I’ve drifted in and out of an obsession with Pokemon over the past decade and a half, but it’s still one of those games that has the power to instantly regress me to a joyful 11-year-old. Playing a properly 3D Pokemon game was something I dreamed of then. The fifteen-minute demo that Nintendo has brought to Gamescom this year is a taster offered a glimpse of the game’s flagship new features, Pokemon Amie and Mega Evolutions, but it was just the experience of playing Pokemon in 3D that really made me grin.
Pokemon had always been technologically forward-thinking, embracing sharing and connectivity in the pre-Internet era and evolving alongside wireless communication, but until now it’s never been a graphically up-to-date. When Pokemon was in basic black and white sprites on a tiny Game Boy screen, the imagination had to step in to flesh out its world and its creatures. Pokemon X and Y, meanwhile, looks like a living cartoon, with bright, clean character and monster designs. Both the girl and the boy trainer are cute, expressive and well-animated. It’s the battles that make the biggest difference, though; we’ve had 3D Pokemon battles since Pokemon Stadium back on the N64, but never in a main-series game, and they really bring it to life.
This first demo was a short taster, and ran through all the new features in Pokemon X and Y at breakneck speed. Equipped with three new Pokemon – little green chipmunky Chespin, Fairy-type Eevee evolution Sylveon and Helioptile, which I believe is a rare Electric/Normal combo type – I was sent out into a small road with a few trainers and patches of grass and flowers scattered around to battle in. The first wild Pokemon I met was a perfectly rendered Pikachu, which succumbed without much hassle to a Pokeball. It’s a small detail, but seeing your trainer actually throw said Pokeball made the whole thing feel more exciting.
Pokemon X and Y let you play with your Pokemon to build up their relationship with you in Pokemon Amie, which is like a stripped-down adaptation of Nintendogs. The monster appears on the touch screen, and you can stroke it with the stylus and feed it macarons (evidently diabetes isn’t a problem in the Pokemon population, as macarons appear to be their exclusive diet). It’s very silly but very sweet; they make happy faces and respond to you when you smile or make a ridiculous expression at the 3DS camera. I’m not sure I’ll be coerced into blowing kisses at a pretend monster on a regular basis, but hey, the option’s there.
There were plenty of tame Pokemon wandering around the place outside of the grass. I spotted a Marill and two different bird Pokemon. There was also a Gogoat wandering around, one of the new rideable monsters – obviously I couldn’t resist galloping around with him for a while. The new Pokemon Professor, Professor Sycamore, was waiting for me at the end of the road. Apropos of nothing, I was handed a level 100 Mewtwo and shown what Mega Evolution looks like in action. In this demo the Mega Evolution activated immediately, turning Mewtwo into Mega Mewtwo, who easily destroyed the opposition with a beautifully animated Psystrike move.
This was a very limited demo of what Pokemon X and Y will be like. Things like Super Training, battle summaries and the Pokedex were all disabled, and my Pokemon were conveniently overpowered for the purposes of the demo. Mega Evolutions will, of course, be much more complex in the actual game. It showed me all the new features, but I still don’t know how they’ll integrate naturally into the overall arc of the game. Pokemon is now a huge, complex array of interconnected systems that all work in harmony, with hundreds and hundreds of monsters. Any new Types and features have to slot neatly into this finely-tuned machine.
What was immediately apparent even after fifteen minutes, though, is that Pokemon X/Y looks like the Pokemon game that anyone who grew up with this series has dreamed of. The world leaps from the screen: vibrant, vivacious and charming. It’s not so much the new aspects of Pokemon X and Y that make me excited as the prospect of that classic Pokemon gameplay in a world that finally looks as good as it always did in my mind.