Pokémon is a series that Nintendo doesn’t often experiment with. I mean, sure there are spin off games, but rarely does the main series divert too far from the usual “beat the gym leaders, collect the Pokémon” motif. That’s changed with Pokémon Sun and Moon, and it makes for the best games the series has ever seen. Sun and Moon honor the now 20 year old series (god, I feel old), while still reinventing the gameplay enough to make the series feel fresh and exciting once more.
The chief shake up, which may seem small to non-Pokemon fans, is that the Gym Leader fights are gone. Alola, the new region of islands clearly based on Hawaii, thus feels like much more of an actual place and less of a “map” to get from one gym leader to another. There are side quests, mysteries, hidden areas that must be accessed after you’ve learned new skills, but by and large Sun and Moon are still linear story-based affairs. Only difference, and it’s a big one, is that the archipelago of Alola actually feels like a place and has a story all its own now and that alone makes Sun and Moon feel much more like RPGs and not just pet-training games.
In the Gyms’ place are Island Trials – these can range to be everything from puzzles to quizzes, mazes, and so forth. There are several trials on every island except the first, and they don’t just happen in a clearly marked place either. Each one culminates in a boss fight with a powerful Pokémon, but you no longer need to just snooze and spam attacks through each Gym to get to the leader and that’s refreshing. They act like actual JRPG dungeons now, and it’s about time. The battle system got some upgrades as well, with the Z-Crystal skills giving you one-off powerful ultimate abilities to use each battle.
The story itself, while still hokey like all good Pokémon stories are, is really well presented here. The visuals of Sun and Moon really push the 3DS and devs make good use of cinematic style presentation with cut scenes. And when it goes silly, as it often does with the hip-hop styled Team Skull, it doesn’t hold back. These guys’ mannerisms and speaking will make you laugh and cringe and it’s clear that Nintendo wanted you to do both. There’s a general sense of mystery to Alola that’ll keep you going along, even if parts of the journey feel a little grindy or to require too much walking back and forth.
Speaking of that, by the end of the first island you’ll get your own Tauros to ride – Pokémon gets its own version of an MMO mount! Plus he can bust through rocks in your path, so he has a dual purpose. Sun and Moon are full of little things and convenience features like this. Info on what skills are effective on an enemy is proudly displayed on the battle screen, you can use your last-used poke-ball without diving into the menus and so forth. Lots of time obviously went into making Pokémon feel more convenient and less tiresome to play.
And of course, the new Pokémon themselves, along with the old favorites are all much better designed than the ones we got with X and Y. Rowlet, Litten, and Popplio all have great new evolutions and are cute as can be in their first forms as well. Rockruff is bound to be a favorite too. But Bewear is probably my new favorite because of its “I’m a bear and I walk upright” looks with pink and gray coloring.
Pokémon’s not for everyone. I know a lot of “serious gamers” who wouldn’t touch the series. But it’s been special to me since I was 12, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. With a rumored Nintendo Switch port of Sun and Moon coming next year, and the supreme success of these two new titles, I don’t see the legacy of Pikachu and his friends ending anytime soon. Now if only we could get that full on MMO from Nintendo one day…
FINAL SCORE – 8/10 – Recommended!