When I picked up Pokemon X I had huge expectations. Generally when this happens the game suffers for not living up to the hype, but when I started playing I found that the game exceeded my expectations.
Pokemon X fully exploits the 3DS hardware. The world looks and sounds stunning, the character design is charming, and sweeping camera angles and storyboarded cut scenes all add to the experience. Right from the start players have full access to a plethora of great features – dozens of Pokemon to catch within the first hour of the game rather than the usual bird and rodent, spectacular online functionality, new modes of travel, multiple starter Pokemon, everything. Even the much-anticipated Mega Evolution, which reinvigorates classic Pokemon like Charizard, can be accessed fairly early on in the game.
This made everything mind-blowing up to the first two or three badges (every Pokemon game fundamentally revolves around acquiring eight badges to become the champion). I was genuinely surprised by the fact that the game was able to surpass my hopes by such a distance. But that’s where it started to fall apart. Once the game is done blowing it’s wad there isn’t a whole lot left, and with astonishing haste X becomes interchangeable with any other game in the Pokemon franchise. Traverse forest, get badge, traverse cave, get badge, traverse mountain…
Which brings me to the next major facet of any given Pokemon game: the story. Each Pokemon game has the player take on a regional crime syndicate hell bent on using Pokemon to steal candy from babies and such. The trend thus far has been to make this side of the game deeper and more engaging with each new game. In X, however, the story (and the aspects of the gameplay that the story gives rise to) feels tacked on, short and same-y. Not much interaction is had with the syndicate, and they are dealt with well before the end of the game, leaving no surprises for the player whatsoever. Anyone who’s played through Pokemon Black or White knows how much of a step back this is. To make matters worse, the amount of things to do once the game is beaten is hugely limited compared with previous titles. New features aside, Pokemon X is a weaker game than most of its predecessors.
All of this, however, ignores the other half of what makes Pokemon great: the meta game. Pokemon isn’t really about travelling a digital world and seeing a story through to its end. It’s about trading and battling your friends, it’s about raising your favourite Pokemon and making them win tournaments for you. And in that regard, Pokemon X adds more to the series than any game prior. Finally battles are rendered in full 3D (and look gorgeous, too). There’s Mega Evolutions, the new Fairy type (it sounds lame but it’s a boon to a lot of classic Pokemon and adds some much needed balance to the game) and easier ways to breed and raise Pokemon. And while X only adds about 50 new Pokemon to the mix, the smallest addition of any generation, they are 50 quality Pokemon that all have a logical place in the Pokemon family tree. As opposed to say, Woobat, which is definitely not just Zubat.
The online functionality of X is expansive and intuitive. Wonder trades allow players to match up with others randomly for a blind trade. While most of the time this yields common, weak Pokemon, occasionally you get something pretty cool; it’s an addictive feature that saw several hours of my life disappear. Chatting (vocally) with friends while you battle online is great fun. And the game connects you to all the people in the world who are currently playing and allows you to send them little bonuses, so you’re constantly receiving boosts to attack power or money from randoms across the world. It’s all quite cool and goes hand-in-hand with everything that makes Pokemon great.
How much someone will enjoy X is dependent upon how they play it. In terms of what the game offers from beginning to credits, it lacks length, variety and difficulty, by comparison to previous games. And while it comes with a lot of new, very fun toys to play with, they are all given to the player very early and the novelty of them wears off long before the end of the game. For the die-hard fans, X makes dozens of improvements we’ve been begging for for years and provides countless opportunities for new strategies and ways to play, which will breathe life into the franchise in ways that we have never seen before.