I’m pretty enamored by Pokemon Y. Don’t get me wrong, this is the same basic Pokemon game we’ve been playing for fifteen years now. You get a starter Pokemon and then use that starter to amass a collection of magical creatures. Along the way you can take down gym leaders, fight the enemy team of the day, breed some new Pokemon, explore caves, swim in oceans, hunt legendary beasts and engage in dozens and dozens of trainer battles. The details of those actions may change, but the basics have stayed the same, even through Pokemon Y.
After the jump, so what’s the big deal?
The world of Pokemon has always had a special feel to it. While the game’s combat has a creepy, dog-fighty vibe to it if you think about it too much, the idea of being able to walk in the tall grass and come across hamsters with electic powers, pink fairy marshmallow creatures and fire breathing dragons is pretty dang awesome. Yes, they want to fight you at first, but eventually you can make them your friends and who wouldn’t want to be friends with a twenty-one foot long, five hundred pound sea dragon?
The best thing I can say about Pokemon Y is that the various design tweaks and visual upgrades brings out the joy of this world to match that first time you caught a Pokemon or beat a gym leader. Last night I was hunting in a particularly high section of grass on Route 6 and I came across a Honedge. Honedge are awesome steel/ghost Pokemon that look like a sword attached to a scarf. The Honedge was significantly lower in level than the rest of my team so in past games, adding him to the roster would have meant a bunch of grinding to get him up to the same level as everyone else, at the expense of leveling everything else. Not so now. Now I can quickly skate into town, heal him up and throw him in the team, knowing full well that he’ll get leveled up in no time flat.
If I’m playing and I see on the Player Search Screen that someone from Australia is also playing, I can send them an O-Power with a few taps. If I want to do a Wonder Trade or battle with them, it’s just that easy. A literal entire world of Pokemon players is right there, and I can interact with all of them. That’s how it’s always been expressed in the game, that at any moment you could run across another trainer who wants to fight or show off or give you an item and now that’s how it is in real life.
If I want to train, I train. If I want to play with my Pokemon, I play with them. If I want to explore, I explore. Sure, some routes and parts of town are blocked off, but there’s enough else to do that I don’t care. What I want to do is walk through a field of flowers, catch monsters and fight trainers and this game makes it easier and more enjoyable to do that than ever before.
I was traveling a route, I don’t know where and I came across a youngster who wanted a battle. Cheswick came out and this boy threw out Magikarp, poor, undervalued Magikarp. Magikarp is a goldfish with a crown and the new animation for him is the poor guy flopping around on his side. All he had learned was Splash so it was a quick battle, a mere formality really. I smiled all the way through that battle, not because the battle was easy, not because poor Magikarp’s animation modeled perfectly the seemingly useless essence of Magikarp, not because I was climbing another step towards being the best trainer ever. I smiled because I knew that with enough time and patience that Magikarp would evolve into Gyrados. That kid has a tough road ahead of him, just him and his fish, but with enough time and patience, he would be rewarded because inside that fish beats the heart of a dragon.
I don’t know at what point a game becomes a genre, or if you should consider that tipping point when evaluating a game, but if any game has waded into genre territory it’s Pokemon. Pokemon will always have six monsters to a team, four moves to a monster. Some of that is tradition, but most of that is because it just works. Oh, did you just get a fancy new power? What are you willing to give up to have it? Them’s the breaks kid, nothing comes free. I didn’t want Pokemon to change just to change Pokemon, I wanted a loosening of restrictions, a bit of modernization to allow the joy of Pokemon to come through from the beginning, for whoever played it, be they veteran trainer or fresh faced youngster. Developer Game Freak did just that with Pokemon X and Y and I couldn’t be happier.
(The Pokemon Y game diary begins here.)