Tag Archive: pokemon


Pokémon has been nothing short of a phenomenon since it first debuted over 20 years ago on the Nintendo Game Boy. Whether you’ve been there since the very start, like yours truly, or came along later, the series has been a constant in the popular zeitgeist since it appeared. And yet, it’s always been on handheld systems. Sure, we’ve had Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Snap and even Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee that reimagined the original Pokémon Red/Blue games for the Switch. But we’ve never had a brand-new generation that debuted on a home console—until now, that is, with Generation VIII’s Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield start off like most any other Pokémon game. You are tasked with becoming the very best, like no one ever was. You quickly meet your best friend and rival, Hop, and his brother Leon, who is the Pokémon Champion for the Galar region and is famous for being undefeated. So, you and Hop set off to do the impossible in a race to be the first to beat Leon and become the new champ. Leon is intrigued by this ambitious mission, and unlike Pokémon games in the past, it is he who offers you your starter Pokémon. From there, you’ll have to take down eight unique gyms across the Galar region, each with a special challenge.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

I chose Scorbunny as my starter, marking only the second time I haven’t chosen the water type in my personal history. Interestingly, Hop takes the Pokémon your starter is strongest against (in my case, the grass type Grookey) and the champion takes the Pokemon you’re weakest against (Sobble, the water type for me). Typically, your rival takes the Pokémon yours is weakest against, and the third stays with a Professor. It’s a small detail in regards to the overall game, but it makes so much sense you wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.

From a very high-level view, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield then play like most other Pokémon games from here on out. You’ll hear tales of the legendary Pokémon Zacien and Zamazenta that protect Galar (foreshadowing an inevitable meetup), you’ll catch Pokémon in the wild to build a balanced party to take down gym leaders and collect badges to prove you’re worthy to combat the champion, and you’ll quell some inevitable trouble that arises from those who would use Pokémon for nefarious means. The core of Pokémon remains both relatively unchanged and tremendously fun. Where this latest generation of Pokémon both excels and falters, however, is in the differences that the games introduce when compared more directly with their predecessors.

One major upgrade is the look. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield look absolutely stunning, taking full advantage of the Switch hardware and being on a proper home console. Every location you visit is incredibly detailed, and the world feels more lived in than most other Pokémon games with many more people and homes to explore. The British influence on the game is also evident everywhere you look, with some regions and towns modeled after popular tourist attractions like Stonehenge or the Roman Baths. There’s even a proper Underground that can shuttle you to places around Galar.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

But the Underground is the first, and admittedly most minor, of several elements in Pokémon Swordand Pokémon Shield where it doesn’t feel like developer Game Freak leaned into an idea far enough. It isn’t long after your first Underground ride that Flying Taxis are introduced, representing the game’s true fast travel system and replacing Fly from previous games. In one fell swoop, they make the Underground needless window dressing.

Early in the game, well before you face your first gym, you have to cross an extensive expanse called the Wild Area, a massive field that connects to two key towns in Galar. The field features a bevy of new and old Pokémon alike, and is one of the best places to put together a balanced team for combat. Random encounters of the past are gone, and you can actually see Pokémon floating, flying, walking, or bouncing all around the field. There are still “surprise encounters” occasionally, marked by an exclamation point before the battle begins that are triggered by staying in tall grass for too long. But, for the most part, you’ll know exactly what wild Pokémon you’re trying to capture—and I, for one, am thrilled random encounters are all but gone now.

The Pokémon in the field are also consistently around certain levels in certain parts, offering up a makeshift barrier in the game to let you know to come back to particular parts of the field later on. For example, trying to capture a level 25 Butterfree when you’re only level 12 isn’t going to work most of the time.

The Wild Area also introduces two new gameplay components, the first of which is camping. Camping may not sound like much, but here you can play with your Pokémon and cook curry with them in fun little minigames that also have a benefit in battle. You can earn easy XP to help level up your Pokémon when you make camp, and developing a better relationship with your Pokémon while relaxing could lead to in-battle bonuses like shaking off paralysis or delivering critical hits more frequently. It serves as a nice distraction from constant battling, and I admit it’s pretty fun to play catch with your favorite Pokémon. Camping can be done in other areas later on, too.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

The other new feature is the highly talked about the Dynamax/Gigantamax feature. Dynamaxing a Pokémon is similar to the Mega Evolutions from Pokémon X/Y and Pokémon Sun/Moon, but far better balanced and far more critical to the story. Dynamaxing only lasts for three turns, whereas Mega Evolutions continued until a battle was over. Only one Pokémon per battle per trainer can be Dynamaxed and doing so replaces the moves of your Pokémon with Max moves based on type. For example, fire moves turn into Max Flare when Dynamaxed, whereas water moves turns into Max Geyser. This helps prompt players to ensure their Pokémon have a variety of different moves, not just always play to type. After all, a Pokémon with four fire-type moves would then only have one move while Dynamaxed. The only difference, besides appearance, with a Pokémon that can Gigantamax when they Dynamax, is they have an exclusive G-Max move that’s even more powerful, but the Pokémon capable of doing this are few and far between.

In the Wild Area, you’ll encounter your first Pokémon dens. These are powerful hot spots that cause energy to course through them. Any wild Pokémon that has made a home in these dens will automatically Dynamax. If you can defeat a wild Dynamaxed Pokémon, you’re guaranteed to catch it in its original, de-Dynamaxed form. It’s a great way to quickly build a powerful party to take on the eight gym leaders.

