Gotta preview 'em all.
Nick Tan and I saved Nintendo's PAX Prime showcase for our final day in Seattle. We figured the family-friendly 3DS lounge would serve to wrap up the convention nicely, and in addition to getting time with Nintendo's new 2DS handheld, I finally got to put my hands all over Pokémon X & Y. Developer Game Freak worked up a demo version of the upcoming pair of games specifically for trade shows. In it, players can capture wild Pokémon, fight rival trainers with their team of monsters, and get a look at Mewtwo's return to the franchise with its new Mega Evolution.
The demo itself was a rapid-fire rundown of everything new in X & Y, an immediate and head-spinning trip through a next-generation Pokémon adventure on Nintendo 3DS. Although I admit I've fallen out of love with the series for a considerable amount of time following the initial Red and Blue release, X & Y appears to offer enough new, enough special, enough excitement to get me back on the wagon… or is it off the wagon? Whatever… X & Y looks great and here's why it's probably worth picking up a 3DS for even if you've never played a game in the series before.
To start, Pokémon X & Y is drop-dead gorgeous. While previous games in the series have relied on a 2D look, X & Y translates the experience into full 3D with nearly every frame resembling the bright and crisp lines from Nintendo's cartoon as opposed to the blocky and pixelated sprites of old. The game's overall presentation has gotten a facelift too. Now entering into battle with a wild Pokémon lets the enemy monster flourish in 3D and your trainer gets a little spotlight too. The demo I played had a female trainer who threw her Pokéball excitedly, while her monster did a little flip and dropped into battle.
Admittedly, these repeated entrance animations could get really tired over the course of a hundred hours of gameplay, but at least up front I was too entranced by the beautiful 3D models to complain. With the 3D slider off, it looked exactly like the cartoon. With it on, it looked like a window into the brand spanking new Kalos region.
Despite the new locale, the demo treads fairly familiar ground. Tall grass and fields of flowers hid wild Pokémon while a trainer waited in a clearing and approached for battle when I drew near. The monsters I had were ridiculously overpowered and eliminated opponent after opponent with one hit. With a water-type impervious to my fire-type's attack, I switched Pokémon and continued battling feverishly. My opponent tossed out a Dragonite and I took the opportunity to switch to the new fairy-type Pokémon in my stable. As is the case with many Dragon-types, my fairy Pokémon also shared traits of a different type, but choosing the fairy-powered attack proved super effective against the Dragonite.
Nintendo intended for this demo to brief, so brief that a hidden timer ticked away until a new Pokémon professor snapped his fingers and transported the trainer to his office where I got a brand-old monster: Mewtwo. Yes, the fabled lab experiment returns in Pokémon X & Y and the demo took this opportunity to introduce the Mega Evolution mechanic whereby certain Pokémon can assume even more powerful forms with enough training. Provided with a maxed level Mewtwo, my demo ended as quickly as it began, but not before I got a chance to look to my right to find Nick engaging in Pokémon Amie.
Amie lets you interact with your monsters via touchscreen, not unlike Nintendogs + Cats. You could use the stylus to pet your Pokémon or give it treats and play with it. You can also talk to your Pokémon, but I didn't bother with this mode. Nick's creepy giggling was enough to prove it might not be something I'd engage in regularly, but it'll be hard to pass up the bonuses you can reap from forming a deeper bond with your Pokémon.
Still, Pokémon X & Y's international release intrigues me more than anything. When I spoke with the friendly Nintendo rep named Tariq who was helping conference-goers with the demo, I mentioned that I was excited the whole world would start on even footing in X & Y. He replied that it'll also help cut back any possible spoilers that might leak from staggered releases. My eyes widened at this. Since when did a Pokémon Master need to worry about spoilers in this fervently formulaic franchise? Will X & Y do more to surprise players in its narrative? What kind of secrets hide within the Kalos region? What's the significance of the X & Y branding? Do they relate to chromosomes? Will the increased customization of your trainer including the choice of gender play into the game's campaign?
We'll have to find out on October 12th when Pokémon X & Y releases worldwide on Nintendo 3DS. The game happens to share the date with the company's new Nintendo 2DS hardware, meaning you can bet Pokémon fever will at least return in force, if not enter into another full-blown epidemic.