Every now and then, Pokemon decides to create more of their titular characters. As a result, they create a new game for these creatures to be captured. While there are two upcoming games in the series to look forward to on the Nintendo Switch, (Let’s go Pikachu and Let’s go Eevee, plus an untitled main game due sometime in 2019) I would like to look back on the beginning of the current generation. Thanks to me recently replaying my copy of Sun version, I was able to cover this review. This review covers both versions, as most things are the same between the two. Slight discrepancies will be mentioned as they become relevant. Also, this review will not be covering the Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon versions, except for brief comparisons, though these versions are quite similar too.
Perhaps the first thing to note are what changes were made to the core game play. Sun and Moon features a new battle mechanic called Z-moves. Each player can only use these powerful moves once per battle, and has some requirements involving their Pokemon holding a specific item, and knowing a compatible move. The move it is connected to changes the Z-move’s power or effect. While playing through the story, you can take out many common Pokemon in one hit, but the animations for these moves are quite long, and it slows down the pace of the action. When playing online, it is generally something you have to carefully consider when selecting your next move. Do you use the Z-move right now to get a vital KO? Or do you have to worry about the opponent doing the same thing? It does add some extra flavor to battles against friends and strangers alike, and grants another layer to the strategy of the game.
There are some neat features, like the Pokepelago, a set of islands that puts your unused Pokemon to work when you aren’t playing. Here, you can get items or train your Pokemon in a passive manner when you are doing other things in-game, or even when the game is off. The feature can be useful to players who don’t have much time to play, but can check the game once a day or so and still reap the benefits. It is also great for players who are dedicated to online play, as they can train multiple Pokemon at once.
Additionally, there is the Festival Plaza, which is your gateway to playing with other players, both nearby and online. This feature also has in-game stores that grant some useful bonuses, such as lotteries for rare items, or even a quick way to gain levels for your Pokemon. These stores require Festival Coins, which are only found by interacting with players within this feature. For clarification’s sake, player characters will appear in the plaza, and may have a request made by the game (not the players themselves), and if you get it right, you will get festival coins. You can also spend a festival ticket to play a mission, where other players can join in to increase the score and the reward. It should be noted that the rate you get festival coins in Sun and Moon is slower than in the Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon games.
The festival plaza does have fewer connection features in comparison to X, Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire versions. There are no messages or voice chat features, and you have to be in festival plaza, as opposed to any place in the game to connect with others. Also of note is that some battle modes from previous games were removed, specifically the triple battle and rotation battle formats, possibly for technical reasons. The game does add a battle royal mode, where four players compete against each other, and only one can win.
Something else that slows down play is that many wild Pokemon can call for help in battle. If they succeed, the fight turns into a 2 against 1 scenario, and you can’t catch either until there is only one left. Worse is the fact that wild Pokemon can do this on any turn where there is only one left, so luck can be a factor as to how long any battle actually is. This feature can get you a version of that Pokemon with its hidden ability, but you have to be patient, and the process isn’t fun.
Next, I shall cover a general sense of the new Pokemon, a main draw of buying such a game. Many of the new Pokemon have a tropical look and feel to them (this game’s world is based on Hawaii, by the way), and they fit this theme well. Not all of the new Pokemon are the best in terms of visual design, but just about all of the Pokemon introduced have a neat functional design to them. Many have a unique move, ability, or type combination that adds some freshness to the new characters, even if they may not see much play or aren’t that useful. The game also features regional variants, which are familiar Pokemon that adapted differently based on the environment of this game. They always have at least one new type, and some other slight differences to set them apart. I feel these Pokemon have a way of keeping old favorites a little bit fresher.
There are some user interface improvements too. When there are multiple, often hard to track effects in play, there is an option to use the touch screen to see what they are, and what they do. In online matches, you can press the y button to see the opponent’s team, in case you forgot during team preview. Both of these features are handy ways to get into competitive battling.
Incidentally there is a new hyper training feature that allows you to increase a Pokemon’s stat value to its highest rating. The Pokemon has to be at its maximum level, and you need a bottle cap per stat to increase. It is a little odd that bottle caps are supposed to be rare in this game, as this was advertised as a feature to make regular use of. It turns out there is an exploit that allows you to get more by spending festival coins for a facility in festival plaza, though I won’t detail it here. This feature helps take the luck out of getting the best Pokemon sets, and lowers some of the barrier of entry to playing online or in tournaments.
Then, there is the story. The main adventure does have a theme of community, friendship, and family, plus it shows what can go right and wrong in relation to these ideas. The story is a bit stronger than average for a Pokemon game, and is almost on par with other JRPG’s. The main formula for the story progression has been altered as well. Gone are the gyms of the previous games, and in its place are the island trials and grand trials. The island trials feature a fairly easy puzzle or puzzles, followed by a fight with a tougher than usual Totem Pokemon. The Totem Pokemon can call for help here too, and never seems to fail. If you approach the fight the wrong way, the Totem Pokemon and its helper can use move combos against you, and can be fairly tough (I actually lost one fight in this play through, despite being familiar with the game). Alternately, a Totem Pokemon can be quite easy if you take it out quickly. The grand trial is the last fight before changing islands, and it is against the Kahuna of the island, who does, thankfully, have multiple Pokemon to face.
The game does feature a lot of cut scenes. They occur almost every time you reach a new objective or area, and makes the game feel slower than it could have been. Many previous games didn’t do this nearly as often.
I should also note that navigating the game world now includes ride Pokemon. Gone are the HM’s of previous games which required you to have weak moves on Pokemon in your party. Once you get far enough in the game, you can call ride Pokemon at will to remove obstacles, or move on water and such. This does free up your party to be set up as you like it.
So, I will now give you some notes and recommendations of play:
- Play at your own pace, and for your own reasons!
- Feel free to explore or catch Pokemon at your own leisure.
- If you do not like playing in online battles or catching all the Pokemon, you may not want to play past the story or post game.
- Sun and Ultra Sun versions have a normal day-night cycle.
- Moon and Ultra Moon have an inverted day-night cycle.
- Each version has different Pokemon to catch. You can trade with others to get what isn’t in your version.
- In my opinion, Sun and Moon versions have a slightly better, (if very similar) story in comparison to the Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon versions.
- Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have more and better versions of each feature, including more Pokemon to be found in these games.
- Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon versions are required for the current live tournaments (at least until the 2019 season is complete), if this is why you play, pick the Ultra variations.
- If you don’t care about the above, pick only one of the available versions; Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, or Ultra Moon. You may not appreciate playing the same or almost the same game twice.
Now it is time for the Pro’s and Con’s:
- The story is strong for a Pokemon game.
- Features the best graphics to date for a Pokemon game.
- Variation in story progression is fresh.
- One of the harder games if you aren’t prepared (most Pokemon games are a tad too easy).
- Z-moves adds more variety to online play.
- UI improvements and hyper training lowers the barrier of entry to competition level play.
- In game Pokedex doesn’t feature all Pokemon (Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon versions have more, but many are still missing!)
- Fewer features than the Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon versions.
- Numerous cut scenes slow game play.
So the final verdict?
8.1/10 Great, but not groundbreaking for the series.
(Note: Most Pokemon games could fall in the 7.5 to 8.5 range: this one is no different. For the most part, this game is best for the fans of the video games, and may feel differently by a small margin.)
And that was my review of Pokemon Sun and Moon versions. What did you think of these games? Did you prefer the Ultra Sun and Moon games? Was there something missing in Sun and Moon from other games you wish was in this game? Tell me all this and why in the comments below!