As great as all this was, and as much fun as I had exploring the Wild Area, there’s only one Wild Area in the entire game. If you’re like me and put a priority on becoming champion and taking on all the gyms as quickly as possible, you’ll only need to go through the Wild Area twice in the entire game. Sure, you can go back and visit whenever you want. But it was very disappointing that instead of filling Galar with these Pokémon havens, most of the rest of the game relies on routes and caves that harken back to the original Pokémon games. You can still catch wild Pokémon on these routes, but only the Wild Area has wild Dynamax Pokémon.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

This leads into another issue with Pokemon Sword and Shield: inconsistent pacing. It wasn’t until hour seven of my playthrough that I got to my first gym, which made the game feel like it was going to be a slow burn. Once you get through the Wild Area that first time, however, the pace of the game quickens dramatically. Even with each gym offering a fun mini challenge (like herding Wooloo for Milo), you’ll roll through gym battles at a pretty breakneck pace; I was taking down gyms almost hourly. Just walk down a path, catch a couple more Pokémon for the Pokédex, and snag another badge. Other Pokémon games spread their gyms out more evenly, offering you challenges, puzzles, and sometimes even towns that might not have a Pokémon gym, but which offered other distractions in-between. Had the pacing been more consistent the whole way through, the linearity might’ve been less noticeable and less problematic.

That inbalance may have been less noticeable because, as the titles might suggest, Pokémon Swordand Pokémon Shield is focused more on battling than any previous Pokémon game. It’s not just celebrated in the Galar region—it’s their entire way of life. The goal of completing your Pokédex is a distant second to becoming champion now. This has also led to some user interface and gameplay innovations that I didn’t realize we needed so badly until we got them here. Like, for example, clearly telling players moves that are effective or not effective against Pokémon before you use them as long as you have Pokédex data on your opponent; no longer having to go to a Pokémon Center to adjust your team, instead now being able to just switch Pokémon out of your party with a box on the fly; and even a new feature called Poké Jobs that allow Pokémon not in your party to do missions and gain XP on their own. These were all nice little conveniences that went a long way towards my enjoyment of the game.

And, of course, we need to talk about the Pokédex. Not a second of my game was less enjoyable because the Galar region doesn’t have access to all of the hundreds of Pokémon previously introduced. Instead, I found joy in finding all of the regional exclusive variants the game offers, as well as dozens of brand new Pokémon including Drednaw and Corviknight, who were anchors in my party alongside Scorbunny from almost the beginning of the game. There are still plenty of Pokémon to play around with, and the idea that another region wouldn’t have access to all the Pokémon in the world makes perfect sense. Think of them like the region exclusives in Pokémon GO.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

Finally, I wasn’t able to put the online play for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield through its proper paces, as the servers still aren’t up. That said, I was able to do a local link battle with Mike from the EGM main office. Similar to how you can make a code for private groups in Pokémon GO raids, you can make a number that you share for local battling, which worked without a hitch when we tested it out. That said, there was still a bit of a balancing issue. After the game reset all our Pokémon to level 50—as is standard—since Mike was using early game moves, and all my Pokémon were touting end game abilities, even when matchups would normally favor him like his grass-type Grookey against my water/rock-type Drednaw, I pummeled him. Of course, most people won’t even try battling until they get later in the game, but Mike did me a solid by taking his lumps to test out the link battles.

There’s also features like surprise trades now, where you put a random Pokémon up for grabs and get a random Pokémon in return. And, similar to Pokémon GO’sraids, those Wild Area Dynamax battles can be fought together with up to three friends. Even though Mike joined me for one despite not being anywhere near my level, the game balance battles so that, when you catch the Pokémon, it’s close to the level of each trainer. So, the Pokémon Mike could capture after the battle was a level 20, while for me, it was a level 50. We both get a Pokémon, and at least here the game remained balanced.

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are among the best games the series has ever offered. The Galar region is fun to explore, the new Pokémon it offers up are some of the most interesting the series has seen yet, and the Dynamax system adds a new wrinkle that freshens things up like never before. The adventure can be a little linear—and maybe even tedious at times—but it features everything that makes Pokémon great. Hopefully next time, Game Freak will push their new ideas to the limits and really deliver something special.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.
★★★★☆

The first new-generation Pokémon game to release on a proper home console does not disappoint. New features like Dynamaxing and the Wild Area are fun additions that make the experience of becoming a Pokémon champion still feel fresh. It’s just a shame that Game Freak didn’t lean into the new features more than they did.

Developer
Game Freak Inc≥
Publisher
Nintendo
ESRB
E – Everyone
Release Date
11.15.2019

I’ve been playing Pokémon games for nearly 20 years now, and have loved almost every second of them. As exciting as all the changes I’ve seen have been over that time, some things have remained steadfastly the same. But, with the release of Pokémon Sun/Moon, many of those seemingly untouchable pillars of the Pokémon universe have been changed—resulting in the freshest game the series has seen since its early days, and possibly the best yet.

Sun/Moon begins like many other games in the series. You wake up at home, and your mom tells you to go meet the local professor to begin what will surely turn out to be another fantastical Pokémon adventure. Unlike in others game, you’re the new kid on the block here, having just moved to the new region of Alola from Kanto (the region from the original Red/Blue Pokémon games). Breaking from what you may be used to from the franchise’s previous locations, Alola doesn’t have eight gyms for you to defeat. Instead, you’ll travel to four islands—each overseen by a Kahuna and their Captains who serve as gatekeepers to the powerful Guardian Pokémon on each island—and conquering them all is your primary challenge.

Because of your character’s roots in Kanto, Sun/Moon has a lot of callbacks to that original region—as well as other previous Pokémon games—with cameos galore from both characters and Pokémon alike. No other Pokémon game up to this point has been as self-aware of the universe in which the games take place, and it makes the region feel bigger than it is because of the influences from each previous game manifesting themselves in different ways. It also drips of nostalgia, giving long-time fans something to get excited about when they recognize obscure references, while potentially filling in the blanks for newcomers that want to learn more about those earlier generations. A perfect example might be the new nefarious group of Pokémon snatchers named Team Skull, who are more incompetent and comical than the original Team Rocket, but whose modus operandi falls alarmingly in line with the Kanto crooks and less with the world changing extremists of later titles.

Alola may take some cues from previous games, but in many ways it has a dynamic all its own that might actually make it my new favorite region in the series. Part of that comes from the fact that Sun/Moon is again pushing the 3DS’ graphical boundaries. While X/Y offered the first polygonal graphics in a Pokémon game, there was still a lot of grid-based movement. Sun/Moon finally does away with this altogether (while also smoothing out some of those rough polygonal edges), giving your character the full 360-degrees of freedom to move around as you would in most modern games. Making most of the game incompatible with the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D effect likely helped to boost the graphical power, and I, for one, did not miss it. The camera still remains out of the player’s control to help keep items and secrets hidden via perspective shifts, but this was a huge step forward to making the world of Pokémon feel even more alive and vibrant.

PokemonSunMoonStarters1160

There is also the aforementioned Kahunas and Captains, who give a shot in the arm to the old gym system. Instead of just battling your way to the top of each gym and then taking on the Elite Four, Sun/Moon offers up a wide variety of gameplay beyond battling. Each Captain will place you on a trial that involves battling at some point, but which also require you to solve some sort of puzzle, such as collecting the ingredients for a recipe or needing to pass a memory exam. Only then will you be able to take on their Guardian Pokémon in a fierce battle that will reward you with a Z-crystal—proof of you conquering the trial and your proficiency as a trainer, which also unlock more areas of Alola. Once an island’s Guardians and Captains are behind you, you’ll then face the island Kahuna as you try to conquer the four corners of Alola.

Speaking of Z-crystals, they’re just the first of several major changes to the battle system. Besides taking the place of traditional gym badges in how they prove your mettle as a trainer, they also unlock special moves for your Pokémon. While there are Z-crystals representing each of the 18 Pokémon types, there are also lesser ones meant for specific Pokémon like Pikachu, Snorlax, or the three new starter Pokémon. A Z-crystal move can only be used once per battle for your entire team, so choosing when and what Pokémon to use it for adds an extra level of strategy that goes far deeper than X/Y’s Mega Evolutions. My only wish now is that Pokémon could carry two items, because it sure is hard to take a Z-crystal away from a Pokémon unless you definitely know what you’re going up against in the next battle.

Another major change in combat is how the UI now provides a chart showing stat changes (like if you’ve been hit with Growl and your Attack has fallen) and what moves are strong against what Pokémon. The stat changes are depicted via a series of arrows, which could be better if we were given actual number changes—but it definitely helps if it’s a back and forth bout. At first, I admit I was leery about the idea of the game just telling me what moves were effective and what ones weren’t, but I suppose it falls in more in line with what a Pokédex is supposed to do. With so many Pokémon and types changing from game to game, most people were probably heading to Google every few minutes to look up a Pokémon they were unfamiliar with anyway.

My only issue with it is that it doesn’t go far enough. You need to capture or beat a Pokémon first before getting that information on your second encounter with it, whether in battle or in the wild. Why not just give people those stats from the start? Ash’s Pokédex in the cartoon gives him the information immediately upon seeing a new Pokémon. It could’ve, and should’ve, been the same here when Game Freak decided it was going make this change.

SunMoonRaticate1160

One other major change in combat comes in the form of the removal of Hidden Machines. HMs used to have major traversal or world changing moves like Surf, Strength, and Cut in them. They would take up a normally useful move spot for a member of your team that you couldn’t change, or take up a spot on your team altogether with a Pokémon meant to just know everything useful. Sun/Moon does away with this, although some HMs are still present as normal move-teaching Technical Machines if you want to impart some of the more effective combat moves (like Fly). Instead, you get a pager and can call seven special Pokémon to help you make your way around Alola. For example, you can call a Taurus to break away rocks, or a Charizard to fly you to different Pokécenters. It’s a no-cost service, frees up space on your roster, and might be the most important change yet that Sun/Moon adds to the series. The ease of use was great, and the effectiveness of my party increased tremendously because of it.

Besides the new island challenge and battling mechanics, there are plenty of side distractions to take part in as well. One new aspect is the Poké Refresh, which allows you to pet, feed, and play with your Pokémon outside of battle via the touch screen. A benefit to building up a good relationship with your Pokémon this way is it will offer unique bonuses in battle, but also is a free way of removing status effects on Pokémon. That means items like Awakening (cures sleep) and Antidote (cures poison) are only now necessary during battle—and that means less trips to the Pokécenter or Pokémart for medicines, and more time spent exploring the world and enjoying it.

There are also new places to visit, like your own personal set of islands you discover called the Poké Pelago. Each island in the Pelago can house the extra Pokémon you’d normally keep in Boxes at Pokécenters, which you still use to change your lineup. Now, though, they can train to level up or gather items for you on the side, instead of collecting dust as just another statistic in your Pokédex.

If you’re more about upgrading your trainer, another new feature called the Festival Plaza allows you to talk to people and earn special Festival Currency. This currency can then be used inside the festival to upgrade your trainer’s apparel and offers some much needed trainer customization to the game. Of course, I think it’d be easier if the game just let you customize your character fully from the get-go like every other RPG out there, but at least Pokémon is trying to get with the times when it comes to giving players a bit more expression on that front.

