It seems like every holiday season comes with the addition of a new Pokémon game. 2017 is no different. This year brings what will in all likliehood be the last handheld only addition to the series. How does the game stack up? Lets take a look.
This is something we have seen in every single main line Pokémon game since Ruby and Sapphire released. The player, a young child, is given a friend monster and told to go out and be the very best. This undoubtedly results in the player eventually becoming chosen by some sort of Pokémon deity, and then saving the world.
This basic premise is wholly intact here. Players have recently moved to the tropical Alola region with their mom from the Kanto region. Upon meeting a few friends and the Pokémon professor, the player goes on the island challenge. This sounds new, but is really just iteration on the “Pokemon League” storyline and progression.
The premis stands above the original Sun and Moon. There are new story beats that are introduced as early as the first 30 minutes. This is a welcome departure, because, even though the story in sun and Moon was a cut above the rest of the series, it continues to grow here. the story beats that are introduced are meaningful in a way that makes the task meaningful for people who have already played Sun and Moon. The story sets up the endgame contentin a way that really works and does not feel forced.
A tried and true formula:
The main formula that Pokémon has been built on is present in largely unchanged ways.
Players still pick a partner monster and set out in the world. Along the way, players capture monsters and use them on their own team. Similar to Sun and Moon, players take part in the Alola island challenge. Players go about the island, fighting powerful trainers and taking part in trials. The gameplay loop remains the same as it did in the past, with a few key differences.
The first difference is that gyms are still replaced by trials. They culminate in challenging a super-powered pokémon, but lack actual leaders. It is disapointing that only two of the trials, out of seven or eight, have meaningful redesigns. This makes the others a bit of a chore, but the newly designed trials are really fun and special. The game still culminates in a league challenge against someone the player has known for the entire game.
There are no hidden moves, or, moves that players need to use in order to progress. This was a hugely welcome change in the original sun and Moon. Now, players can borrow pokémon to cross terrain and move over water. Known as PokéRide, you can ride on Lapras, Tauros and more. There are two new PokéRide mini games: Mantine Surf, where you surf between islands on a Mantine.
The biggest change comes in the endgame. After finishing the Pokémon League, the player participates in some postgame story. One of these is a subplot where Team Rainbow Rocket has ressurected itself after being destroyed by Red and Gold and invades Alola. This is extremely cool, and is a welcome addition and throwback to the rest of the series.
When you aren’t tracking down super criminals, you can use the other new PokéRide mini game to ride on a legendary monster to find monsters in other worlds. These are rare monsters not found in alola, and you can also find just about every single legendary, non-mythical pokémon this way. Monsters that are grouped in threes need to trade to get the third, but with so many monsters in the game, this is alright by me.
All of these changes are for the positive. There was no point in playing through this game where I lamented a change or was annoyed by how the game progressed. Players can turn off the experience share device to modify the dificulty, and without it, the game does get hard.
These games are really pushing the limits of what is possible on the aging 3DS hardware. The games do not present in 3D anywhere and there are lots of frame rate drops. The models look muddy as well.
There is some good news. The music is as incredible as ever. When you fight legends in the postgame, you hear music from their original game. That was a huge and welcome surprise.
There isn’t much else to say here. The presentation did not blow me away in the slightest. While Pokémon games have gone modern, their visuals have failed to grow. 3D models of monsters are nice, but when everything else looks kind of crappy, is that worth it? Hopefully this will be resurrected when the games finally come to the Switch.
Pokémon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon