Given the constant shift of the video gaming landscape, it is quite astounding that Game Freak and The Pokemon Company have managed to maintain an air of freshness in the long-running franchise that is Pokemon. Transcending the simple ‘fad’ phase, the series has gone from strength to strength – shifting and adapting with each new generation. In a move reminiscent of yesteryear, the latest instalments to the world of Pokemon serve as the ‘definitive’ editions, in the vein of Yellow, Crystal, Emerald and so on. Seeking to serve both the hardcore Pokemon audiences as well as those who might have missed the original Sun and Moon, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon provide the perfect bookends to the series on the 3DS.
As in Sun and Moon, the journey begins prior to arriving in Alola, where you are prepped by Professor Kukui as you move from Kanto. Setting out with your starter Pokemon, you save Lillie and Nebby from a group of attacking Spearow, and are in turn saved by the island’s guardian totem Tapu Koko, who leaves behind a mysterious stone which goes on to become the Z-Ring for special Z-Moves later in the game. From here on in your character must perform the Island Trials which replace Gym Battles, while holding off Team Skull as well as discovering the motives behind the supposedly peaceful Aether Foundation. Focusing more around the Pokemon Necrozma, the game’s story differs from that presented in Sun and Moon, including new NPCs such as the Ultra Recon Squad, whose motives are strange and not known until later in the game.
As far as gameplay goes, at its heart it is a tried and true Pokemon game. Battles are bright and colourful, and are entertaining to be a part of. They’ve definitely come a long way from the days of 2D pixelated sprites; and the fact that now the Trainers are visible behind opposing Pokemon (when battling) is a nice touch. Completing Island Trials and unlocking new Z-Moves is really entertaining – and where X and Y as well as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire had Mega Evolutions, the idea behind Z-Moves makes attacking just that little bit more fun as it ties it to a move type rather than just a single Pokemon. You’ll also notice that a lot of the tunes have being remixed into something a little funkier and ‘relevant’, for lack of a better word – they feel less like generic battle tunes and more like songs you’d hear on the islands themselves.
The fact that Pokemon has grown so much as a game franchise also shows in the game itself – not only are environments sprawling and full of life, their realism has certainly changed since the days of old. This is also accompanied by the barrage of new Pokemon to the series, and while there aren’t any huge inclusions as this is a minor update, there still are a few new characters to enter the fray. Coupled with the ability to obtain more legendary beasts is also a welcome change. Ride-on Pokemon replace the traditional HM moves (known as PokeRide style features), meaning you can use Pokemon like Tauros to break through certain boulders once unlocked. There’s even a new game in Mantine Surf, which is a little aside as you travel through Melemele Island.The ability to interact with your Pokemon is another thing that has remained since Pokemon X and Y, and one thing that I find quite entertaining. The ability post-match to help, groom and play with your Pokemon as well as feeding it Poke Beans is a neat little gimmick that really makes you feel like you’re interacting with a real being. It promotes the idea that there is more to the game than just using these small creatures in a bloodsport to determine a victor.
The biggest concern I have with the game, and maybe it’s just me and I’m getting old and can no longer keep up with things; the game is too obsessed with guiding you on one path. Don’t get me wrong, for younger players and those less knowledgeable in how Pokemon games operate, this is a great idea as often these games are a tad difficult to navigate. But the crux of the matter is that within the first hour of playing or so, I began to lose interest in the story being told because it was just words. Gone are the days of simplicity, giving a little bit of information that can be taken a long way, and replaced with spoon-feeding everything to players and holding their hand along the way. For a game that is all about the adventure, my excitement was lowered due to this.
THE 3DS VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW.
At the end of the day, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon bring us back to the idea of the definitive edition of the Pokemon games. These are the Yellow Version, the Crystal, the Emerald, the Platinum to the original Sun and Moon. The story is focused (albeit shoved right in your face) but still entertaining, as all Pokemon games should be. Fans of the original Sun and Moon may find themselves rehashing a lot of the past, but for those of you who have yet to play a Pokemon game, now is a better time than ever to jump in and experience the hype. If these games are the current limit to what the 3DS can offer, then one can only hope that the Switch does the franchise proud.