PokemonSunMoonPokecenter1160

The Festival Plaza is also where you can trade with or battle players online, or use the new QR scanner via the 3DS’ camera to scan friends’ Pokémon to add their info to your Pokédex (minus the trading aspect). If you’re all about battling like I am, however, then I can attest that—at least in a pre-launch state—I was able to connect to a few folks online, and found there to be minimal issues in one-on-one situations. You can even record your battles and save them to your SD Card to watch and analyze battles later. Besides one-on-one battles, there’s also two-versus-two and the new Battle Royal matches, where four players put one Pokémon in and the last one standing wins.

Unfortunately, it’s in these multi-Pokémon battles that some issues start to arise. Whether playing online, or even offline in the main game, whenever more than two Pokémon appear on screen (yours versus one other), the game starts to slow down a little, load times become more evident, and animation beings to crawl. These issues aren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they are enough to snap you out of your Pokémon reverie for sure—and it’s particularly shocking when this even happens against the computer in the main game.

There’s also a new feature where wild Pokémon can call for help. Sometimes, a wild Pokémon that’s about to faint will call on another of its species, turning a one-on-one fight into a two-on-one (which also triggers the above mentioned slowdown). It offers you, the player, more experience for beating more Pokémon, but—especially if you’re trying to capture one of the two—it can prolong the fight considerably. I once got in a cycle where I had to face seven Zubats because I would take one out and the other would keep calling for help. Finally, I just gave up and ran away because no Zubat is worth that much time. So, this is one feature that I hope future iterations of the game do away with.

Another addition that was hit-or-miss is the new Alolan variants of Kanto Pokémon. For example, there’s now a dark-type Rattata (originally a normal-type), or an ice-type version of Sandshrew (originally a ground-type). For the most part, I like the idea of collecting different types of the same Pokémon, especially since only one is needed to unlock the Pokédex entry. What I don’t like about it is when those Pokémon are used in battle. When an enemy trainer is about to throw out a Pokémon, it only says “Ace Trainer is about to use Ninetails. Do you wish to switch Pokémon?” Normally, Ninetails is a fire-type, and I would counter with a water-type. The game never tells you what variant is being thrown out until it actually appears on your screen. If it’s the ice-type Ninetails, I basically wasted a turn needing to switch out my water-type for a fire-type. It’s a minor thing, but considering how serious some of us take our battles, wasting a turn isn’t something to be taken lightly.

PokemonSunMoonLitten1160

Pokémon Sun/Moon provides the series a shot in the arm we might not have realized it needed. Battling is more efficient than ever, and that cranks the fun up to levels we haven’t seen since the early days of the series—even with the occasional slowdown issue. New and old Pokémon come together to symbolize the balance this game has struck between Pokémon’s past and its future, providing nostalgia for us franchise veterans and some history for newcomers. Combine all this with more side content than ever before, as well as a beautiful 3D world, and Pokémon Sun/Moon is nothing short of an instant classic.

Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company • Developer: Game Freak • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.18.16
9.0
A couple technical issues aside, Sun/Moon might be the best Pokémon game yet. It freshens up a formula some of us PokéManics might not have realized was growing stale until now. Trials and Grand Trials provide variations on familiar gameplay, and the removal of HMs and telling players how effective their moves are rejuvenates battling.
The Good The island trials will make you never want to battle in a gym again. Ride Pokémon doing away with Hidden Machines from previous games.
The Bad Some slowdown in battles involving three or more Pokémon.
The Ugly Why is my character always smiling? Even when things take a turn for the worst in the game, my character’s facial animation never changes.
Pokémon Sun/Moon are Nintendo 3DS exclusives. Primary version reviewed was Pokémon Sun. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

The Strong National Museum of Play has announced the 2015 class for the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

The six games to make the cut were DOOM, Pac-Man, Pong, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and World of Warcraft.

The Strong Museum, located in Rochester, New York, is well known for its International Center for the History of Electronic Games and already houses the National Toy Hall of Fame.

The World Video Game Hall of Fame was designed to “recognize individual electronic games of all types—arcade, console, computer, handheld, and mobile—that have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general,” said a press release from The Strong.

Games were picked based on four key criteria: icon-status, longevity, geographical reach, and influence. The six that make up the inaugural class were chosen from a field of 15, and were chosen by a committee of journalists, scholars, and individuals familiar with video game history. The games that were not inducted this year were Angry Birds, FIFA, The Legend of Zelda, Minecraft, The Oregon Trail, Pokémon, The Sims, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Space Invaders.

This year’s winners will be on permanent display at the museum’s eGameRevolution exhibit and nominations for the class of 2016 are now being accepted through March 31, 2016.

What? Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire are evolving!

When Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire came out more than a decade ago on the Game Boy Advance, it was one of the more intriguing entries for the franchise. Kicking off what would later be known as Generation III, Ruby/Sapphire introduced players to the Hoenn region, as well as to 135 new types of Pokémon.

It was an odd release, though, because it did away with the day/night cycle introduced in Gold/Silver and no longer encouraged players to try “catch ‘em all”—neither game allowed you to catch all 386 Pokémon known at the time. Still, new Pokémon like Treecko, Mudkip, and Torchic would help these entries find a way into fans’ hearts just the same as previous games had. Because of this, much like how Red/Blue and Gold/Silver were remade several years after their original releases, Nintendo felt it was finally time to do the same to Ruby/Sapphire. Unlike those previous remakes, however, Omega/Alpha feel familiar but also add enough new elements to actually warrant a remake.

