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Pokemon Gender - I Mean, Pokemon X and Y.

Sequels: bloody-minded, easy cash-grabs.  Yet, not entirely unwelcome.  Just as it's true an existing name doesn't have to struggle as hard to garner notice, it's true that where a demand exists it's good that somebody is trying to fill them.

Less "Totally Looks Like" and more "Has The Same Color Scheme As."
I speak today of my latest acquisitions, Pokemon Y and Rune Factory 4, which are sequels that actually have about the same number of games as long as you're not counting offshoots like Pokemon Pinball, and also count same generation releases (X/Y, Red/Blue, Ruby/Sapphire) ect as the same game.

Using my usual rule of "each dollar invested should return at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes of play," I think the $40 each game neatly siphoned out of my wallet is probably going to pay off.  These are both persistent-state games that expect to be played to death, I would be surprised if 100 hours of time invested was sufficient to finish either. 

That said, even a day of play was enough for me to pass a fairly good judgement on them.  It's a small perk for a fellow who has been playing computer games for about 30 years now.  I'll get to Rune Factory 4 next time, for now lets focus on Pokemon 4.

Pokemon Y: Main Game Is Good (For Pokemon), But The Perpetual Side Activities Kinda Suck.

When I skimmed the review blurbs on Metacritic, one in particular swayed my attention enough to go ahead and make the splurge on this game. 
That aside, X and Y are great editions to the Pokemon franchise, ideal for gamers who walked away from the series and hardcore fans who have been there the whole way.  - Source: Modojo.com
Perfect, I'm a little bit of both.  I'm certainly a hardcore gamer who has walked away from the series, but not quite a hardcore fan of this series in particular.  The last Pokemon I played was Sapphire, and good for me: it's not like these games change enough to be worth a play between iterations, because once I was bored of Sapphire I was bored of 80% of Diamond/Pearl and White/Black.  Here we are, three games later, and is this indeed the most pokemonish Pokemon ever?  The review aggregate seems to indicate that is the case, so lets make this happen.

I happen to like stereographic 3D, and I was immediately impressed with the introduction to Pokemon Y... but then something really weird happens: the game goes nearly completely 2D.  There's still a little 3D there, but it's so diminished that I can move the 3D slider from off to full and barely notice any difference at all.  So there's one point off right there: I guess GameFreaks couldn't figure out how to make their game run consistently well in 3D.   Maybe this is why the 2DS is coming out: to cover for one of Nintendo's biggest third party talents being unable to come to grips with true 3D.
Meet your new Poke-peers.

One good decision was to immediately introduce the player to a cast of four peers of your player character: kids at about the same age who, mysteriously, are all sent on their pokemon journey at once.  This is a difference from the previous games which just introduced you to one neighbor NPC who is a bit of a rival throughout the game, much like Blue was in the first game.  Instead, these are four Poke-peer neighbors who have started their journey, same as you, and you meet them and get to know them while you go.

The core of Pokemon has always been its turn-based combat system, and I've yet to get to the good parts, involving battling with more than one pokemon at a time.  So right now I'm playing the basic 1 on 1 battle mechanics, and they work and are sort of deep in that each pokemon and each of the four current moves it has is based on a type, and when you match the right move to the right type you do increased damage, the wrong move to the wrong type does less damage.

A decent start, but one thing I don't like about the system is the idea of power points, which work in such a way that each of your moves can be used a certain number of times until it is exhausted, then it can't be used anymore.  What I don't like about it is that each of the moves has its own count.  Game Freak largely threw out all the strategy that would have been involved in a unified fatigue pool for the individual pokemon - instead.  You can just use up all five charges of your biggest move and then move on to the standard (usually 20-40 charges) moves without any consequence whatsoever.  Yes, that's not very realistic, but the realism aspect would just be a bonus: it's the strategic implications that bother me about the power point system.   On top of that, there's generally too many points between the four moves, you're unlikely to hit bottom in most scenarios.

But lets get to the real parts I don't like about Pokemon Y: The Pokemon-Amie and Super Training sub-games.  First off, who asked for these sub-games?  Couldn't Game Freak have just focused on improving the central mechanic of the game without these unnecessary deviations?  But the real issue I have is in the monotony of them both.

