Or “Confessions of a Pokevirgin”. May contain traces of Froakie.
This isn’t going to take the normal pros/cons approach of reviews here on Fat Duck Tech, because for once, despite my own fairly wide gaming knowledge, I’m looking at a series that I’ve never actually properly played before.
I’ve dabbled around the edges — I recall playing a few of the minigames in one of the Pokemon Colosseum games on the N64, and anyone who chooses the yellow rat* in any of the Smash Bros games is in for a hurting, but beyond that, Nintendo’s strategy/obsessive-compulsive collectathon games have whizzed past me at a rate of knots.
Twenty odd games in the main series if I’m reading the history correctly, and I suspect my own indifference to them relates to the fact that the first one came out when I was playing far more serious and less kid-centric games, and well before I became a parent myself. I’m not totally ignorant of the world of Pokemon, but equally I couldn’t seriously call myself a fan.
So when Nintendo sent me review code for Pokemon X/Y (in my case Pokemon Y) I was put into a quandary. I won’t fake it and say that it has this or lacks that when I can’t say that with any degree of certainty myself, although looking around there seems to be general consensus that Nintendo’s stayed the course with Pokemon X/Y generally speaking. Where’s the value in that?
So instead, I dived in, completely fresh and knowing nothing beyond my seething hate for the yellow rodent.*
*Note to Pokefans: I really don’t like Pikachu. Deal with it.
Thankfully for my purposes, Nintendo doesn’t force him upon you straight away, instead offering me a choice of…
Well, actually, there was no choice. Team Froakie all the way, because I can’t see why you wouldn’t choose what looks like a geriatric Kermit The Frog who can also kick some serious Pokemon behind on the way. Maybe that’s just me.
After 20 iterations (or just under half that if you take in to consideration that each side of a Pokemon game is the same game aside from a few exclusives, a neat marketing trick that’s clearly made Nintendo a lot of money) Pokemon probably doesn’t need much introduction. I’m struck as a newbie, however, by the fact that it really, seriously doesn’t offer any. You wake up, and you’re on your way with a monster in a ball to fight other monsters. Your “mom” is perfectly fine with this, reminiscing about her own Pokemon-infested youth, while you head off into the hills to fight other people — starting with very young children — all of whom own monsters with sharp teeth, explosive body parts and severe mutation issues.
I’m the only one who thinks that’s odd? OK, maybe that’s just me.
Frankly, I’m stunned that nobody has worked out farming Pokemon yet, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself in the story. In any case, Pokemon Y appears to me to be a bit of an OH&S nightmare, but then I have to remind myself that this is just a game.
My own slight bewilderment aside, Pokemon Y quickly picks up pace, and I can easily see why it has its fans, because the designs are quite cool and the evolutionary paths encourage you to try out each and every Pokemon you collect.
I’m not entirely sure how this is “new” to the game series, but I do realise that the Pokemon games — like many Mario games — tend to keep their value quite high on the second-hand market, and as such the idea of buying the “older” games cheaply probably doesn’t apply much here. You may as well get the new thing.
I’m also aware that the visuals have been upgraded to full 3D, although that’s not without its catches. Movement and such is fine, but the actual 3D effect is really poorly implemented. There’s depth, but it serves no gameplay purpose and isn’t consistent through the game. I rather quickly switched off the 3D slider, and I haven’t been back since. That’s good news, I suppose, for any shiny new Nintendo 2DS owners. You really aren’t missing out on anything worth having in terms of depth perception with this game.
Pokemon Y, it strikes me, is an exemplar of the phenomenon of taking a small bit of actual gameplay — in this case, matching up and levelling up your Pokemon in turn — and repeating it in a way that’s mostly fun over many, many hours.
I haven’t completed Pokemon Y — indeed, I’m only about ten or so hours into its gameplay, and I suspect I’ve missed a bunch of obvious stuff that a longer-term Pokefan may have picked up on easily — but the fundamental truth here is that while the gameplay is nicely honed, there’s not a whole lot of it.
I know quite a few people who will be upset by that statement, so allow me to clarify (and I’d also point out that an review is never and should never be one hundred per cent objective). After all, you could boil down any game to smaller parts. Call Of Duty is about shooting the other guy before he shoots you. Mario games are about sticking your bottom in the face of turtles. So on and so forth,
In Pokemon’s case, it’s a game about strategy combat and very light RPG elements, and that’s apparent from the get-go, unless I’m about to switch careers and suddenly start making Pokesalami out of all my harvested creatures. Probably not, I’m guessing. It would taste terrible.
You’re striving for mastery, but that mastery comes about through battles. Battles are a matter of matching up strong/weak sides as you encounter them, along with bolstering your troops relative to your resources. Over the course of the hours I’ve put into it, I’ve done this hundreds of times. It’s very smooth, it’s very well balanced and I can see why (similar to the LEGO games) it’s possible to get quite compulsive about all of it. But it’s still the same game mechanic played out over and over again.
Pokemon X/Y: Fat Duck verdict
Having seriously annoyed the Pokemon faithful, I’ve got to say that what Pokemon Y does, it does very well indeed. It’s visually interesting, the core game mechanic can be fun especially if you do get hooked into the idea of trying to get every last Pokemon there is. Personally, I do think there are more compelling 3DS titles to spend your money on, but if you’re already a fan of the series this should keep you sated.
But I still hate Pikachu.