Pokemon X and Y's revamped visual aesthetic is nothing short of a revolution for the series, but the franchise's next evolution — which had its hands-on debut at Gamescom 2013 — doesn't just look good for a Pokemon game; it looks good.
Every part of the game has received a significant visual overhaul. Playable and non-playable characters are rendered in more detail than the franchise has been capable of in the past. The game's overworld looks and feels more alive and open, thanks to the fact that you're not bound to moving in just the four cardinal directions anymore. Where the visuals really shine, however, is in combat, where Pokemon are presented in full 3D and with full animations.
If Pokemon X and Y is remembered by series fanatics for one thing, it will likely be how the vastly improved presentation of each Pokemon makes them more like individual characters, and less like tools of war. It sounds silly, but seeing how each Pokemon executes each of its moves make them feel more real, in a way. Watching Pokemon wind-up before unleashing an attack makes it seem more like they're actually executing the attack, rather than it just emanating from their general direction.
As for the process of combat, it's still very much the same as it's ever been. You choose one of four moves, as does your opponent, and the Pokemon with the fastest speed goes first. Finding elemental strengths and weaknesses is still crucial, and somewhat more complicated due to the addition of the new Fairy type to the game. Each generation has added new monsters to train, but few have added new types — keeping that consideration in mind may add a very, very small amount of extra strategy to what has become an ancient formula.
The demo also showcased X and Y's new Pokemon Amie mode, the Nintendogs-esque mini-game that lets you pet, feed and generally nurture your team on the go. Performing these actions builds non-essential stats for the pampered Pokemon, like adoration for the trainer or, if you're quick with a snack, fullness. The demo didn't make it quite clear what those stats would be used for (relevance in some kind of metagame, which the series is known to toss into each title, seems likely), but regardless, getting down on some belly rubs is really its own reward.
On the Nintendo 3DS, Game Freak is cutting no corners.
Capturing new Pokemon also hasn't deviated from the series' core design; after weakening a Pokemon to a certain state, you toss a Pokeball at them and hope for the best. I managed to catch a Dedenne, one of the new fairy/electric-type monsters, with little struggle — but based on its Pokemon Amie stats, that thing stone cold hated my guts after I nabbed it, which makes perfect sense, I suppose.
Sidenote: Amusingly, after a Pokemon Amie session, the game actually shows your Pokemon getting sucked back into its Pokeball, which really rubs in how terrible the treatment of Pokemon is outside of the mini-game. It's hard not to feel a little guilty, like the warden for a prison you wear around your belt, letting the inmates outside for a few minutes to walk around and get their bellies rubbed.
At the end of the brief demo, the territory's Professor Oak equivalent handed over a Mewtwo — which seems kind of irresponsible — so that our trainer could experiment with Mega Evolutions, another of the game's new mechanics. Activating Mega Evolutions through the battle menu (which doesn't take up your Pokemon's turn) sets off a fancy animation, changing Mewtwo's form, stats and native ability. The mechanical differences didn't really make much of an impact, to be honest; I was already working with a Level 100 Mewtwo, so it's not like I was buffing up a weakling.
The Mega Evolutions just led to more questions. Pokemon must hold onto their specific Mega Stone in order to Mega Evolve, and they revert to their original form at the end of battle. Does the Mega Stone disappear? If not, why not just have the evolution be permanent? Why force players to watch the same animation at the start of each battle — because why wouldn't you want an applicable Pokemon to Mega Evolve?
Each Pokemon game adds new features to the mix, and some always work better than others. Regardless of how inconsistent X and Y's additions may end up being in the final cut, its visuals are an irrefutable, much-needed change. It's always been a very content-rich series, but that content hasn't looked as terrific as it could, even on older handhelds. On the Nintendo 3DS, Game Freak is cutting no corners.
Pokemon X and Y launches Oct. 12 worldwide.