A POCKET MONSTERS TOUR DE FORCE

Pokémon Y Version for Nintendo 3DS

Pokemon Y

Pros: 3D graphics, several new gameplay elements, deep gameplay, pleasant soundtrack

Cons: Framerate issues, fewer new Pokémon than ever before, too easy, somewhat unbalanced

The Pokémon franchise is young by the standards of Nintendo’s other series, but it’s second only to Mario in worldwide popularity. The simple prospect of collecting and battling cute little monsters was immediately a huge success, and the series was eventually able to overcome the ‘fad’ stigma with the release of multiple sequels that all went on to become million sellers. Fans have long complained that the 2D graphics are outdated, and with the release of Pokémon X and Y this issue has finally been addressed. As the first fully 3D mainline release in the franchise there were a lot of expectations to live up to.  Most of these were met, but the games do have a few shortcomings.

Note: There are two different version of this game, but at the core they are nearly identical. The major difference is that each version has a slightly different roster of Pokémon to encounter. I went with the Y version, and this review covers only that.

Pokémon Y follows the same formula as its predecessors. You play as a character that you can name and begin by selecting your first Pokémon from three different starter choices. From here you wander the world and do battle with other Pokémon trainers as well as wild Pokémon you encounter in tall grass. Your goal is to travel across the region venturing from town to town defeating eight special trainers referred to as gym leaders. Upon doing so your character must do battle against a special assembly of trainers known as the elite four and ultimately defeat the champion to become the very best. A host of trainers and the typical evil organization (in this case Team Plasma) stand in the way of your path to greatness.

At its core Pokémon Y plays like a traditional turn based role playing game, but the creature collection aspect keeps things interesting. While you begin with only one Pokémon you can add new critters to your team by weakening them in battle and ultimately capturing them using poke balls. Most battles occur at random when wandering through tall grass and in caves, but being caught by the glance of another trainer will also trigger these. While in a combat sequence you select commands for your Pokémon in play from a move pool and the goal is to bring an enemy’s hit points to zero. Each attack has its own elemental type as well as characteristic (either attack or special attack) and there are literally hundreds of options. Success in battle grants you experience points which increases the ability of all Pokémon used in said encounter.

What makes Pokémon Y (and the other games in this series, for that matter) so enjoyable is how deep the system is. Each Pokémon is assigned a single or dual element typing that is strong and weak against specific others. This isn’t as simple as rock-paper-scissors; there are eighteen different types and each move is also designated via this system. This gives you an absolutely astounding number of options. Pokémon Y differentiates itself from past iterations by introducing the new Fairy type which balances out the previously overpowered Dragon type nicely. This is a great addition to the series and I’m pleased that several Pokémon from previous generations were re-classified.

Aside from graphics the biggest new addition is the mega evolution ability. Previously your Pokémon would simply evolve into more powerful forms upon reaching certain levels of experience, but this feature is significantly more versatile. Specific Pokémon now have a new form that can only be triggered in battle after reaching a specific part of the story provided they are holding the corresponding stone. Mega evolving a Pokémon increases its stats and in some cases changes their secondary type. This can be used in some very strategic ways, but is limited by the fact that you can only do this once per battle. Once the battle ends they transform back into their regular form but you aren’t limited in the number of battles you can mega evolve your Pokémon in. Unfortunately the number of Pokémon that can take advantage of this feature is limited, but many fan favorites such as Blaziken, Charizard, and Ampharos have this ability.

Unfortunately this new feature leads to some balancing issues. Only two enemy trainers in the main game have access to this ability, and these are the only opponents I had any amount of trouble defeating. Pokémon Y is the easiest mainline game in the entire series, but mega evolution isn’t the only cause of this problem. The classic exp share item has been upgraded so that your entire party receives experience points from battle even when they don’t participate. This completely removes any incentive to grind the levels of your Pokémon because they always seem to keep up with the one in use. The developers should have planned out the main game a little better in my opinion.

Another drawback is the fact, with all the effort put into the shiny new graphics, Game Freak didn’t have time to create as many new Pokémon as before. This generation adds only around eighty brand new creatures to the mix which is far less than previous iterations. Many Pokémon are recycled from the previous games which is pretty disappointing even though the fairy type does change the mechanics of several familiar faces. With the release of the Pokémon Bank app for the 3DS you can now transfer your collective army of Pokémon from past iterations to the new games, and this renders the recycled creatures largely pointless.

Multiplayer remains the biggest draw in Pokémon Y, and thankfully Nintendo streamlined the system a little more. While your 3DS is connected online you can see who on your friends list is also playing, and challenging them to a match or initiating a trade is a painless affair. New to the series is the ‘wonder trade.’ You select one of your Pokémon and the server initiates a trade with a random person across the world. You never know what you’re going to get, and while most participants post up common Pokémon every now and then you’ll get something good. What really enhances the multiplayer experience is that you can customize your trainer’s appearance. You can play as either a boy or girl, but can change clothes and even select a skin tone as well as hair color. This makes the experience more personable, but the female characters have significantly more clothing options.

As I’ve hinted throughout this review the graphics are by far this biggest upgrade this game brings to the franchise. For the first time ever you can explore and battle Pokémon in full 3D, and it’s quite magical from this long time fan’s perspective. Unfortunately the new engine suffers numerous hiccups. The graphics while exploring are a little underwhelming to be honest with blocky characters and plain environments. It’s disappointing, but it’s still a huge upgrade from the previous titles. Battle sequences are the highlight here and it’s a real delight to see your favorite critters in full 3D. The subtle cel-shaded style is pleasant, and the models are surprisingly detailed. Unfortunately battle sequences occasional suffer from framerate issues; this holds especially true during horde battles. It doesn’t affect gameplay in any significant way, but it’s noticeable. Still, this is a pretty good looking game by 3DS standards.

Pokémon Y features an enjoyable soundtrack with some really pleasant orchestral qualities. The music is, for the most part, upbeat and catchy. I especially like Lumiose City’s theme as well as the battle music which sounds just like what I would expect from a modernized Pokémon game. It’s all pretty memorable though. I was initially surprised that the sound effects have been, in some cases, significantly upgraded. No longer are the Pokémon cries limited to the same effects generated by the original Game Boy hardware; they’ve been updated so as to not seem so out of place. In most cases they’re improved, but some are a little annoying (Pikachu now speaks his name in the same fashion as in the anime series).  The controls are another area in which this series benefits from the move to new hardware. The circle pad works wonderfully in this game and makes exploring Kalos a painless experience. You can still opt to use the old fashioned directional pad, but then again, why would you want to?

Pokémon Y doesn’t quite measure up to my personal expectations. It’s largely more of the same but significantly prettier. With that said it’s still an amazing game that will keep fans busy for hours. The new fairy type makes it feel newer than every other sequel since Gold/Silver. Younger gamers will appreciate its simple charms, but older fans will appreciate the significant depth of every aspect of this title.

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