Pokémon XD Import Hands-On

We try out the newest Pokémon game for the GameCube that came straight from Japan.

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Although Pokémon XD isn't due to hit the States until this fall, the game has just hit the streets in Japan. The game marks the second appearance of the Pokémon franchise on the GameCube, and it follows up on the groundwork laid by 2004's Pokémon Colosseum by offering a full-fledged role-playing-game experience. We picked up an import copy to see what you can expect from this latest entry in the series.

The game takes place five years after the events in Pokémon Colosseum and is once again set in the desertlike Orre region. You'll be cast in the role of a young Pokémon trainer, named Michael, who must stop the plans of the ruthless Cipher organization, which is intent on taking over the world with Shadow Pokémon. Thankfully, you won't be going at it alone, as you'll have your puffy-tailed sidekick Eevee to back you up. Sure, the odds still don't seem great for a young kid and his superpowered poodle, but it's Pokémon, so you know things are going to work out in the end.

Your Pokémon have gone all emo.
Your Pokémon have gone all emo.

The game opens up with a scene where Cipher forces swoop down on an unsuspecting oceangoing cargo vessel. Their great weapon is a Shadow Lugia, an imposingly large flying beast that simply gathers up the ship and whisks it off to ports unknown. The game then switches to control of Michael, and you'll be able to start going through some preliminary exercises with your Pokémon pals to sharpen your battle skills. A handy simulator gives you a chance to play around with monsters of various types in case you need a refresher on their strengths, like how lightning-type creatures are strong against water-type ones. Soon enough, you'll be ready to embark on your greater journey into Orre, freeing Shadow Pokémon as you find them.

Michael carries with him a special device called an aura reader, which lets him identify a Shadow Pokémon, should he face one. Once you've pegged a critter as having deep emotional issues, it's a matter of using your time-honed techniques to weaken it so you can then snatch it up for yourself. Shadow Pokémon are an ornery bunch that don't much like to follow orders. But there are a few ways you can coax them through their mood swings. Simply keeping a Shadow Pokémon with you in your party will eventually improve its outlook enough for it to open its heart again, or you can take a more active role by purifying the beast. A special purifying chamber exists that will let you cleanse one of your shadowy friends by using your existing, more-well-adjusted Pokémon to aid you. The more dark creatures you rescue, the more you weaken the dastardly Cipher...and the less overworked professional Pokémon therapists will be.

The Pokémon battles themselves play out much like they do in Pokémon Colosseum, which is in full 3D, though the graphics here have sharpened up some. You'll face your opponent in either one-on-one or two-on-two battles, and each attack has its own special animation. As usual, you'll be able to swap Pokémon midfight, as well as use items on them should you need a boost. Each Pokémon has a number of special abilities you'll be able to bring to bear in battles to weaken, stun, and/or attack your opponents, in addition to some skills that let you augment your own traits. You'll also be able to battle you friends in a two-player versus mode in the game, and you can even import your favorite Pokémon from the GBA games so they can test their mettle in three dimensions.

Gotta purify 'em all!
Gotta purify 'em all!

The game has some catchy battle tunes and plenty of familiar sound effects from the Pokémon. The battle sound effects also sound nice, from the various energy attacks to the soft hiss of falling rain. The pocket monsters themselves also look good in 3D and are sharply defined. Meanwhile, their short animations do the job well. Special abilities also have a unique look to them, with the energy and shadow abilities featuring good richness of color and some depth.

From the time we've spent with the import version, it looks like longtime fans of Pokémon will be easily turned to the shadowy side by Pokémon XD when it's released in the States later this year. We'll be sure to keep this gamespace updated as more information comes forward, so stay tuned for more news of the unfortunate emo Pokémon and their perkier cousins.

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