In November 2016, The Pokemon Company International celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The year long event gave Pokemon fans worldwide the opportunity to play Pokemon in a way they never had before – the mobile game Pokemon Go. This phenomenon took off and just about everyone was playing Pokemon at the same time, bringing 90’s nostalgia to the forefront of everyone’s minds. While a lot of people drifted away once again over the following months, die hard Pokemon fans were awaiting something even more exciting: Pokemon Sun and Moon.
If you haven’t played Pokemon Sun and Moon, it is, in essence, a near perfect Pokemon game. The usual formula known to every Pokemon player is still there. You capture, battle, trade and become the greatest Pokemon Trainer in the region, only this game took it further. Game Freak’s decision to remove gyms and opt for a new Trial challenge, which features trainers battling Totem Pokemon (giant versions of Pokemon), challenging puzzles and tough battles against the island’s Kahunas, was a brave one. New features such as Island Scan, which uses QR codes to find rare Pokemon, and Z-Moves, powerful Dragon-Ball-esque moves that can only be used once per battle, were revered by players. The game also tackled some serious issues, such as your friend Lillie’s abusive relationship with her mother, and Team Skull’s Guzma’s nearly miss-able backstory about his life full of failure that lead to a life of crime. In many ways, Pokemon Sun and Moon was a triumph.
So, how does Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon shape up? Pretty well actually. For a game that came out almost exactly one year later, it is still as bright, colourful and inspiring as its predecessor. In fact, it’s almost the same! The changes in this game are good, albeit small, but welcomed nonetheless. The story is a marked improvement in many ways, but there are still some problems with it. In this game, Lillie’s story seems rushed and the Mother-Daughter relationship problems that were addressed in the previous game have been glossed over. Everything that you saw in the first game happens off-screen in this new title, possibly to make space for the new story that unfolds? Who knows, maybe the issues addressed are just better left in the previous title.
The small changes featured in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon include what you might expect: new Pokemon in selected areas and an expanded post-game. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Buneary in the first patch of grass I battled in, and the once-rare Zorua by the trainers school, meaning players have even more choice for their Pokemon team, resulting in every playthrough being different from the last. The post-game is a marked improvement. Whereas Sun and Moon had a somewhat rushed ending, this game fleshes out the plot and creates a story built around the Ultra Beasts (Pokemon from a different dimension with a threatening nature), and none other than Team Rocket. Now Team Rainbow Rocket, the team appear to have made alliances with various mob bosses from all of the past games, and your character has to battle and put them down once more.
If you’re interested in Shiny Pokemon (Pokemon with a colour variation that are incredibly hard to find), they have never been easier to collect. A combination of S.O.S. battles and an annoying necessary-to-the-plot reflex game improve the ridiculous odds of 1 in 8192 to a much more manageable task; making finding rare Pokemon a more realistic goal. As well as Shiny Pokemon, Totem Pokemon are also available. By collecting Totem Stickers hidden strategically in the overworld, players can cash them in to receive the Totem versions of Various Pokemon, which makes little difference other than cosmetic but is appreciated nonetheless.
As much as this game is a success, there were some problems. The frame rate drops that were rampant in the original games are still at large, pushing the 3DS to its absolute limit. If you plan to use an Alolan Exeggutor for example, expect the game to slow down significantly during battles. It’s now clearer than ever that Pokemon is ready to move to the Switch. The Rotom Dex has had an upgrade this time around, with the Roto Lotto feature being added. This feature uses a slot machine style mechanic that grants you a random bonus such as encountering more or less Pokemon in the wild and earning more experience points during battle. This feature is great, but Rotom Dex gets incredibly annoying once you’ve reached the twenty hour mark, with it giving you useless advice you didn’t ask for (Rotom’s actual words).
But my main problem with this game is how unnecessary it feels to have two versions. For the past twenty-something years, Pokemon has released a “third version” or a sequel to their main pairings of games. We had Pokemon Yellow, Pokemon Crystal, Pokemon Emerald, Pokemon Platinum, and Pokemon Black and White 2. Besides the latter two titles, we received just one game. The idea behind this being a slightly different adventure while being relatively the same, ultimately being the definitive edition to the versions of these games. What I find disappointing is Game Freak’s decision to release this generation’s “third version” as a pair of games. I understand that there are two Legendary Pokemon that are featured in Pokemon Sun and Moon, but the decision to make two versions of the same game twice in a row seems like a cash grab on their part, luring collectors like myself and many others to drop way more money than necessary for a game that they have already played.
But if you are looking for new features, the Battle Agency is very fun. Every day, in the Festival Plaza, the connection hub of the game, players can battle waves of trainers using randomly selected Pokemon and trainer allies for a chance to receive Festival Coins. These can be spent on making your plaza better suited to your gameplay preferences. The Pokemon usually have optimal stats and movesets, as well as held items, giving old and new trainers a chance to see how to best use a Pokemon to their potential. The Alola Photo Club is also a fun addition, giving you a chance to customize photo shoots with your favourite Pokemon, selecting poses and backdrops to make your photos unique to your tastes. There is also Mantine Surfing, which features the player riding the Pokemon Mantine like a surfboard between islands, doing tricks and aiming for the highest score, with the main prize: a Surfing Pikachu. Once you get the hang of Mantine Surfing, it becomes an enjoyable experience, although the initial joy does not take long to wear off. And finally there is Ultra Space. I briefly referenced this earlier, with the involuntary reflex puzzle being a less than stellar plot forwarding device. Using motion controls, trainers ride one of the Legendary cover Pokemon from Sun or Moon and explore a long corridor with various hoops of different colour. Going through one of these hoops winds you up in a location far away from Alola. If you enjoyed this, you can return to Ultra Space for your opportunity to capture rare Legendary Pokemon and the aforementioned shiny Pokemon.
I am reminded of Final Fantasy XV, a game I waited ten years for and I am still yet to play. It is still being updated to this day, and is very different to the title we got over a year ago in stores. It seems that the original Pokemon Sun and Moon were rushed in production to release during Pokemon’s twentieth anniversary, and as such we got half a game. Pokemon Ultra Sun and Pokemon Ultra Moon is indeed the definitive edition of the Sun and Moon series, and if you have not played any of these games, I highly recommend picking one up. If you have played through Pokemon Sun or Pokemon Moon recently, maybe wait a while before you start these games. The main story is very similar to the previous games, and as such you may find your adventure a bit of a slog, and the familiar feeling of de-ja-vu won’t wear off for a long time. The choice is yours, but this game is for the hardcore fans only.
I give Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon an 8/10