2013-10-19

Pokemon X and Y – It Keeps Getting Better

by Yo Snyder

What is it about Pokemon that’s helped it endure for all
this time? I remember Pokemon being popular back when I was in school (and
that’s starting to be a fairly long time ago). Now, I didn’t play Pokemon back
then, I was a late comer to the party. However, when I arrived and I “got it”,
I was a convert for life (kind of like when I “got” Jesus). The formula is
deceptively simple and entirely engaging, and also rather addictive. Catch
little critters, raise them and then take them into battle. Setting aside the
moral questions of whether or not it’s right to send cute little critters into
battle merely for our enjoyment, it’s a winning formula that’s endured for a
really long time. The games are all basically the same, yet whenever they came
out, people bought them up like crazy. Some thought the fade would fade, yet if
the sales numbers for Pokemon X and Y are any indication (about 4 million sold
on its first day), that just isn’t happening. If anything, the series has
become more popular, and Pokemon X and Y are
sure to continue that upward trend cue to the fact it’s probably the most
radically different (and yet at the core, still fundamentally the same) game in
the series yet; and perhaps one of the best.

The most apparent improvement is the fact that the game now
has glorious 3D animation. No more 2D, minimally animated sprites here. All the
pokemon are gloriously rendered and have their own unique animations. The
animation is so fluid and the colors so vivid and bright that this game finally
looks like the popular cartoon show. The graphical upgrade pulls gamers into
the world even more as the pokemon wince and grimace in battle, evoking empathy
for you own pokemon and sympathy for the ones you battle against. In an interesting
move, the game makes minimal but effective use of the 3D effect of the 3DS.
You’ll only see things in 3D during the actual pokemon battles, which in truth
is probably the only times I would have been interesting in turning the effect
on any way. With all of the graphical flair and particle and lighting effects
that are shown off during the various moves of the different pokemon, it looks
pretty fantastic. Plus it’s kind of handy to just leave the 3D on and to have
it only be used when you most likely would want to see it anyway. This transition
is something perhaps more 3DS games could learn from in order to make the most
effective use of the 3DS’ 3D ability.

There are plenty of other improvements beyond just the way
the game looks. EV skills are no longer hidden, and you can even level them up
thanks to the super trainer (which will probably appeal more to the hardcore
fans than newcomers). You can also enjoy a Nintendogs
like interactive mode where you can pet and feed and play with your pokemon.
Using the 3DS’ camera, you can even get them to mimic your facial expressions.
It’s playful fun to be sure, but can also be useful since a pokemon who feels
more friendly towards you will perform better in battle. There are some new
battle modes as well, including aerial battles and horde battles; which is
where you get attacked by five wild poekmon at once (these can be tough if you
don’t have any moves that can affect the entire area). Oh, one other noteworthy
change; there are tons of new pokemon to catch, along with pokemon from
previous versions of the game (it’s something like over 600 in all for this
game). Plus you’ll get two starter pokemon, one from this region and one from
one of the three originals: Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirttle. It made me
feel a bit giddy to be given one of those three for the start of my adventure.

Then there are all the online features. You can battle
anyone, anywhere online. You can challenge your friends or complete strangers.
You can do trades online, and even specify what type of pokemon you’re looking
for. Or if you’re looking for something a bit more random, try a wonder trade.
Basically, you trade one of your pokemon with a random player over the
internet, and you have no idea what you’ll get. Could be something great, or
something you already have. Or Mr. Mime. It’s actually a lot of fun. The online
abilities of the 3DS expand on the social aspects of pokemon like never before,
and that’s on full display with Pokemon X
and Y
.

As for the gameplay itself, despite being surrounded with
plenty of new features, the core of it remains the same. You’re a trainer on
the rise, you travel about collecting pokemon, collecting gym badges, and of
course you’ll encounter a sinister team that’s hatching a nefarious plot that
you’ll have to stop. And there are a few mysteries to solve along the way as
well; such as what are mega evolutions? (This is where your pokemon can evolve
beyond its final form briefly during battle, another fun new addition to the
series.) It strikes me as rather funny that there was a time when, at least
among Christians, Pokemon was about as well regarded as Harry Potter was later
on. It’s true. There were all kinds of concerns about these monsters the kids
were playing with (Pokemon is short for “pocket monster”). And it must be
admitted there is a bit of Eastern spiritual mysticism included in these games.
In any event, the controversy eventually faded away. What’s interesting is that
Pokemon also has plenty of Biblical parallels as well. The discipline and
training that it takes to be an ace trainer; it’s similar to how the Christian
life itself requires discipline and training. As for the battles, some are
random and some can be planned for; again, very similar to the Christian life
in how we’ll face some unexpected battles and some that we can see coming, but
either way we need to be prepared. I could do (and have done) who Bible studies
using Pokemon as a modern day parable for illustrating important Biblical
truths about the Christian life.

I’ve really only been playing Pokemon since Heart Gold, but
in that time I’ve come to appreciate what a brilliant little game this series
is. There’s just something compelling about really trying to “catch them all”
and becoming the premiere pokemon trainer of the land. Plus, the strategy of
the battles can get rather intricate, which is also great fun. The one big
criticism of the games the past few years is that they didn’t really change
much; but apparently Game Freak and Nintendo were saving all the big steps
forward for Pokemon X and Y, which compared to previous versions in the series
is a huge step forward in plenty of areas. Is it the best Pokemon game yet?
That’s for bigger and more dedicated fans than I to decide. I will say it is a
pretty darn good one, and one of the best reasons to own a 3DS or even a 2DS.
So what is it about Pokemon that has helped it endure all these years and still
remain so popular? It’s the strategy. It’s the compelling nature of trying to
catch them all. It’s the charm. It’s the attachment you form with your elite
team of pokemon that you’ve dedicated time and energy to training. Most of all,
though, what has helped this series endure is that it’s just plain fun.

Score: 6 of 7