Your adventure starts off the same as it did a decade ago, with your family moving to the Hoenn region after your father, Norman, is named Petalburg Gym Leader (the fifth you’ll have to face on your way to the region’s Elite Four). Looking to follow in your father’s footsteps as a Pokémon trainer, and with the help of local Pokémon expert Professor Birch, you decide to become the best Pokémon trainer in the world. As you set out to collect the eight gym badges required to make a run at the Pokémon Champion, however, you stumble upon a plot hatched by a nefarious group of Pokémon trainers (Team Magma in Ruby, Team Aqua in Sapphire). They’re trying to revive the legendary Pokémon of the region (Groudon in Ruby, Kyogre in Sapphire), which would spell doom for human and Pokémon alike if they were to succeed. So, naturally, you strive to become not only the very best, but to save everyone and everything you know along the way.

Coming shortly after the release of Pokémon X and Y proves more advantageous for Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire than either of the previous two generations of remakes because of the huge changes X/Y marked for the franchise as a whole. The story of Ruby/Sapphire, however, remains almost exactly the same, beat for beat, which should lessen the learning curve for returning fans but might also deter them from exploring as much as they might with a brand-new adventure.

The only narrative changes you’ll see are minor dialogue rewrites meant to accommodate X/Y features ported over here, like Mega Evolution. Even the “Delta Episode,” which helps explain how Mega Evolution functions, isn’t as new or original as it’s been touted to be.

Meanwhile, what did come over from X/Y goes a long way toward making this familiar adventure feel as fresh as it did 11 years ago. The world of Hoenn looks fantastic, realized in full 3D as you make your way through redesigned gyms, towns, and dungeons. Plus, the Pokémon seem to jump off the screen with the enhanced graphics, and the game, as a whole, easily looks just as good as X/Y.

There’s also the inclusion of Mega Evolutions. Not only are they tied into the story now, but more Pokémon can achieve these new, more powerful forms, including Latios and Latias, one of which will now automatically join you on your journey. Primal Reversions also debut here, but they’re really just new in name only and meant to serve a narrative purpose within the tweaked plot. In reality, they’re simply the Mega Evolutions for the legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre, but instead of needing to activate this power on the Fight menu once already in battle, they’ll transform automatically as soon as they enter the fray.

Curiously, though, some of X/Y’s features didn’t make the trip to Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, like being able to customize your trainer beyond choosing whether they’re male or female at the start. Instead, a new feature called Secret Bases—special holes scattered around Hoenn that you can crawl into and make your own special playroom out of—are meant to scratch your customization itch. It’s a nice idea, especially since you can share different rooms with your friends, but I’d much prefer being able to dress my trainer however I want and let my friends see that in battle, rather than show them whatever new lamp I just bought and stuck in my treehouse.

There’s more to Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire than just having some of X/Y’s notable features crammed in, though, as it does some interesting things on its own. In conjunction with X/Y, you can now complete the most recent National Pokédex for the first time, since some Pokémon are only available in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. That’s right: If you work hard enough, you can get all 719 Pokémon between the two games.

There’s also the exclusive Cosplay Pikachu, a special version of everyone’s favorite electric rodent that you can win by participating in a Pokémon Contest, a side-activity where Pokémon are rated based on the moves they perform on a stage for an audience. Cosplay Pikachu can’t be traded or evolved but instead wears a variety of outfits into battle that allow it to learn unique, off-type moves. For example, Rockstar Pikachu can learn Meteor Mash, a Steel-type move. And while I think it’s a stupid idea to put a Pikachu in an assortment of different outfits and call it a “feature,” I can’t argue with the fact that it’s actually one of the most powerful Pokémon in the game and ended up being in my final six before taking on the Elite Four.

Besides the completionist’s dream (or nightmare) of trying to complete the Pokédex, a new device called DexNav makes it easier to find those rare Pokémon that only appear at certain times of day or in particular areas under unique conditions. This new feature singlehandedly changes the entire mechanic of searching for (and trying to capture) Pokémon, because it lessens how much luck is involved in the process.

The DexNav can easily be turned on via the bottom screen of the 3DS and works by constantly scanning an area with a radar-like system, leading you directly to these rare, more powerful Pokémon. For example, I found a Mightyena that knew Ice Fang, a move that it wouldn’t normally learn over the course of its training outside of a TM (technical machine, which teaches Pokémon moves they wouldn’t learn otherwise). I also found a Sandshrew that was 10 levels above all the other Pokémon in the area. This randomness in regards to strength and move list makes it much more interesting to catch Pokémon again compared to just shuffling through grass and hoping for the right random encounter.

The biggest change to the game, though, probably comes from the new ability to soar. This new ability is exclusive to Latios or Latias, and only when you’re ready to take on the eighth gym in the game and later. It’s not a move that takes up one of your four slots like Fly or Cut, though, and instead requires a special item, much like riding the Bicycle. Instead of riding on roads and through grass, though, you can ride one of the Eon Pokémon like your own personal jet through the never before explored skies of Hoenn. And once you soar, you can try to capture Pokémon that you wouldn’t normally find as you jet through the airways above the entire region.

Special Mirage Spots­—accessible only by soaring—lead you to the legendary Pokémon from other games, which is necessary if you’re to complete the entire Pokédex. I was honestly shocked at how much fun I had soaring. Not only did it make getting to certain areas easier, but also seeing the entire region of Hoenn from a bird’s-eye view was absolutely beautiful.