Just to address the elephant in the room, the idea of using the "petting" activity
of  Pokemon-Amie to grope Gardevoir was an easy thought to run afoul of
for many Internet-inhabiting game geeks.  Of course,  the actual Gardevoir has
precisely one curve to speak of and it's not in the chest nor thighs, but
even so, there are times it feels just a bit weird to be experimentally
prodding a humanoid pokemon in hopes to evoke happiness from
it.  Aren't pokemon supposed to be mostly-sentient?  Am I a
Pokemon Trainer or a Pokemon Unlicensed Massage Therapist?  Oh well,
Pokemon-amie's petting game is still a lot more innocent than the
infamous "witch-mark-finding" DS series, Doki Doki Majo Shinpan!
Pokemon-Amie (pardon the lack of french accents) is the biggest offender.  It's actually a lesser sum of many smaller games:
  • A room decorating game that is so absolutely bare bones that it's little more than 2D sprites which you place against a choice of background.  These sprites tend to overlap in all the wrong places.
  • Raising your Pokemon's "entertainment" value involves playing one of three mini-games, each of which are so mediocre that, somewhere on the world wide web, there exist better games in ad banners.  I guess the complete-a-picture block-sliding puzzle game is kind of novel... if only because there's not a whole lot of puzzles that are actually animating actively while you try to put the pieces in the right place.  I learned that playing these games seems to entertain more than one of your Pokemon at a time, and good thing, as they're not that great.
  • Raising you Pokemon's "affection" rating involves petting them with a stylus, paying attention to their facial expressions and the sound of the rubbing to see if you've got a sweet spot.  You can also try emulating their expression via the camera, but you will need a well-lit environment and steady hands for the camera to hold still enough to pull that off.  Honestly, I think this is the most entertaining need to fulfill, because at least you get a sense of directly interacting with your pokemon, and that's sort of cool.
  • Raising your Pokemon's "fullness" rating involves dragging "poke puff" treats out of a hotbar and holding it over their mouth, whereupon they happily scarf it down.  D'aaw, that's cute.
The game doesn't make it very clear, but what's actually going on is that you're leveling up the  "affection" rating to 5 hearts, and it stays maxed forever.  All this feeding and pampering bores your pokemon, apparently, and that's where having to raise your "entertainment" and "fullness" values come in.   I'm wondering, does that mean I can pretty much let my pokemon starve once their affection is maxed?  Probably.

The Super Training game is a bit better, but is still a little overly simple for my tastes.  Once again, it's a composite of games that make up a substandard whole, but there's a bit better focus here: it's one reasonably-well-fleshed-out mini-game and one barely-a-game-at-all mini-game.  Most importantly, you're not earning ambiguous "affection" amounts, but rather you're boosting your pokemon's cold, hard stat points by playing these mini-games.

In the main training mini-game, you move a pokemon around on a floating platform with the thumb pad while using the stylus to shoot soccer balls at a giant inflated simulated opponent.   It is, at times, reasonably challenging, with hard-to-hit targets and lots of incoming enemy fire to dodge.  With the over-the-shoulder 3D perspective, this mini-game would be a fantastic use of the 3DS's stereographic feature... were the Pokemon Y implementation of stereographics such utter weaksauce that there was virtually no difference whether the 3D slider is completely off or maxed: seriously, were they afraid some kids were going to go blind or something?   Anyway, this mini-game is not so bad, but they expect you to play it constantly in order to "train" your pokemon to the maximum level, and it's woefully lacking of depth for me to want to: Star Fox Command did this kind of game much better.

Fortunately, the other mini-game is an alternative method to achieve the same aim of raising the same stats.  You basically just hang up a bean bag and tap the screen to encourage your pokemon to bonk the snot out of it.   If you don't tap the screen, your pokemon will automatically bonk at the rate of one bonk a minute.  Once the beanbag is 'defeated' from the prerequisite required number of bonks, training happens just the same as if you were playing the above mini-game.  There's a catch: those stat-raising bean bags are earned from playing the main mini-game.

Like I said, Pokemon-amie and the Super Training games are just sub-activities, and the time-honored Pokemon battle mechanic is much better.  Ideally, most of your time in Pokemon X and Y will be spent shuffling through shallow grass, stumbling across exciting new pokemon, fighting them in turn based combat, and capturing the ones you want.  It's just as deep as it's ever been, possibly getting more interesting later when they get around to introducing 2vs2, 3vs3 and the other variations such as "horde battles."  I expect the megavolution mechanic will add absolutely nothing of value but, oh well, at least they're trying to add something.

Overall, Pokemon Y is definitely a Pokemon game and a worthy addition to the series... I just wish they had stayed focused on the main game instead of adding encouraging players to spend time with shallow side activities.  At the very least, they probably should have implemented a timer mechanic that would discourage the player from feeling any need to play those games constantly, because these mini-games are far too shallow to avoid growing monotonous quickly.   If it was just a slimmed-down version of Pokemon-Amie where you could interact with your Pokemon (a very cool feature) that probably would have been enough.

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