be picking over the new mechanics and rebalanced monsters for months to come. For a less invested player, though, X and Y once again feel like more of the same. I suspect you get out of X and Y what you bring in -- and as someone who only plays Pokémon to goof around and see how far I can get with the most amusingly designed creatures (ask me about the time I trashed Victory Road with Luvdisc, Spoink, and Tropius!), I didn't find much about X and Y to engage my enthusiasm. But your mileage will almost certainly vary, fanboy.

The Details

  • Visuals: Pokémon finally look right in 3D. Shame about that choppy framerate, though.
  • Audio: Apart from one specific throwback to a very old theme, I found most of the music in X/Y forgettable. Pikachu says his name now, which is cool, I guess.
  • Interface: Pokémon's countless menus nested within other menus are now slightly easier to navigate, particularly when using touch controls.
  • Lasting Appeal: Multiplayer is where these games get their legs. Unfortunately, we won't be able to test any of the online modes in X/Y until after release.

Despite the nagging feeling that something's missing, Pokémon X and Y make some huge leaps forward for both the competitive and casual crowds. I just wish these games felt as complete as their predecessors.

3.5 /5

Pokémon X & Y Versions Review Dustin Quillen Despite the numerous changes it brings to the series, something seems to be missing in the latest generation of Pokémon. 2013-10-04T22:00:00-04:00 3.5 5

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Comments 28

  • Avatar for Stealth20k #1 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    This game sounds so good from other reviews. This one was less enthusiastic but still a valid opinion
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #2 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    The one thing that bothers me from the review is the claim of forgettable music. Pokemon is a game that really needs to have good music.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #3 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    Hmm. This is the third review I've read today. And, by far, best illlustrates the need for an emphasis on a well-written article over an arbitrary score. I do find it mildly amusing that massive innovation was expected out of a Nintendo franchise. Also, I still haven't found anyone talking about the Streetpass functionality, though I suppose there's no way to talk about it in an educated way until after release.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #4 CK20XX 3 years ago
    Am I the only one who hasn't bought into the hype of the new Mega Evolutions? They all just seem too flashy; too much style as if to hide their lack of substance. I always felt like I could see past them to a game that's in desperate need of refinement. That's why when everyone cheered at Mega Charizard X, I just went, "OH COME ON! Seriously? When are you going to make some substantial changes to the series, Nintendo?"

    For me, the biggest flaw in the series right now is that Nintendo keeps trying to add new battle styles to the game, like Doubles, Triples, Rotation, and Swarm, but the battle system of 6 pokemon with 4 moves each in turn-based combat isn't built to compliment that much variety. The series' team-building mechanics are so restrictive that individual pokemon and even whole teams often end up becoming cripplingly overspecialized, and the games themselves seem to realize that, which is why they try to be fair by only throwing one-on-one battles at the player most of the time. But those quickly become dull and repetitive. If Nintendo only expanded upon the mechanics, such as by allowing more move slots, more team slots, or allowing every pokemon to learn a different move set for every different battle type, then the game would suddenly be free to not hold back and throw all kinds of different battles at the player throughout the game. That would be a LOT more fun and interesting.

    I hope they do something about HMs too. They're cool ideas on paper, but in practice they've always been very intrusive to pokemon trainers. Move slots are scarce and valuable and having to spend them on puzzle-solving moves is as frustrating as ever. Toning them back like they did in Black and White was appreciated, but it honestly was not a real solution.
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  • Avatar for xDQx #5 xDQx 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 Team Plasma theme all day long, son.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #6 pjedavison 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 I haven't played a Pokemon since Red, whose music drove me absolutely nuts after about five minutes. I assume it's gotten better over the years? :) (Or perhaps not!)
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #7 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @Captain Gonru It is really so unreasonable to want a game that doesn't feel like a near-total retread of the same formula they've been using for 18 years?
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  • Avatar for MissDeviling #8 MissDeviling 3 years ago
    I need to know: how are the battle animation speeds? Are they as quick as BW, as sluggish as DP, or what? What exactly are the interface problems? Is the super training tedious, faster, or just an alternative to regular EV training? Is dialogue intrusive to the gameplay as it was in BW? How expansive is the world, and how do they implement capturing the bajillion Pokemon out there? Are HM slaves still needed? How's the localization? Why does the postgame feel lacking? How's the difficulty? Game length? Does the new roster look and play well?

    I feel like you guys could have expanded on this review a lot more when it comes to technical aspects and mechanics. I don't know how much you're allowed to reveal at this point, but the review feels a bit vague.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #9 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Not at all. Just a fun juxtaposition with the recent Zelda article. One could argue that no major franchise changes greatly from one title to the next. Mario, Call of Duty, Madden, Dragon Quest. Part of the success stems from the audience knowing what they're getting one title to the next. And those that change? Final Fantasy regularly angers their dwindling base. Tomb Raider has had, what, three reboots now? And that doesn't count the ones that died on the way. Did Crash Bandicoot even make Playstation All-Stars?
    Sorry. Went on a rant there.
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  • Avatar for xDQx #10 xDQx 3 years ago
    @MissDeviling We have to be vague about a lot of stuff for now, unfortunately. I'll happily answer anything I'm allowed to discuss, though. Lightning round commence!