And speaking of battling, it’s just as easy now to jump into a versus match against another human in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire as it is in X/Y—but now you can choose if you want to do game-exclusive matchups, which limit you to using Pokémon only from those games. For example, you wouldn’t be able to take Rayquaza into an X/Y League match or Xerneas into an Omega/Alpha match. Other options allow you to use whatever Pokémon you like, but I imagine these new rulesets are more for competition’s sake.

Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire surprised me with how much it was able to add from Pokémon X/Y—yet manage to stay true to the original adventure from more than a decade ago. Not all the new features were as impressive as they were hyped to be, and not everything that should’ve come over from X/Y did in the end, but despite this, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire are more than worthy of the Pokémon name, and they work as either new adventures for newcomers to the series or fun strolls down memory lane for lifelong trainers.

Developer: Game Freak • Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.21.14
8.5
New features like DexNav and the soar ability add just enough new gameplay elements to the classic Pokémon formula to help make this decade-old adventure feel new again.
The Good New visuals; soar and DexNav add fun new gameplay elements.
The Bad You can’t customize your trainers like in X/Y; Primal Reversions are just glorified Mega Evolutions.
The Ugly Cosplay Pikachu: it reminds me of all those stupid people out there who insist on dressing up their pets.
Pokémon Omega Red/Alpha Sapphire are a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Primary version of game reviewed was Omega Red. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

Shota Kageyama, composer for Pokémon X andand the man responsible for the music in Pokémon games since HeartGold and SoulSilver, has decided to step away from Game Freak, he announced on Twitter.

On New Year’s Day, Kageyama tweeted that after being with Game Freak for over six and a half years he was planning to pursue personal ventures and leaving to form a new band called Spica Musica.

Besides Pokémon, Kageyama has contributed music to Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Atlus’s Luminous Arc. He also scored the recent Pocket Monsters: The Origin anime special.

Kageyama added that he still plans on working in game music even though he’s going independent. According to the composer, his Game Freak colleagues were supportive of the decision and he would not say this was a farewell to everyone there, since he thinks it’d be great if they could work together again in the future.

Shiny Pokémon are somewhat of a status symbol amongst hardcore Pokémon players, since they are so difficult to acquire. At least for one trainer, however, that’s no longer the case.

Known as dekuNukem on Reddit, this Pokémon player created a machine to automatically find Shiny Pokémon in Pokémon X/Y, and then give off an alert to come and play.

Noticing there was a slight time difference between how long the bottom screen of the Nintendo 3DS stays dark depending on if it’s going to be a regular Pokémon battle (11.4 seconds) or a shiny one (12.6 seconds), dekuNukem built a microcontroller that was then soldered into the motherboard of the 3DS. When turned on, the controller would repeatedly go through a process known as “chaining,” which requires a user to encounter the same Pokémon species numerous times in the same area before rewarding your diligence with a Shiny encounter. When a Shiny finally pops up, an alarm goes off on the controller signaling dekuNukem to step in and try to capture it.

Shiny Pokémon offer no real benefits in battle, but are known for their usually striking cosmetic differences compared to Pokémon of the same species. The best-known examples of Shiny Pokémon are Red Gyarados (instead of the normal blue) and Black Charizard (instead of the normal orange).

Personally, if it doesn’t help me in battle, I don’t really care what the Pokémon looks like, but I can appreciate dekuNukem’s ingenuity and dedication.

To see the device in action, check out the video below.

It wants to be the very best

I still vividly remember the Pokémon phenomenon first reaching American shores in 1998 in the form of Red and Blue—and how it absolutely took over much of the free time my middle-school friends and I had. We traded, we battled, and we went to events set up at malls in the middle of nowhere. We downright obsessed for a couple of years.

Then Gold and Silver came out in 2000, but we’d gotten a little older. And while we’d grown out of the arguments that would ensue if someone evolved their Eevee before consulting the group, the game was still enjoyable and exciting to play on its own.

But then more time passed, and the excitement and anticipation that came with each subsequent game continued to lessen. Had I simply outgrown something that dominated my early teen years? Or had the game become stagnant and the formula worn thin?

I can tell you now that it was the latter, because a lot of those great memories I had as a kid returned during the 25-plus hours I put into Pokémon X and Y.

Now, this isn’t because I’m in some quarter-life crisis and I’m feeling nostalgic or something. It’s because Pokémon X and Y succeed in adding just enough new elements to make this classic game feel fresh, while leaving its RPG core perfectly intact.

As usual in the series, you’ll start out as a trainer—this time in the brand-new Kalos region—and just like in previous Pokémon games, you set out on a quest to explore the world around you, develop special relationships with the Pokémon you carry, and collect eight Gym Badges in the hopes of proving yourself as the best trainer around. At the very start, you get to choose from one of three new Pokémon: Froakie, a Water type that looks like a frog, Fennekin, a Fire type that looks like a fox, and Chespin, a Grass type that looks like a…um, well, er…a grassy mole thing.

After this, it’s business as usual for Pokémon old-timers. Go out and level up your Pokémon of choice and collect others to set up a balanced team. Players who’ve been with the series from the beginning will be pleasantly surprised that, right from the get-go, you’ll bump into just as many Generation I Pokémon as the new Generation VI ones on your journey. For example, by the time I’d reached the first gym, I had both a Pidgey and a Fletchling in my party. In previous entries, you’d often see a lot more of the new-generation Pokémon so that the game had a chance to show them off; the balance is much better here.

While on the subject of Generation I—and all previous generations, for that matter—Pokémon X and Y does the best job of any game in the series to establish a bit of continuity in the Pokémon world. In every town I went, there were people who spoke of family in the Unova region or had traveled to Kalos on vacation from Sinnoh. Trading for a Farfetch’d and fishing for Magikarp brought me back to my Game Boy days—and there are a lot of nice little nods to the games that came before X and Y that series veterans will particularly enjoy.

