Hype level: critical. We've sunk hundreds of hours into the Pokemon games over the years (literally - we spent a rather embarrassing 460 hours on Pokemon Pearl. That's the equivalent of almost three weeks solid, 24 hours a day), on their addictive combination of creature raising, battling and OCD-style "gotta catch 'em all" collecting, and now we're preparing to do it all over again this autumn, when the next generation of Pokemon games lands on the 3DS. With the new Pokemon X and Y games comes a whole load of new features - more detailed characters and creatures in an even more expansive world, ridable Pokemon, more dynamic battles, and whole load of other tweaks and improvements, with several new features being detailed in this week's Nintendo Direct broadcast from huge gaming show, E3, and the subsequent Pokemon developer roundtable.
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As we suspected, the new Kalos region the game takes place in will be based around France - or at the very least, a stereotypical vision of France. According to game director Junichi Masuda, "France is one of many countries that really has a focus on beauty", with beauty apparently being one of the main themes of the new games. If that signals the return of another one of our time sinks on the earlier games - the beauty contests - then that's fine by us. Our Jigglypuff looks like he could use a new coat of makeup...
Probably the biggest news to come out of Nintendo's E3 broadcast, though, is that we're set to be getting a brand new Pokemon type, in an effort to balance out the unfair advantage Dragon-type Pokemon have had for a long time. In the Pokemon games, each Pokemon has a type, which gives it a rock-paper-scissors style advantage or disadvantage against Pokemon of certain types. Up until now, Dragon pokemon have been all but indestructible, with their only real weakness being versus other Dragon pokemon, or Ice - but this new type - Fairy - serves a handy double purpose, rounding up all the cute and girly Pokemon together, and giving Dragon another weakness. Although only four members have been confirmed at the moment, and things could all change as many more old favourites are reclassified, as it stands, new Eevee-lution Sylveon is the poster-Pokemon for this new type, and is joined by two of our favourite blobs Jigglypuff and Marill, as well as cabbage-in-a-dress Gardevoir.
While we're on the subject of Sylveon, a few new details have been introduced about the Pokemon, and its powers. Apparently something of a touchy-feely 'mon, wrapping it's ribbon-like feelers around people and calming them down with a special aura it emits, Sylveon can also learn a brand new Fairy move called Moonblast, which harnesses the power of the moon to obliterate an opposing Pokemon whilst also reducing it's attack stat. Another new addition is the 'come at me bro' Pokemon Noivern, a Flying/Dragon type who starts fights with anything that gets too close, and whose trademark is it's use of ultrasonic waves, which helps it fly in the dark. His new move is the explosive soundwave Boomburst, which attacks all the surrounding Pokemon - both friend and foe. The final new critter is the Flying/Bug Vivillion, a giant moth-like creepy beast with colourful wings, who seems to have pulled the short straw when it comes to signature attacks, getting the Struggle Bug move from Black/White instead - a move which deals damage and lowers your opponents Special Attack at the same time.
Seeing as the Pokemon games seem to enjoy giving expensive technology to young kids about to set off on a journey round the world, Pokemon X and Y, along with your brand new Pokedex, that lets you keep track of the Pokemon you've encountered, and the Pokemon you've caught, will also equip you with a brand new Player Search System. Living on the 3DS' Touch Screen, the PSS will alert you when other people nearby are playing Pokemon too, whether they're your friends, or just people you've passed by in the street. By clicking on each person's icon you can jump directly into a PSS battle with them or trade some of your Pokemon - and if you're connected to the internet, you'll be able to jump into a battle or trade with people anywhere in the world!
Pokemon X and Y are also bringing two new battle types to the table. Horde Battles can happen randomly out in the wild, where you and your Pokemon get jumped by not just one, but five little critters spoiling for a fight. While you may appear to be hopelessly outnumbered, certain attacks will now damage groups of Pokemon rather than a single opponent, which should at least make things a little bit easier. And as an added bonus, if you manage to beat them all, you'll be rewarded with a huge boost in experience points, helping your Pokemon gain levels faster. Other Pokemon Trainers can now also challenge you to Sky Battles, which take place, as you may already have guessed, high up in the air. Restricting the types of Pokemon you can use, you'll need to make sure you have an appropriate flying or levitating Pokemon to take part though - after all, who's ever seen a Snorlax fly? The demo we saw featured one of the many Pokemon birds facing off against a ghost-type Haunter, who spends most of his time hovering around, and also comes equipped with the 'Levitate' special ability, a useful ability which makes them immune to almost all Ground-type attacks.
Throughout the many Pokemon games, there have been many Pokemon that only evolve once their "bond" with you is strong enough - Happiny into Chansey, Pichu into Pikachu or Munchlax into Snorlax to name but a few, as well as certain moves that become more powerful as you and your minions become closer. Getting friendlier took time though, as you had to genuinely look after them to earn their trust - let them faint in battles, and your relationship would get worse - but if you looked after them, and kept them by your side, you'd form a healthy bond. But while the bond system had few uses in the previous Pokemon games, the system's been somewhat fleshed out for Pokemon X and Y, and we have a sneaky suspicion that we may end up pouring hundreds more hours into the new friendship feature, known as Pokemon-Amie.
Pokemon-Amie essentially extends Pokemon X and Y into a virtual pet game, only with Pokemon instead of dogs/cats - which makes it amazing right from the off. In the new mode, rather than simply walking around with them in your backpack, you get to connect directly with each of your 'mon by stroking them, feeding them treats, and generally playing games with them, with everything you do rewarding you with a shower of hearts and virtual smiles. One of the games even makes clever use of the 3DS' built in camera, asking you to pull various faces at your Poke-pals, copying what they're doing, and making them jump for joy when you do it right. This is a game we'd pay for in its own right, yet alone as an add-on in a full on Pokemon game - and, if the video below is to be believed, it seems some of the 'mon will even make the official noises from the TV shows rather than the awkward dial-up modem noise they've made up until now! Pika Pika! Pikaaa! Excuse us while we have a girly squee...
And we're back. As you may be able to tell, we're more than a little bit excited about this one, and have already been counting down the days till the game hits stores (120 if you're interested). We've had our pre-orders down for months in preparation, but Nintendo have now announced that the day we'll be getting our hands on the new generation of 'mon is the 12th October. Obviously realising we'd be super excited, it turns out they've decided to put it on a Saturday so we wouldn't be tempted to skip work for a day of non-stop Pokemon-ing instead. That may be a shame for us - but we bet our boss will be pleased...