Pokemon X & Y introduces the Fairy Type, including new Eevee evolution Sylveon
Pokemon has been a mainstay for Nintendo's handheld video game systems since its 1996 Japanese debut. It may be single-handedly responsible for the company's domination of the handheld market against challenges from Sony throughout the last decade. For every new iteration of their portable consoles, from the Game Boy series to the newer DS series, they've always brought a Pokemon game (though never at launch). So it was inevitable that Nintendo would release a Pokemon game for their newest handheld system, the 3DS. Pokemon games are always released in pairs, and the latest iterations, X & Y, were notably released on the same day worldwide, a first for the Japanese-created series. Now that it's finally been released, does it live up to the legacy? The popularity of the turn-based role playing game series owes a lot to its broad appeal. The monsters you collect in-game to do battle for you are mostly colorful and cartoonish, easily translated into anime movies and plush toys. But behind the kid appeal is a game with such depth that even those old enough to have been gaming since the Atari days can find far too many hours of enjoyment collecting and battling the best monsters. Pokemon X & Y continue the trend of adding deeper game mechanics with every new iteration. For the first time since 1999's Gold & Silver, X & Y introduces a new type of Pokemon, the Fairy type. This brings the number of different types to a whopping 18, enough to get players of any age printing up type charts to keep track of what attacks are weak and strong against others. And where the original games debuted with 151 different Pokemon, the series is now up to over 650, giving you no shortage of options for the perfect party. The player avatar in X & Y also gets a huge upgrade. Previous games asked you to choose a gender and then sent you on your way (and the earliest games didn't even let you choose to be a girl), but X & Y starts off letting you choose between three skin tones and later lets you change your hair style and color and even purchase new clothing. Your avatar this time is a little older as well, in his or her early teens rather than a preteen. Your humble reporter appreciated being able to change her avatar out of the starting dress into something more tomboyish, and she appreciates that she can do it without depriving others of that dress. Not-strictly-binary gender expression is always welcome in gaming; while you have to choose Boy or Girl, you do still have some flexibility. This avatar customization fits perfectly into the connected nature of the 3DS system. Technology as a whole has come a long way from 1996, when two people wanting to battle or trade had to be in the same place and connect their Game Boys with cables. The DS system had internet connectivity, but you had to be in specific places in-game to use it. X & Y make it more of an always-on experience. A display on the bottom screen shows your friends who are also on, others you've traded or battled with, and even “Passerby,” who are other players physically nearby if you're offline and people online if you're on. With so many other players, having unique self-expression is almost mandatory. You can challenge random players to battle over the internet from anywhere in the game, and it will even balance out the levels of your monsters to make the fight somewhat more fair. There's also a Wonder Trade option that allows you to send a Pokemon into the ether and get one from a random other player in return. The worldwide release for the game makes this even more fun, as you're just as likely to get a Pokemon from Japan or Germany as from the US. It's not perfect, but the flaws are in the presentation rather than the gameplay. Though X & Y is a 3D game in that it's rendered (and cel-shaded) rather than using sprites, the game itself only displays in 3D during battles. Even people who are comfortable with the 3D display on the system may find the constant transitions jarring enough to turn the 3D off altogether (as I did). It doesn't help that there's noticeable frame-rate lag when using the 3D, which is nearly unforgivable in a game designed for specific 3D hardware. The interface as a whole is garish, trading the refined touch-screen menus of the DS generation for brightly-colored faux on-screen buttons, but at the same time the battle display showing your monster's stats on the top screen is too small and spartan. It feels like they took all the UI refinements from the previous touch-screen games and tossed them in the trash. But despite the design problems, Pokemon X & Y are a welcome addition to one of the world's most popular game series, and they'll provide hours upon hours of fun for gamers of all ages.