I can hear some of you groaning even now. Hush!
While 2014 might be the Year of Faff elsewhere, around here it seems more like the year of renewal and return to past happy times. Nothing new around these parts. I am bland about The Elder Scrolls Online, completely indifferent to WildStar, and can’t think of any other new games that have sparked any real interest in me. No, it has been all throw backs to paths already traveled of late, what with the return to World of Warcraft, poking about in EVE Online, running up some time in Diablo III, dragging out the revamped version of Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, and even revisiting Warcraft III.
Which, on reflection, does sound like a lot of time spent faffing about, so my year might actually be in tune with the godmother’s. Might have to go grab that Year of Faff logo.
Anyway, with the year shaping up as it has, why not add in Pokemon?
It was just about six months back where I was ready to bid a final farewell to Pokemon.
But as Christmas approached, my daughter had a change of heart and put a Nintendo 3DS XL on her wish list… because that is what grandparents are for. And, sure enough, at my dad’s house on Christmas Day there was just such a unit (in red) under the tree for her, along with a GameStop gift card from my sister.
We had to get out of the house right away after Christmas to get some games. GameStop is a very busy place the day after Christmas. And while my daughter was primarily interested in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, she did also pick up a copy of Pokemon X.
Still, I am not sure that we had shaken the malaise that Pokemon Black & White put us in. (Some long term veterans of the series reported similar feelings.)
Pokemon Diamond & Pearl was where we started. The game was fresh and exciting. Pokemon Platinum came along, the traditional interim remix of the previous titles, and we were still engaged. Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver, remakes of Pokemon Gold & Silver, were the peak of our time with the series. The game, the details, the Pokewalker (which I wore every day for a couple years) were all great. That was when I actually sat down and caught them all. At that point, “all” meant 493 Pokemon.
We were excited for Pokemon Black & White. We went to events, pre-ordered the games, and were ready to go on day one. And things kind of fell flat. Some combo of having played through several versions of the game already (and the base game is always nearly identical at a certain level), missing elements like your lead Pokemon walking with you in-game or the Pokewalker, and something of a general coming of age for my daughter and her becoming interested in more “girly” things than playing video games with dad contributed to this.
There was no spark there. We tried a couple of times to go back and finish the game, but we both sit at 6 gym badges out of 8 and no further. Pokemon Black 2 & White 2 were pretty much ignored by us.
So when my daughter started on Pokemon X on the 3DS XL, I was interested to hear how she liked it. While she gave it generally favorable reviews, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm behind them. She was much more interested in Animal Crossing.
So it sat for a couple of months. I liked the idea of the 3DS XL and its big screen as well as another shot at Pokemon, but there didn’t seem to be a enough interest from my daughter for me to take the plunge. And then a couple weeks back, suddenly she lit up on the Pokemon X front. She seemed to be quite into it, so I looked around and saw I had enough gift card credits at Amazon to pick up a 3DS XL myself.
Gift card money at Amazon is a special resource to me. If somebody gives me money, it goes into the general fund and gets used to pay bills or buy cat food or whatever. But credit at Amazon feels like it is uniquely mine. I can’t use it to pay the mortgage or the phone bill. I can set that aside and used it on something for me.
So I splurged last week and spent my credits on a black 3DS XL, which for some reason was $10 cheaper than the other colors along with a copy of Mario Kart 7… because Mario Kart. Well, actually, I needed to but the 3DS XL and another title to get a “free” copy of Pokemon X or Y as part of a promotion Nintendo was running.
Last Wednesday the unit arrived.
I unboxed it, started it charging, then began setting it up. I had get it on our wireless, then create a Nintendo eShop account, then link that account to my Club Nintendo account, and then get everything registered so I could get my code for a copy of Pokemon Y that could be downloaded from the eShop.
As annoying as that might sounds, it actually went pretty quickly, mostly just worked, and was still a lot easier than getting one of the old DS Lite models up and connected to Nintendo WiFi back in the day. (One of the most common email questions I got for quite a stretch was, “How do I get Nintendo WiFi to work?!?!?!?!”)
I was a little hesitant to only have a downloaded copy of Pokemon Y. The tradition is to have the physical cartridge, and we have at least 10 such Pokemon games in our storage box along with just about everything else purchased for the DS series. The 3DS line, which can use the DS series cartridges, stores data and downloaded games on an SD card.
The SD card thing is probably good in the long run. The 3DS XL came with a 4GB card and you can upgrade it to a 32GB card if you need more space. The upgrade process is a bit… simple? You take the card out of the 3DS, copy the files to your PC, then copy those files to the bigger SD card, and then put it back in the 3DS.
But that just makes it software, which can go away, be erased, or otherwise corrupted, as opposed to being burnt forever(-ish) into a ROM in a plastic cartridge. Such read-only media traditions go back to the days of the Atari 2600 for me. Something about it being on writable media makes me twitch a bit. Old habits.
But the game itself… is great.
It is, of course, straight from the traditional Pokemon mold. Youth with surprisingly permissive parents allowed to go wander the world, filling up their Pokedex for the local tree-named Professor of Pokemon Studies (Sycamore this time), battling various oddly focused gym leaders, thwarting an eccentrically dressed evil organization (Team Flare this time), all while on the way to becoming the Pokemon champion of the region… and collecting them all.
And the number for “all” is now 719. Oh my.
But while everything is the same, everything is also different… or better… or bother.
Everything is now represented on the big screen with 3D model… and when I say “3D” I mean it in the way we mean it when we talk about EverQuest or World of Warcraft. There is also the 3D movie effect of depth, but like most everybody else, I turned that off once the novelty faded and it started making my head hurt.
And the new models and motion in the world and the world itself… just work.
There was no moment of “Oh, now this is much better!” Instead it was just a sense of things being as they were meant to be. In fact, I was rather shocked when I went back to Pokemon Black & White to check where I had left off. Things were much flatter and pixelated just one version ago. Samples gleaned from the internet, because you cannot take screen shots in Pokemon games. (You can, in a very, very limited way in Pokemon X & Y, but that is for another post.) More is the pity.
And just to show the progression over the last decade, the first Pokemon game on the DS platform and the last one on the GameBoy Advance platform.
A lot of work clearly went into Pokemon X & Y and it represents a considerable leap in the rendering technology used for the game.
And while I can be Mister Nostalgia and long for the good old days, I have to say I am very happy with the updated graphics. Of course, that might have something to do with them being tuned for the 3DS screen… and the big 3DS XL screen especially. That screen looks really nice, Pokemon X & Y render beautifully on it, and it is big enough for me to play the game without wearing my reading glasses!
Can’t do that with my faithful old DS Lite.
I will have more to say about Pokemon X & Y in future posts, as well as the Nintendo 3DS XL hardware (besides the fact that it may be the best made handheld unit they have ever produced) in future posts. This post can basically be summed up as:
Pokemon is back! There will be posts! You have been warned!