Pokémon, the global phenomenon that blindsided us almost two decades ago with its cute monsters, strange trading card game and television series, is still chugging away. Most famous for its unforgettable, portable video game adventures, the Japanese industry has been steadily releasing new titles since those first, nostalgic days of “Red” and “Blue.” To date, there are over 700 creatures to catch and a handful of continents to explore. And as adorable, easy and harmless as they may seem, these games are not just for kids. At the age of 21, I giddily drove to GameStop to purchase the newest titles in the series, Pokémon “X” and “Y,” over the weekend and have been happily playing ever since.
There is a reason people like me have been coming back for each new generation. Most players would argue that the formulaic and uncanny process of catching, training and conquering the hundreds of organisms that make up each continent’s diverse ecosystem is what’s most compelling, but there are so many little things to love. The Nintendo 3DS’ “X” and “Y” succeed in embracing all ends of the lovable Pokémon model by doubling down on what the portable games do best.
As the first versions available in a three-dimensional world, “X” and “Y” are easily the most visually attractive entries in the series. They’ve fulfilled every fan’s long-burning passion for a fully realized Pokémon universe, where Pikachus actually say “Pika!” when they faint and Rhydons and Fletchlings roam around towns as domesticated pets. Battles feel intensely real, mimicking the format of the classic N64 title “Pokémon Stadium” without looking pixelated, and the ecosystem that your individualized character roams through to fight them is varied and colorful.
Sure, “X” and “Y” are linear adventures that lack a gripping plot and have no interest in altering the number of gym leaders you face or monsters you can carry in your newly stylish pokébag. However, the games’ developers have made the core functions of these new games so consumable, light and fun that the games barely need the extremities of the roleplaying game genre to keep moving forward.
Much of the games’ ingenuity comes from the shockingly low number of new creatures available — there are fewer than 70 new Pokémon, the lowest growth for the overall Pokédex in the series’ history. Even so, it seems that Game Freak, the game developer behind “X” and “Y,” went for quality over quantity. From precious new starters like the amphibious Froakie to the fearsome, fossilized Tyrantrum, almost all of these new additions are thematically innovative. After 2011’s “Black” and “White,” where Pokémon literally took the shapes of piles of garbage and single and double scoops of ice cream, “X” and “Y” respond succinctly with a respectable and believable new set of friends. Additionally, the game’s 3D engine redefines nearly every Pokémon from past generations with detailed new sprites and hilarious, self-aware movement patterns.
Add in outrageously powerful mega-evolutions of fan favorites like Ampharos, Mewtwo and Gyarados, a robust online component and hardcore stat-boosting made easy, and “X” and “Y” become the Pokémon games we’ve always wanted. The post-game content might be anemic, but then again, there are over 450 creatures to catch and even interact with through Pokémon-Amie, the Nintendogs-esque touch-screen feature. And, in a move of utter brilliance, there’s now a fairy type that simultaneously increases battle strategy and makes adorable monsters like Jigglypuff and Clefairy more than pink blobs.
It’s a combination of nostalgic throwback features and breathtaking, streamlined mechanics that keeps fans coming back to Pokémon. This time around, “X” and “Y” remain super effective in both old and new thrills and bring the contemporary portable gamer into the 3D world of Kalos beautifully. The fact that Game Freak has been able to sustain such an absurd world of characters for so long is truly remarkable. These games have the capability to put smiles on anyone’s faces; from novices to Game Boy Color veterans who are in it until the end, Pokémon is still beckoning you to be the very best, like no one ever was.