Pokémon Sun and Moon Review
The twentieth anniversary of Pokémon has been something really special. We’ve been introduced to Pokémon Go, the original games have been released on the Virtual Console, and we’ve been teased and treated to more information prior to a mainline Pokémon release than ever before. Pokémon Sun and Moon is the culmination of this anniversary and thankfully it lives up to the hype and expectations, all while being a fitting tribute to the world of Pokémon.
Sun and Moon begun unlike any other Pokémon game before it; instead of a cold-Professor introduction, the whole presentation kicks off right into the story. There’s a bit of mystery and then we’re off and following your adventure through the Alola region, a region unlike any we’ve seen before. There’s Kanto fan service from the get go, you and your in-game mother have moved to the region and where everything is done a little different. It’s a great metaphor and will help people who perhaps haven’t played a game in some time but also introduce new Pokémon Go players who may only be familiar with the original set of monsters.
The game’s opening hours play fairly similar to previous games; you learn to battle, you get your starter Pokémon, and learn about how things are done in the Alolan region. Oh boy, does it show how things are done in the region! The game holds your hand for at least the opening two hours if not more (depending on how fast you play through it). At every intersection, in nearly every new screen you’re stopped and forced to talk to people, learn something new and never learn it for yourself.
At every intersection, in nearly every new screen you’re stopped and forced to talk to people, learn something new and never learn it for yourself.
Even now, where I am 15+ hours into the game it still feels like you aren’t left off the chain. In older Pokémon games you would be stopped and interrupted by NPCs but never directed for hours through the story by it. Every time I was stopped by Hau, Lillie or Professor Kukai it felt like they were deliberately slowing me down so I couldn’t explore the game at my own pace.
Thankfully the game’s story core has changed enough and add new elements added that least there were some unexpected things and some old Pokémon legacy tropes thrown away. Instead of being Red and trying to be the best Pokémon trainer, collecting eight badges and defeating the elite four like we’ve done for the past twenty years, Sun and Moon throw that entirely out the window with a new trials and challenges system. As you move from island to island you’ll have to defeat a number of trials, then beat each island Kahuna. These colourful folk will challenge you and once you beat them you can progress to the next island. There is, of course, an enemy team you’ll come up against, perhaps the wackiest and least threatening team we’ve seen. There’s no world altering nastiness of Team Aqua or Magma or thuggery of Team Rocket, well they want to steal Pokémon but they’re just not really good at it and look like a bunch of teenagers trying to be rappers.
There’s so much more to the game’s story we can’t talk about, things get interesting after the third island and then there’s the crazy post game content as well.
So it’s not just the story that has gotten a shake up, there’s several game mechanics – some of which have been around for 20 years which have gotten the chop. The first up is Hidden Machines or HMs; no longer do you need a mule to carry around on your team to fly and surf around, instead you have a Ride Pager. This ride pager, it’s like Uber but for Pokémon. You simply summon up a Tauros to ride on and smash rocks in leui of a bike, a Charizard will fly you around, a Stoutland to sleuth for items or Lapras to surf around. These Pokémon aren’t on your team and they can be summoned from almost anywhere. Thank god we got rid of HMs.
The other big addition to Sun and Moon are Z-Moves, which in order to perform them you’ll need not only the Z-Ring, but also crystals to power it. There’s crystals for every move type and you can only make Pokémon hold these moves which match the type of crystal or if that Pokémon has a move matching that type. Some Z-Moves can be only performed by some Pokémon, but some other moves can be performed just by holding the crystal. No one but Snorlax can pull off a Pulverising Pancake for example. These moves don’t add a lot to the game much like Mega Evolutions but they play into the story that Pokémon are more powerful when the trainer and Pokémon are more in sync. Whether or not they’ll be back for the next game, Game Freak were smart not to make it change the Pokémon in anyway unlike Mega Evolution.
Whether or Z-Moves will be back for the next game, Game Freak were smart not to make it change the Pokémon in anyway unlike Mega Evolution.