But enough living in the past. By the time you get to that first gym, you’ll notice some subtle changes in X and Y that really change how you play a Pokémon game. The most obvious? The visuals. The lowered camera and 3D effect may seem like minor things, but after playing for a while, you realize just how much more immersive the game feels thanks to this slight tweak. Plus, the new roller skates allow for full 360-degree movement and break that traditional grid-based system of the past, which helps your character actually feel and behave like a human would.

And speaking of avatars, that’s another addition you’ll notice very early on: the customization. I didn’t think I’d get into it as much as I did, but making my trainer look like I wanted took up a decent chunk of my time—and my hard-earned money. By the time I was done with the game, I’d bought a half dozen new outfits and gotten a couple of haircuts along the way before settling on a particular look.

Another new element that’s immediately evident comes from leveling up your Pokémon. In previous games, it was a grind to try to level up a weaker Pokémon. You’d have to have the weaker Pokémon at the head of your party, go into a battle or random encounter, and then immediately switch out to a stronger Pokémon and have them split the experience points. Or, later on, you’d have to waste the “Hold Item” spot for one of your Pokémon in your party to carry around an Experience Share.

Pokémon X and Y streamlines the process immensely. First, if you switch Pokémon out—as long as they don’t faint—every Pokémon that participates in the battle gets full XP. And now you don’t need to have a Pokémon hold the Experience Share. Simply carrying it in your items bag will grant all Pokémon who don’t appear in a conflict half the experience points earned in a battle, making it so much easier to get a new Pokémon up to the level of the party without having to sacrifice time.

Admittedly, some purists may find problems with this. Personally, the less grinding I have to do in an RPG, the better. But if you want the “authentic” Pokémon experience, I suppose you could always sell your Experience Share at a Pokémon Center.

For all the love I’m showering on this game, I don’t feel that all the new features in Pokémon X and Y are for the best. Easily the most glaring problem is the highly touted Mega Evolution feature. The idea here is that certain Pokémon who reach their final stage of evolution—or don’t evolve at all—can take on a new form, mid-battle, to change their stats and sometimes even change their Pokémon types. In theory, it’s a fun idea that might add a hint of unpredictability to battles—but in execution, it falls flat in several ways.

The problems start with you having to sacrifice your Hold Item spot if you should happen to have the right rock that causes Mega Evolution. Aesthetically, it’s pretty cool to see familiar Pokémon like Charizard or Mewtwo take on awesome new forms. But aside from the look, the game does a horrible job of informing the player of what the changes actually do. It doesn’t show stat or type changes—and for the Pokémon whose types do change, this can really mess up strategy if your Pokémon knows moves that lose attack bonuses due to the shift. The only way to see if a type change actually occurs is to go into the Pokémon menu and look at the summary of your Pokémon as if you were going to switch them out. And even then, I still didn’t know if I’d gained strength, lost speed, or if anything else with my stats had actually happened. For a strategy-driven game like Pokémon, Mega Evolution throws an unnecessary amount of randomness into the battles.

If you can put Mega Evolutions aside, though, combat is just as fun as ever. New battles with Sky Trainers put your Flying Pokémon to the test, and Horde Battles against wild Pokémon can get intense; your Pokémon will need to withstand multiple attacks in a row if you don’t have an area-of-effect attack like Fire Blast or Surf.

Also, players no longer need to cower in fear at the sight of a Dragon type in battle. The new Fairy type—marking the introduction of many new Pokémon as well retconning several others like Clefairy and Mr. Mime—means that every Pokémon is weak against something, finally giving the game the balance it’s noticeably lacked since the Gold and Silver days.

The real innovation with battling, however, comes through multiplayer. While I wasn’t able to test the full reach of challenging passersby or putting Pokémon out into the ether randomly through Wonder Trade, I was able to get a couple of decent rounds under my belt locally with fellow EGMer Chris Holzworth, who was playing Pokémon Y while I was using X. As soon as he started playing the game on his 3DS, a picture of his avatar appeared on my lower screen. By tapping it and selecting a few options in regards to how the battle would go, I was fighting him in seconds. For competitive Pokémon players, this will make organizing events a breeze compared to years past.

Even if you aren’t competitive, this is still one of the most worthwhile purchases you’re likely to make for your 3DS. Even though I beat the game in 25 hours, if you take your time and explore all the side content—like making PR vids for your trainers, becoming a fanatical Pokémon Daycare user, or face every trainer on the routes—you could easily clock another 10 hours in single-player. This is, by far, the most impressive Pokémon game we’ve gotten in years, and it presents itself beautifully for newcomers and longtime trainers alike. It’s finally fun to try to catch ’em all again.

Developer: Game Freak • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 10.12.13
9.0
The best main Pokémon series entry in years, X and Y sees several new features breathe life into a process that had grown stale and stagnant. Newcomers and longtime trainers alike should be able to find the joy in catching ’em all once again.
The Good New look, new Pokémon, and finally some new life for the series.
The Bad Unclear benefits to Mega Evolutions.
The Ugly Scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to inspiration for new Pokémon.
Pokémon X and Y are exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS. Primary version reviewed was Pokémon X.

The Pokémon Bank app will launch on the 3DS eShop on December 27, Nintendo of America announced today on their official Twitter account.

According to the app’s official FAQ, there will be an annual fee of $4.99, meant to help maintain and manage the servers, to use the app. If you sign up before January 31, 2014, however, you’ll be given a free 30-day voucher.