    The battle intros can go a bit slow for my taste, but the combat animations are about the same speed as Black and White's. And, as always, you can disable animations altogether if you want.

    The interface is mostly fine. You can see which Pokemon from your entire party can learn a move while looking at the TM screen, which is a huge improvement.

    I had a pretty good system for EV training in Black and White, so I'm not sure if Super Training outpaces it or not. But it certainly requires less know-how, and I'll be using it for the foreseeable future.

    I guess some might consider the dialog intrusive. It's a bit much in spots, but pretty light overall.

    The world seems comparable in size to Diamond and Pearl. Probably not as huge as Black and White 2.

    I taught HM moves to the Pokemon I had with me, so I didn't feel the need to specifically recruit an HM slave. Strength and Cut are still kind of dead weight, but Fly and Surf are at least decent moves that a lot of solid Pokemon can learn.

    There are a bunch of references to internet memes throughout the game. Whether that's a good localization or not is up to you.

    I find the post-game lacking because there isn't a lot to do.

    It's very, very easy.

    It's relatively short for a JRPG.

    I love the designs of pretty much all of the new Pokemon. Some of them have super interesting type combinations, abilities, and attacks.

    That's all for now!
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  • Avatar for orient #11 orient 3 years ago
    I haven't been truly invested in Pokemon since Ruby; the last one I played was Pearl and I couldn't get into it. For someone like me, who holds the originals close to my heart but hasn't played the series in a long time, X/Y looks like a lovely way back in. A mix of old and new creatures, the much needed graphical overhaul, even the familiar story. Sign me up.
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  • Avatar for stevenkate03 #12 stevenkate03 3 years ago
    Theres also rumours that there is zero postgame content. http://tiny.cc/75rf4w
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #13 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish It is unreasonable if thats what the fans are demanding isnt it?
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #14 CK20XX 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k If Nintendo knows what's good for them though, they'll cultivate a fandom that doesn't feed into itself like that. A huge chunk of fans aren't the kids who love the cute critters, but the Nuzlockers who challenge themselves with custom rules each generation, the professors and scientists at Smogon University who meticulously dissect each game to learn how it works, and the Pokemon World Champions who try to make the perfect team that leaves no element of victory to chance. If Nintendo only tries to make the games superficially good (as they seem to have done with X and Y), they will gradually alienate some of their staunchest supporters, and then, before they know it, Pokemon will no longer be one of the most popular things in the world.

    The franchise has slumped before around the third generation, so I guess we're right on schedule for another one. Hopefully Generation 7 will be better.Edited October 2013 by CK20XX
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #15 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    @CK20XX What? This is one of the highest rated pokemons ever. Its on pace to be one of the highest selling. People are very very happy to this game.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #16 CK20XX 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k You can't judge a game based on sales figures alone. That's far too narrow a focus. It inevitably leads to Farmville-like bubbles where something seems to be the greatest thing ever for a while, then it pops and deflates to the point where no one cares about it anymore.

    What REALLY matters isn't money, but having a finger on the pulse of your fandom. You need to pay close attention to what they say about your game's strengths and weaknesses, and so far I'm hearing a lot of people saying that X and Y is a bit too much like previous generations, and that there may not be much in the way of post-game content to boot. It's very important to listen to people who say things like that, because if you focus on your profits instead of your customers, in time you will have neither.
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  • Avatar for Spazgadget #17 Spazgadget 3 years ago
    16 comments on a USGamer article? Hot damn, we're on fire!

    Seriously though, as a gamer who has only purchased Pokemon titles on an intermittent basis, I have constantly longed for the series to evolve (no pun intended) or at least catch up with the graphical capabilities available to it. X and Y at least attempt to move the series forward graphically (polygons!) and I will buy this one (after skipping Black/White) but like@jeremy.parish, I can't help feeling annoyance at playing a game that is largely the exact one we were playing 18 years ago. Is the formula fun? Absolutely, but the key word there is "formula". I don't need them to reinvent the wheel, but I do wish they would put their whole might behind making the new games as fantastic as they can, instead of making incremental changes that make me feel like I'm being fed breadcrumbs instead of a whole, satisfying meal.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #18 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    @CK20XX Look, all I can tell you is this game looks really amazing for me.