There’s a hundred little changes to the game and it would take more than a review length to list them all. It’s worth mentioning a few of them though. The talking Rotom Pokémon is a interesting companion, but doesn’t really offer much more than simple guidance, but the light humour that’s thrown in is a nice addition. Simple additions like being able to press Y to get to a Pokéball to catch Pokémon make the game feel more modern. This applies to being able to look up what your moves actually do mid-battle and being able to tell if your moves are effective or not against different Pokémon types while removing some difficulty, overall is a good addition. Even after playing Pokémon games for 20 years even I need a refresher on some moves.
There are some annoying features, mostly how early you get the Exp. Share. It makes the game even easier than it already is with your team all levelling up at basically the same time now. There’s no need to switch out Pokémon unless they’re taking a battering. You can of course turn off the Exp. Share and be more ‘traditional’ if that’s your thing, it was for me. The other annoying addition is the ‘call to help’ that wild Pokémon can do, they summon another one of their type to battle, usually when you’ve just weakened them enough to catch them. It feels a bit like another way to slow down the game’s story, but at least with so many Pokémon spawning you’re more likely to see a shiny one.
Pokémon games aren’t just about the adventure or the story, there’s a whole wide range of side activities to partake in and there’s of course the competitive side of the game as well. The majority of this takes place in the new Festival Plaza which isn’t anywhere in the game, but is in your main menu. This plaza allows you to earn coins to spend at various shops, the more you spend the bigger your plaza gets. You can work on boosting your Pokémon’s stats at the Bouncy House, dye your clothes to change your look, get your fortune told, buy a lottery ticket, and have meals at a fancy restaurant which boosts your Pokémon stats. Not all the shops will be available at first, you’ll need to unlock those with the coins.
The Festival Plaza is also where you go to battle and trade either online or locally. The Pokémon Global Link and GTS are also here, pretty much everything to do with playing with other people resides under the one roof. Another way to earn coins for the plaza is to do missions; the missions can be played with other players locally or online and by completing them you’ll earn festival coins. Missions include finding people who speak different languages, type matchup tests, find other players dressed up like yourself or find guests in the your plaza wearing a specific colour. It’s nothing too taxing but a nice diversion from beating your mates’ Pokémon senseless in battles.
Can’t go anywhere without talking about the game’s presentation, technically it’s pushing the Nintendo 3DS to absolute max, there’s no 3D effects anywhere other than the Pokémon Snap like PokeFinder mode (which is a novelty at best). It’s clear the ambition for the Pokémon series has now outgrown the system. The game looks stunning and your little Nintendo 3DS screen is a gateway to a tropical paradise, but just one that runs a slower framerate. It’s worth mentioning that the older 3DS models and the 2DS struggle with this one as well, the entire system needs to shut down the OS and reboot to start up and the loading between scenes and locations is noticeably slower. One area where you can’t fault the game is the audio however, the soundtrack is terrific from the opening beats, to the field music. Whether or not we’ll be bopping along to the tunes here in another 20 years remains to be seen – but it’s nice.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are a contradiction; on the surface they appear to be made for the new or returning Pokémon player with their overwrought hours long introduction and handholding. On the other hand, the game is absolutely filled with references to Kanto and the new Alolan forms are great fan service and the tools for professional trainers are perfect.
The game is absolutely filled with references to Kanto and the new Alolan forms are great fan service.
It would be easy to suggest that Game Freak put in a veteran option but the game’s narrative and presentation is so intertwined around these mechanics to skip over of them would mean you miss out on the best presented Pokémon game ever. From the start the game sweeps and pans around the beautiful Alola region and the world is alive, battles are more complex and visual with the trainers on the battlefield.
Pokémon Sun and Moon make terrific changes the twenty-year-old formula, allowing new fans and returning ones back into the series with a wonderful lively and colourful world. It’s just a little too easy for us who have been here from the start – but it’s easy to forgot that when you’re having such a blast.
Played on a New Nintendo 3DS, game provided by Nintendo
- Amazing setting
- Well presented story
- Tools for both new players and old
- Alolan Exeggutor
- The dark Pokédex entries haunt me
- Way too easy
- Holds your hands for hours
- Never truly feels like you're exploring