'Pokemon X & Y'

From: Nintendo

Rated: E

Who it's for: Gamers who enjoy deep, strategic, addictive games

Console: Nintendo 3DS

Grade: A

If you play video games, you know all about "Pokemon," the insanely addictive role-playing games that have appeared exclusively on Nintendo's handheld systems since 1996.

The latest iterations -- "Pokemon X" and "Pokemon Y" -- mark the first "Pokemon" games designed for the Nintendo 3DS. And, as such, they are the first to feature full 3D-rendered creatures rather than the flat, two-dimensional drawings of the past.

That's not the only place these games innovate, though.

"Pokemon X & Y," the sixth generation of one of the world's most popular franchises, include the new Fairy type Pokemon, new Mega Evolutions, Sky Battles, Horde Battles, new mini-games and more.

As with previous generations, players choose between the "X" and "Y" versions of the game. They are basically the same, though each has its own exclusive Pokemon. Also, some creatures are rarer in one version or the other, adding to the incentive to trade with a friend who has the other version.

The game casts you in the role of a young Pokemon trainer who sets out on an adventure to explore the world, discover Pokemon and prove his or her worth as a trainer and Pokemon fighter.

Pokemon are separated by type, and battling them depends on discovering which types work best against the others.

While the cutesy, utterly nonviolent content (fights are bloodless and nothing ever dies; defeated Pokemon merely faint) might seem geared toward youngsters, the strategic depth provides enough of a challenge for gamers of any age.

With more than 700 different Pokemon available at launch -- estimated to cross 750 shortly -- catching them all will certainly keep players busy for some time to come.

Reviewing "Pokemon Y" reminded me of why the world fell in love with this franchise nearly 20 years ago.

The whimsical story provides a nice background for the action. Your trainer starts out in a new region of the Pokemon world -- Kalos -- chosen by Professor Sycamore to be part of a team tasked with discovering the secrets of the Mega Evolutions.

This new feature allows fully matured Pokemon, such as the Charizard, to evolve one more time, on a temporary basis, into an even stronger beastie.

Not all Pokemon are capable of Mega Evolutions, and the ones that are must be holding the specific Mega Stone to enable it. However, choosing the Mega Evolutions in battle does not use a turn and gives the player an additional fighting option, since the Mega-Evolved versions of creatures frequently change types and, thus, strengths.

It's like having an extra Pokemon in your party.

The Mega Evolutions aren't the most significant addition to the series though.

The game's new Sky Battles give players incentive to keep a flying Pokemon in their party and add some nice variety to the ground combat.

So do the Horde Battles, where players face off against five wild Pokemon at once. It's great hectic fun.

In addition to all of the changes in the single-player campaign, "Pokemon X & Y" feature significant upgrades to the series' online multiplayer.

Players no longer need to be at an in-game Pokemon Center to trade or battle friends. Now you can stop anywhere along your journey and choose to connect with a friend -- or, more important, choose to accept an invitation with a friend.

Additionally, once you connect online, a continual feed of those playing around the world will scroll across the bottom of your screen. You can choose from any of these players to connect with, or even allow the computer to choose for you, to participate in random trades. It's a fantastic way to expand your Pokemon collection.

Finally, it's important to note that players with large collections from previous Pokemon games can use the new Pokemon Bank to transfer characters from "Pokemon Black & White" and "Pokemon Black 2 & White 2" into "X & Y," an important factor for those who want to keep their collections intact.

"Pokemon X & Y" is both an excellent continuation for longtime Pokemon fans and a perfect starting point for those who have been thinking about taking the plunge. A compelling experience all the way around.