It’s funny what a difference a few tweaks in the right place can make. I wrote back in 2011 about my disappointment in Pokémon White, my first foray into the series since the GBA evidence to me that it was a series in decline. It was a sense of diminishing returns that left my copy of Sapphire abandoned and Blue as my only game with a full Pokédex, and a hardware generation and a couple of instalments in the game series hadn’t done anything to advance things substantially.
As you might have guessed, I’ve recently given it another go with Pokémon X. Fool me once and all that, but my 1998 self would have been so deliriously happy with a fully 3D Pokémon game that I couldn’t resist. And, unsurprisingly, not much has changed between this and Black and White. Nor, indeed, the Game Boy games. Maybe I’m a graphics whore or something, but the little changes here have made all the difference.
Graphics aren’t everything, sure, but they are something, and Pokémon X – or Y, but I’m going to talk about the version I own – doesn’t feel as half-arsed as Black/White did. Seeing those monsters in three dimensions, performing flashy attacks beyond bobbing the sprite up and down, adds dramatically to the personality and appeal. It’s like going from a pen-and-paper RPG to, well, a video game.
Another complaint I had about Black/White was that I found Pokémon to be insultingly formulaic. To illustrate:
- It’s time for you to become a Pokémon trainer! Go and get your starter from the local professor!
- Your rival picked the opposing element, so fight him/her.
- Work your way through the gym leaders.
- Thwart the plot of a criminal gang with a weird uniform, staffed entirely by incompetent henchmen.
- Head to Victory Road and beat the Elite Four.
- Uncover some secret of Pokémon mastery that the world’s scientists couldn’t crack a kid could for some reason.
- Go after a set of one-of-a-kind legendaries.
- If you’re not bored by now, pour months into building a competitive team.
- Oh, and catch ’em all™.
Which Pokémon game am I talking about? It basically could be any of them.
X is the same, but by not looking just like it did on the Game Boy and delivering the occasional well-placed hit of nostalgia (see screenshot below) it tickles the urge that the last generation failed to. If I’d drifted away from the series and come back to this instalment, I’d have been perfectly happy with how much things had progressed.
It’s still not the 3D adventure that I would have killed for in 1998 – Monster Hunter looks closer to that ideal, so it’s feasible, though perhaps not from a small team on a release schedule like Game Freak’s – but as a much-needed improvement to a stagnated franchise, Pokémon X delivers. Given that delivering on the series’ potential would require Nintendo to release powerful hardware, show some ambition and overhaul a proven cash cow, I’ll take what I can get.