Game: Pokémon Sun and Moon
Developer: Game Freak
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 18th, 2016
Can you remember that day? When you first plugged in that red or blue cartridge into your Gameboy? It was your first Pokémon experience, and it would pave the way for hundreds of hours of fun with these little pocket monster RPG’s. The latest installment in the series is once again eating up all of my time; maybe I’ll even fill out that Pokédex like little me always dreamed of.
Full disclosure upfront, I based my review in its entirety on my experience with moon version. The only differences between the two games are certain exclusive Pokémon as well as an entirely reversed day and night cycle in Moon. I got most of my playing done in the late evening, so it was nice to see the light of day.
So, I’ll just come out and say it before we get into the nitty-gritty, this game is good, like really good. With Sun and Moon Pokémon finally had the courage to get the game out of its comfort zone and formula. Gone are gym leaders and badges, in their stead we have Trial Captains and Island Kahunas. On top of the shake-ups to the basic Pokémon formula Sun and Moon also have a far stronger narrative than we’ve seen from the series in the past. For the first time, the game even opens with a scene featuring another character rather than opening in our protagonist’s room.
So let’s talk about the Alola trials. Pokémon Sun and Moon takes place in the Alola Region, which serves as a sort of analog for the Hawaiian islands. In this new tropical locale, there are no Pokémon Gyms, or Pokémon League to speak of, instead of the League challenge, when Alolan kids come of age the depart on the Island Trials.
Each of the four islands is home to a number of Trial Captains, each of the captains trains up a super strong Pokémon known as a Totem Pokémon. Your trials consist of a challenge unique to the captain, defeating three of a particular type of Pokémon for example, or spotting the difference in two images. The trial captains will gift you Z-crystals for defeating them, which can be used to bring out ultra powerful moves in a Pokémon once per battle if they know a move that corresponds with that crystals type. Once a player has defeated all the captains on any given island, he or she can continue to face that islands Kahuna. Think of the Kahuna as the big gym battle for each of the four islands. Though it might be hard to repeat this same game formula again, I hope Game Freak keeps shaking up the series with new ideas like this.
The game’s narrative also is noticeably stronger than past Pokémon games. It took me a whopping thirty hours to reach the end which makes the game noticeably bigger than entries like Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire which can be beaten in around 12 hours. Sun and Moon feature likable more developed characters, plot twists that are somewhat obvious but still shake traditional Pokémon plots on their heads, and call backs to past games that had my nostalgia mines working overtime.
Sun and Moon look pretty as Pokémon games go. X and Y were a big step up visually for the series, and the trend is continued here. If rumors of a third game launching next year on the Switch are right, let’s hope it looks even more impressive. I want a Pokémon game on my Tv in all its glory.
The design of the new monsters is nothing to write home about but the redesigns of classic Pokémon like Sandshrew and Geodude are exciting for experienced players. “Hey, they took my pal Geoudude and gave him a mustache, that’s ok.”
The most significant benefits here are some basic quality of life improvements. Pokémon caught in the wild no longer get automatically whisked off to your PC. Instead, you’re given the option to swap them into your party right away. The biggest change, however, is the elimination of HM’s. That’s right, Hidden Machines no longer exist, no longer must a slave Pokémon fill up space in your party only to cut down trees and fly you across the map. Instead, players are given the ride pager, as the game progresses you’ll register Pokémon like Charizard to fly you around and Tarous to smash boulders in your path. Although you can’t use them in battle, they’ll be there at a moments notice to handle all of that grunt work.
With this last installment, Pokémon is to put it simply evolving. Sun and Moon aren’t perfect games, but they are pretty damn good and make an excellent template for future games. I’ve grown up with these games, and it’s nice to see them maturing and heading in a new direction. So let’s hope Nintendo and Game Freaks next outing is as innovative and exciting. Just please Game Freak let me turn off these tutorials. I’ve been playing these games for twenty years.
Score: 9 out 10