Every generation, we're told, is going to be the one. The big step forward. One giant leap for 'Mon-kind. And, let's be honest, it never quite materialises. Black and White promised much and offered the most substantial changes to the formula since Generation II. Ultimately, though, while they were prettier, heralding the largest influx of new beasts, improved online features and a few minor bonuses besides, it was the same old Pokemon we'd been playing since Red and Blue.
If X and Y are a step forward, it's a small one. The basics remain. Fire/Grass/Water Starters. A Professor named after a tree. Eight gyms. The Elite Four. A battle against the regional champ. An auxiliary plotline that climaxes just before Victory Road. A Pokemon that's a household object with eyes. All present and correct.
Is that such a bad thing? Like a broken parking meter, Pokémon continually resists change, but that's because, like so many Nintendo games, it emerged from the egg almost perfectly formed. Put yourself in Game Freak's shoes: do you risk rebuilding with new foundations, or adhere to a tried-and-tested structure? It's a no-brainer, particularly since each new game is designed with newcomers in mind.
X and Y, then, are not about to reinvent the wheel (or even stick a pair of eyes on it), but they are about to refine it in ways that smartly, subtly make these two games not just the biggest advance for the series since Gold and Silver, but the best Pokemon has ever been.
It begins with one of many tiny surprises that will mean more to veterans than to beginners. You choose your starter from a selection offered by one of your four-strong group of friends, rather than the region's professor. When Professor Sycamore arrives you'll get a second choice, this time picking from the Kanto starters from Red and Blue. It's a nice touch that says while this might be the start of something new, Game Freak isn't about to forget where it all began.
These early tweaks don't fundamentally change the experience, but add a fresher flavour. The quest to become champion has always felt like a solitary pursuit, but there's a greater sense of connection to others. Your four friends will contact you on your new Holo-Caster, or catch up with you for a chat or battle. Meanwhile, if you're playing within range of a Wi-Fi signal, you're connected to online friends through the Player Search System (PSS), a spiffy new update to Black and White's C-Gear.
It helps, of course, that you're making that journey at the same time as the rest of the world. X and Y are the first Pokemon games to get a simultaneous global release, which means everyone will discover the same things together. That element of surprise is a big part of what made our time with X and Y so special: unexpected Evolutions and hidden secrets giving us that tingly thrill of discovery. Rarely have our lips been quite so firmly bitten - wouldn't want to give the game away, would we?
Dex is On Fire
There's a steady flow of fresh sightings in what might be the best-paced Pokemon games so far. Though Game Freak still can't resist wrenching control from us as it tells us how to catch a Pokemon, it's mercifully brief about it, getting to the point much quicker than its predecessors. The plot soon gathers pace as bad guys Team Flare reveal themselves: their leader's maniacal scheme is surprisingly dark, yet there's an intriguing method to the madness which seems to nod towards the biggest issue Game Freak may have with its own franchise.