People of the world, I have a confession to make.
I have never played a portable Pokemon game from start to finish.
Let that sink in for a moment, and be even more shocked when I say that I was raised in the perfect environment, perfect time, and given every opportunity to do so, but never did. Yes, I’m 26 and have talked about Pokemon with friends, colleagues and family, but I didn’t feel I needed to, since I knew enough about the lore and Pokedex that I deemed the games unnecessary. How wrong I was.
The game starts out with a Professor explaining what Pokemon are, and who you are. It’s here, where the story begins, that you get to create your own hero or heroine before embarking on your adventure. Your options are limited, from picking your name to what gender you are, but these options soon increase throughout the game, with myself donning different clothes and eye colour to my original inception. It’s the ability to be free to be who you want in this new and wonderful world that’s begging to be explored which makes Pokemon stand above the rest.
Gameplay entails guiding your character around the world from a birds eye perspective, whist talking to other Pokemon trainers you encounter and avoiding bushes. Once you encounter a battle with a trainer or wild Pokemon, you’re taken to a fight scene, where your Pokemon and the opponent take turns slicing each other until one faints. This hasn’t changed since the original, but certainly looks different thanks to the graphical prowess of the Nintendo 3DS/2DS to old generations. Being the first 3D polygonal Pokemon game, Nintendo have gone all out with the presentation of the world, with every scene looking as detailed and charming as their sprite based cousins.
The world is huge and begging to be explored, with the story alone taking 40+ hours to complete if you rush your way through, and longer if you do all of the side content and want to level your team up as much as possible. I finished the game at the 45 hour mark, with 6 Pokemon all at level 70+, with 2 of them 85+, but others may want to train new Pokemon from scratch, leading to a longer game.
Team Rocket have been replaced since I was a kid with Team Flare, a new organisation that wishes to destroy the world and recreate it using the new legendary Pokemon from the Kalos region (these new Pokemon can be found on the covers of both games). They’re a weird organisation that certainly mimic Team Rockets tactics in stealing items and being generally evil, and genuinely add to the story, with cutscenes and key moments tied to their ambitions.
Being a Pokemon game, your main characters ambition is to be the best Pokemon trainer around, collecting every Pokemon in the Kalos region (over 450 now!) whilst also defeating all 8 gym leaders to then take on the elite 4. This troupe hasn’t changed in years, but here it feels different and revitalised with each gym being unique and a puzzle in themselves to navigate and defeat. They’re certainly a great way to show off the graphics of the new games, with some scenes being mind-blowing in originality and creatively inspiring, a first for me when it comes to anything Pokemon.
Pokemon battles are easily one of the most improved features of Pokemon Y, with a host of new features, from horde battles (where multiple Pokemon will attack you at once) to sky battles and Mega Evolutions, battling has certainly been revitalised. Mega Evolutions are temporary buffs to a certain few Pokemon in the game, and can only happen if they are fully evolved and are holding a piece of meteorite special to themselves. It adds an interesting mechanic to battles, and certainly came in handy when my mega Charizard would stop the battlefield from snowing purely from how hot he was. Sky battles are exactly as they say, where only flying Pokemon can partake, meaning you best make sure you have some flying Pokemon on you. Overall, the battle system is far more refined, and with every battle netting your whole team XP from the new XP sharer item, you can level up Pokemon in no time without even having to get them out in a battle.
All these new refinements can certainly make a die hard Pokemon enthusiast feel a little disheartened, making it easier to level up your team and faster to get around. But by changing the pacing of the game, and adding more content and story than before, Nintendo have made something that feels completely new and original, without really doing anything to the core mechanics.
In many ways, Pokemon at the base level isn’t any different to the original. The Core mechanics are the same, and haven’t changed since it’s inception, but the refinements around the edge, like making battle systems have more depth, or changing on how your team earns XP, makes it feel like a refreshing and new game. It could be said that Pokemon encapsulates where Nintendo is in it’s current life, remaking old franchises with just enough new trimmings that it feels original, but these new trimmings truly do give the games a new life, especially when their premise and core mechanics are just strong enough to stand the test of time, all that’s needed is a repackaging. It all seems to be a winning formula, and one that I hope continues from Nintendo for a few years to come.