    So far I am hearing this might be the best pokemon ever from most reviewers. This on did not? that is A OK. Everyone has an opinion.
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  • Avatar for MissDeviling #19 MissDeviling 3 years ago
    @xDQx Thanks for the reply. Seems like I might hold out on this one for now until I know for sure if they're gonna release a newer version with minor upgrades. The lack of difficulty is very disappointing after BW and B2W2. I'm glad that overall experience is smooth. I appreciate your answers!
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  • Avatar for TPaulBuzan #20 TPaulBuzan 3 years ago
    I'm about as casual a Pokemon fan as you're likely to find.

    Played the first one back in the day while I was selling games at Funcoland. (Anyone remember that place?!) The last one I played was Pearl and I only played one or two between that and the original.

    Don't know a thing about EV training, and I've never really bothered with post-game content. Pokemon for me is a decidedly light 'n easy romp.

    With that established, I've got to say that for me iteration -- versus innovation -- is a real selling point of the franchise.

    I can get where Mr. Parish and some other reviewers mark this entry down for sticking too close to the formula. But for me that's a real selling point.

    Not that I'm going to be able to catch 'em all anytime soon. The 3DS has absolutely killed it this year, and I've still got a stack of RPGs (thanks Atlus!) to finish before moving on to other ventures.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #21 CK20XX 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k That's fine then. I'm glad you like it. But I'm interested in the mechanics of things. They say beauty is only skin deep, after all, and I'm not seeing as much meat in this game as there has been in previous entries.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #22 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    @CK20XX We will have to agree to disagree
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  • Avatar for RoninChaos #23 RoninChaos 3 years ago
    I feel like the experience share is a game changer that might get me to actually complete a Pokemon game this time around with my son.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #24 Pacario 3 years ago
    Rabid Pokemon fans have always defended the series despite its failure to, uh, evolve over the years, and now that X/Y actually does veer into new territory, it will be interesting to see if these same fans criticize or applaud the updates.

    Either way, Mr. Parish and Quillen have written some fine, critical reviews here.
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  • Avatar for chrisgooch76 #25 chrisgooch76 3 years ago
    Jeremy Parish hates Pokemon, he made this pretty clear on Retronauts about six years ago. The game is supposed to be simple and playable in short bursts, it isn't intended to be a Final Fantsy style characterization epic. Maybe if it had more prog music or sold less than 20,000 copies he would respect the franchise more.
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  • Avatar for chrisgooch76 #26 chrisgooch76 3 years ago
    @chrisgooch76 To be fair, he just doesn't get it because he is too old to have any attachment to the original Red/Blue, and he owns this at the top of his write-up, but still, why not find somebody more impartial or new to the seriez?
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  • Avatar for truffulacheese #27 truffulacheese 3 years ago
    though this was the first pokemon game i have played, i have seen other people play and know an awful lot about older ones. i thought this one was absolutely unbelievable. the only points i agree are the bad camera in lumiose, but thats minor, hms(exept surf and water fall, which are pretty solid), and post game content(i'm spending most of my days on route 7 for eggs i'm gonna release into wonder trade). the point on which i must argue, though is the story. yes, it is weak and has been told over and over again, but this IS a childrens game. and, as team plasma brought a thought provoking element, team flare did as well, what with how our world is all but drenched in filth(metaphorically). over all, i give this a 4 and 3/4 stars. why not a full five? post game is boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooring.
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  • Avatar for guitarprince #28 guitarprince 3 days ago
    Much like its predecessors, Pokemon X and Y appeals to a wide audience, from veteran fans to timid newcomers by challenging them to become knowledgeable trainers or fill the up the encyclopedic Pokedex. Thanks to an impressive amount of depth from elemental-based combat, it manages to pull off this difficult task right from the start.

    A lot of smart decisions went into Pokemon X and Y. The first big change is an opening that’s considerably faster-paced than the sluggish first hours of the previous games. In less than an hour, you’ll have access to a diverse roster of capable pokemon from current and previous generations, your first gym badge, and even roller skates! The significantly sped-up pace also means you’ll spend less time sitting in lobbies or fumbling through menus and more time in the action.

    This is the first fully 3D Pokemon game, and it’s made the transition beautifully, with some great art direction in its many characters. Take Charizard, for example – this fire-type pokemon has been intimidating since he first stomped onto the scene in the original games, but his new look is absolutely stunning. He quietly hovers in place looks large and majestic, dwarfing his old 2D look. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the hyper-cute Pikachu, whose adorable animations effectively sell his personality. And the all-new Mega Evolved versions look similarly impressive, with intimidating features such as the additional thorns and hair that give Mega Lucario a ferocious visual edge over its normal form.

    Just as importantly, developer Game Freak has finally opened the door for unique avatars and creature customization beyond simply picking our gender. We can now choose a basic skin tone and dress up with a variety of nifty accessories. These simple tools finally give me the ability to distinguish myself from the thousands of other people playing, and that makes Pokemon a much more personal experience.
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