Game Freak is taking a pretty bold step forward with Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. If you’ve seen the full demo footage from Gamescom, you’ve just about seen all that the demo at PAX Prime in Seattle had to offer, but you may not have picked up on the subtler details which I’ll discuss in this hands-on piece.
For those unfamiliar with the demo, it lets you run around a courtyard as the male or female protagonist; you have seven minutes to challenge trainers, catch or defeat wild Pokémon, and find Professor Sycamore. The new graphics may take a step away from the presentation of older handheld iterations, but all of the sound effects used in the game (text boxes, item use, menu selection) are still there.
The first thing to strike me was the way that movement works with the Circle Pad and directional pad. Using the Circle Pad will automatically equip your character with rollerblades, allowing you to move quickly (except for in tall grass) in 16 directions. Touching the d-pad, however, will remove them and let you walk around slowly, but only in eight directions. It’s a convenient system that allows for speed or precision.
Other alterations have been made in favor of convenience as well. There is a new “Restore” command beneath your Pokémon’s icon when you go to check your party during a battle. This is a shortcut that allows you to choose a healing item (to heal hit points or power points/status effects) without having to rummage through an item screen via the traditional “Bag” button. Game Freak has always been the master of subtle half-steps.
Speaking of half-steps, although I am impressed by the transition into full-3D battle scenes, I still see the remnants of older Pokémon games polluting the screen. Each Pokémon still has a designated circle that they reside in during the battle— and one that stands out vibrantly from the beautiful natural environments that make up the background. The battle animations, though awesome, feel a lot like the battle cutscenes in Fire Emblem: Awakening; except Pokémon never really make contact. For the most part, they stay on their respective sides during battle. This doesn’t stop the battles from looking more like a filmed competition, though, an aspect that looks borrowed from the Pokémon Stadium games.
Battles aside, there were two things I that really stood out to me in the demo: first, Pokémon that were displayed on the same map as the character had their own individual models. In the garden where I was walking, there were Fletchlings hopping around as a bird naturally would in a garden. Skiddo had its own model, which pranced when you rode it, as did Rhyhorn (shown in a montage after the demo was over). It’s a nice touch that makes the Pokémon world feel all the more natural.
The second object of interest, and my favorite part about the demo, was the music. The Pokémon team has utilized overarching themes in every game since Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire. Where Ruby/Sapphire focused on loud trumpets and other brass instruments, Diamond/Pearl showcased the Piano. The remakes Heart Gold/Soul Silver elaborated on the use of classical instruments, and finally, Black/White focused on Bells and Whistles (as well as percussion and wind instruments to vary the tones of different seasons).
For their part, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y seem to be focusing on guitar. Actually, they’re doing a lot—Professor Sycamore’s theme is using an accordion and sounds like it comes straight from a Professor Layton game, and the “riding a Pokémon” theme that played when you hopped on Skiddo in the park was reminiscent of Paper Mario. Oh, did I mention the rockin’ rival battle theme? Because it’s pretty rockin’.
I also took the opportunity to poke the brain of the closest Nintendo employee about StreetPass features in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, and what I found out is pretty exciting.
Apparently, much like the C-gear in Pokémon Black and Pokémon White, the games will show you how many players are in your vicinity, and allow you to interact with them. The first time you meet them, they have to agree to accept your offer to battle, trade, or chat—but after you meet someone twice, they get bumped up to “acquaintance” status. Once you meet them five times, they’ll be automatically registered as a friend on your 3DS and you can talk to them, trade, or battle as often as they’re online. Pretty cool, huh?
Despite all the news, though, I still can’t figure out much about the Pokémon Amie feature, where you pet Pokémon using the 3DS touch screen. I hear it’s got some temporary stat-boosting effects, but the people I talked too didn’t have much to offer in terms of new information. Rest assured, though, that if they spent a lot of time making this peripheral system, then it will be a system worth using… regardless of how odd and peculiar the concept is.
On a final note, the in-game buttons feel a little clunky. They’re much more comparable to Mario and Luigi: Dream Team in the sense that they feel like one giant image that you press. There’s very little feedback or satisfaction in selecting an attack, but that’s hardly something to ruin a game as big as Pokémon X and Y. Additionally, there were some frame rate issues with the demo at PAX, but we were assured that it was simply a product of heavy use at the demo station.