The Pokémon Bank will provide players with 100 different boxes online to store Pokémon in, giving them the potential to store 3,000 different Pokémon on Nintendo’s servers, which can then be accessed at anytime through the Pokémon X/Y software.

If you sign up for the Pokémon Bank, you’ll also get the Pokémon Transporter companion app for free, which allows you to move Pokémon from Pokémon Black and White and Black and White 2 into the bank. Those Pokémon can be transferred into Pokémon X and Y, linking the two most recent generations of Pokémon together. This is only a one-way move, however, so you can’t bring Pokémon in X and Y to Black and White.

For more info on the Pokémon Bank, including a way to theoretically bring Pokémon from as far back as Ruby and Sapphire to X and Y, check out the Pokémon FAQ page here.

Pokémon X and Y launches exclusively for Nintendo 3DS worldwide on October 12. EGM’s full review will go live next week, on Monday, October 7.

Don’t catch this one

We’ve always had to take Pokémon spin-offs with a grain of salt. Sure, there have been some interesting ideas like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Snap that have been able to pique our curiosity for a little while along the way, and natural evolutions to the series like Pokémon Stadium, but most don’t have the staying power for sequels or simply fail outright. It’s just hard to capture the core of what makes the main series of Pokémon games great and put it into a different format that still appeals to consumers. Yet, Nintendo still keeps on trying to milk its precious cash cow in different ways.

The latest attempt at capitalizing on their beloved Poké-brand is Pokémon Rumble U, the third in the Rumble spin-off franchise and the first Pokémon game of any kind on the Wii U. In the Rumble series, players play as wind-up toys designed to look like Pokémon. You battle your way through a series of arenas, mashing a single button for a signature move that corresponds to the Pokémon. (You get two moves if they happen to be a dual-type.) As you fight your toys against other toys, you can add those you defeat to your collection, trying in essence to signify the capturing of a Pokémon from the main series.

The big difference between this iteration and previous titles in the Rumble franchise is that it takes advantage of the Wii U’s built-in NFC technology. This allows you to buy special figures (17 in all) that can help their corresponding Pokémon in the game, giving the a sense of leveling up for the first time in the series. You don’t need these figures to beat the game, mind you, but Pokémon fans and collectors alike will probably want to try to pick up a couple.

Of course, this has the beginnings of a slippery slope for Nintendo and consumers. First, there are all 649 currently available Pokémon in the game, and only 17 figures, leaving the door open for more figures to be added. The figures are also concealed, so whatever you buy is given to you randomly. It comes across as a lottery system really that takes advantage of Poké-fanatics’ willingness to throw money at anything with a Pokémon label on it.

Moral ambiguity aside, the worst part is that Pokémon Rumble U really isn’t a very good game. It’s by no means broken, and the ability to have four people play at once, trying to collect as many coins in battle as possible like some deranged Mario Party mini-game, makes it something that could offer younger children a distraction for an hour or two. But the strategy, the gameplay, the characters, and, most importantly, the bond you may develop towards your most familiar Pokémon are completely absent from this game.

From the very first battle, you’re encouraged to leave behind the Pokémon you start with for the ones you capture, who are typically stronger than your previous crew. Even then, when you actually get into one of these arenas, most of the time all you’re doing is mashing a single button. The gameplay is beyond mindless and gets tired fast no matter how many Pokémon figurines you want to collect.

When all is said and done, Pokémon Rumble U comes off as nothing but Nintendo trying to build up some hype for the highly anticipated Pokémon X/Y and line their pockets with some cheap action figure sales in the process. The game works as a proof-of-concept for the NFC technology (even if no one else is using it right now), but beyond that, this is the kind of dull downloadable game you hope will get lost in the ether sooner rather than later.

Developer: Ambrella • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.29.13
5.0
Serving as little more than a proof of concept for the Wii U controller’s NFC technology, Pokémon Rumble U is a boring, pointless game that should just be chalked up as another failed Pokémon spinoff.
The Good A Mario Party–style competition system that could make the game fun for multiple players.
The Bad The lack of any of the core gameplay mechanics that make a Pokémon game great.
The Ugly The parents who will surely be duped into buying the companion NFC figures.
Pokémon Rumble U is a Wii U exclusive. 

A new trailer for Pokémon X & Y highlights several new species of Pokémon, shows cover Pokémon Xerneas and Yveltal in action, and introduces key characters we’ll meet on our journey through the Kelos region.

Two Pokémon in particular caught my eye: the new Dark- and Fighting-type Pokémon, Pangoro—who looks like an angry panda—and the new Fairy-type Pokémon, Swirlix, which looks like cotton candy. In the trailer (embedded below), Swirlix can be seen using a move called Draining Kiss, a new move that’s basically the Fairy equivalent of Absorb for Grass types.

Meanwhile, Xerneas, officially revealed as a Fairy-type, uses a new move exclusive to its arsenal: Geomancy, which generates rainbow-colored light from the ground to damage enemies.

Not to be outdone, Yveltal uses its own exclusive move, Oblivion Wing, which sees the Dark- and Flying-type Pokémon take to the sky to blast a heat ray at its opponents. Kinda reminds me of Superman.

Some of the key human characters players will meet were also revealed, including Professor Augustine Sycamore—the man who will likely give us our first Pokémon—and Team Flare, the red-obsessed bad guys who surely wish to steal Pokémon for their own nefarious schemes.

Players will have the chance to come face to face with these new characters when Pokémon X & Y becomes available worldwide on October 12, 2013, for the Nintendo 3DS.

Check the full trailer out for yourselves: