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REVIEW: Pokémon X (3DS)

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  • Nintendo 3DS / Rated E / $39.99 / released October 2013
  • OFFICIAL SITE: pokemonxy.com
  • PURCHASE LINK: Amazon
  • FINAL: You NEED this game. 5 out of 5 stars

In “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y,” a hero-worshipping cult once again seeks to destroy the world, but somehow that’s not quite as important as you becoming the next Pokémon League Champion. This spit-and-twigs combination of intensely stoic melodrama and inevitably victorious sports film has long been the core of the “Pokémon” series. In “X” and “Y,” the franchise’s newest releases, the main changes to the formula are from the technical side.

“X” and “Y” bring “Pokémon” to the Nintendo 3DS for the first time, welcoming aboard a long-awaited suite of visual upgrades and enhanced features. The flat pixel art has been replaced with 3-D character models, enabling much improved animation during battles. Internet play has been expanded to allow instant play between online gamers; no more walking your character to a specific in-game “room” to initiate a network connection. And while some critters still sound like somebody kicked over a ham radio, at least Pikachu has been granted the familiar “pika pika” voice from the animated series.

In “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y” – there’s two versions of the same game with slight differences for collectors, as per usual – you’ll play a young Pokémon Trainer out to prove he or she has what it takes to conquer the highly competitive world of cross-species animal combat. This is a world of kids, where adults are all either blindly obsequious to the wonders of Pokémon battling, or blindly obsequious to an underground movement trying to flatten the Earth. One small twist for this story is that your character is part of a team of kids, each with their own favorite thing about Pokémon. Naturally, your character’s speciality is battling, and you will travel back and forth across a small continent catching Pokémon and challenging everyone you see to a fight.

Pokémon improve and evolve over time, learning new attack moves and changing forms. “X” and “Y” introduce “mega-evolutions,” which amount to a new way to make your favorite fighters look even cooler during a battle. As you work your way from town to town, eventually you’ll have a hand-picked team of Pokémon that will be strong enough to defeat the world’s current League Champion. Oh, and just before that, you’ll have to deal with some people who want to kill everything, but that’s just another Tuesday for a gritty Pokémon trainer.

The most interesting feature new to “X” and “Y” is that, when connected to the internet, you will get a live list of not only your online friends playing Pokémon, but also a fresh selection of players from all over the world. You can initiate a battle or trade with anyone who is willing, no matter where you are in the game’s story. Your communication with other players is extremely limited, so parents do not need to worry. The ability to tap the icon of a stranger in South Korea or Germany or Canada and interact with another Pokémon fan at any time is fantastic. Even though these other players are not part of your game, technically, it’s like there’s always somebody playing right beside you.

It’s a shame that the interface is so ugly and baffling! The game’s menus and buttons take some time to master, because the layout designs are an unpredictable mess. There’s still plenty that the creators need to tackle to simplify and standardize the presentation.

But when a series is so crushingly popular as “Pokémon,” interface issues are obviously not something that stops most gamers. “Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y” set another high watermark for a series that, while it never seems to improve as fast or as fully as we would like, always delivers a truly great game.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Nintendo of America.