Best of 2013: #8 - Pokemon X & Y

Pokemon has always been a fun series of games to play, but it's hard to deny that some of the experience had started to feel stale. By the time Pokemon Black & White 2 had hit, it felt like Game Freak had exhausted everything the series could offer. Then Pokemon X & Y hit the 3DS and rejuvenated faith in the storied franchise. Pokemon has never looked better, offering a total visual facelift, refining classic ideas to fit a newer audience, and taking advantage of the 3DS hardware to deliver the new standard for Pokemon games. Catching 'em all has never been this much fun.

Unlike prior editions of Pokemon, X & Y focus far less on how many new Pokemon can be found in the wild. Sure, there are new species of pocket monsters to be found, but this is far less about finding new creatures and more about perfecting the way players interact with them. The battling system feels far livelier than past editions, with fresh animations for both Pokemon and background surroundings alike. In particular, sky battles are a cool addition to witness, as two Flying-types can do battle high above the skies, bringing battles closer to feeling like something out of an anime. And the addition of Mega Evolutions adds a whole new dimension to battles, as opponents must take these sudden metamorphoses into account when planning out strategies.

X & Y also represent refined ideas, ones that were novel in older chapters, but evolved to fit changing times. Pokemon battles are no longer restricted to Pokemon Centers, as players can now challenge anyone they want at any time using a Wi-Fi connection. It's an idea that fits with the whole concept of being a Pokemon trainer, who travels the land and challenges anyone in the way. Trading can be done at any time, whether you want to do it with friends, search for a specific type of Pokemon through the Global Trading System, or just roll the dice and grab a random creature from a Wonder Trade. It's never been easier to take advantage of everything the Pokemon games have to offer and raising a team of six bruisers has never been simpler, thanks to little additions, like including XP boosts after capturing new Pokemon. They're simple additions, but ones that go a long way towards making Pokemon feel like it's moving forward and improving what's already a phenomenal gaming experience.

Beyond focusing on the Pokemon themselves, X & Y also does a lot to move forward the concept of being a trainer. Players can adjust their wardrobes at clothes shops, they can make personal trainer videos (complete with cool music video-style effects) and share them with friends, and they can play with their Pokemon through the new Poke-Amie system to help build affection. Pokemon is now more than the turn-based RPG that it began its life as. It is now a full-blown, immersive experience that begs to be shared.

X & Y are, by far, the pinnacle of the Pokemon series to date and X remains one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS.

The Shacknews Best of 2013 Awards were determined by ballot voting across the entire Shacknews staff. Stay tuned next week as we reveal all our winners.