Hello again, old friend.
Each time a mainline Pokémon game releases for a Nintendo handheld, there’s something in the air in the gaming community. With Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, this feeling is elevated ten-fold. Like 2013’s releases, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, Sun and Moon bring not only new creatures, but also new forms of existing ones that we know and love. It’s a crazy world they live in, but it is indeed a beautiful one.
The Pokémon series isn’t exactly known for its speedy introduction sequences. Earlier games in the franchise often took near an hour to dive into the world, and while X and Y eschewed this tradition by speeding things up, Sun and Moon do so even further. Some players will also no doubt enjoy that the opening sequence comes complete with the near-shirtless bodybuilding Professor Kukui. This ain’t your kid’s Professor Oak.
Despite the aging hardware of Nintendo 3DS, Pokémon Sun and Moon offer a lot of visual fidelity. Somehow, The Pokémon Company has managed to squeeze even more performance out of the machine since releasing X and Y three years ago.
Yes, you can still see individual pixels, but nothing would ever tip you off that the game is running on nearly six year old hardware, let alone a portable that doesn’t have a remarkably beefy processor to begin with. There were very few framerate dips, though we did notice the game chug ever so slightly in moments with more detailed animations and a lot of action on screen.
The beautiful mix of 2D and 3D assets is still a visual wonder that hasn’t been pulled off better by any other game before it. X and Y started the trend of the mixed visuals, and it works even better this time around with the ability to ride Pokémon around town like you own the place.
There is little to say about audio in Sun and Moon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; Pokémon has always had iconic music, and it seems to continue that trend. With that said, there isn’t any innovation on the music front that wows us. The music here may not be iconic in the same way previous Pokémon games have been, but that is a mix of the audio tracks being new and us waxing poetic about the original series more than we probably should be.
In a sentence, the audio in Pokémon Sun and Moon is as expected, but nothing more.
This is where the series may start to diverge for long-time Pokémon fans. In the biggest change since the original series, the system of gyms that has always been the hallmark gameplay loop has been replaced by something known as the Island Challenge. Before purists start to see this as cause for rebellion, the new system actually works quite well.
Instead of a series of battles with increasingly difficult foes and backtracking to Pokémon Centres only to head back into battle (and likely repeat this process multiple times over), you face smaller challenges, including some non-combative ones like memory puzzles and scavenger hunts. A few of these are a bit boring, but they shake things up a little bit; innovation always comes with a few stumbles.
Aside from this change, there are a few subtle differences between Sun and Moon that could make players choose between one version of the game over another. In Pokémon Moon, the clock is set ahead by 12 hours, so the vast majority of gameplay that happens during the day in the player’s respective region will actually be nighttime in the game. We prefer an outwardly vibrant community of trainers and other activities, but some may find the darker setting mellow and soothing.
Battles are of course a major facet of the games, and the touchscreen provides a veritable ton more information about a creature’s move set than ever before. For new players or those who just want to take it easy, it’s simple enough to ignore this information, but for the players who prefer to squeeze every stat out of the game, this level of detail will certainly come in handy.
The new region, Alola, is very clearly inspired by Hawaii, and as such, is lush, beautiful, and inspiring. There is a small island you call home, another with a vacation resort, a volcano, and other various attractions. It calls back to the very first Pokémon game design doc which had unique cities that are all distinguishable by tone and layout.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are much more focused on story than previous games. There has always been a very strong thread running throughout the series as a whole, but it is clear the direction of Sun and Moon is one of a slower exploration. It fits with a more relaxed island lifestyle, if you will.
There’s a mystery going on throughout the 30-hour story, ramped up from the usual mystery we find in Pokémon games. There’s a delicate balance that The Pokémon Company managed to achieve here. We wanted to discover the world and story while also finding as many Pokémon as possible. It seems simple but previous games always had me rushing from one city to the next, rushing into battle. There’s a tendency to want to slow down in this peaceful world. It’s a lovely thing we should all probably do in our everyday lives, too.
In addition to new creatures (81 of them), there are also classic Pokémon with a new Alolan form. Many original Pokémon live in All, but they take on different forms to better suit them to their environment. There are Alolan Sandshrews and Alolan Meowth, to name a few. These forms take on an alternate type, often very different from their original typing, if not completely opposite. Alolan Geodude, for example, is a Rock and Electric type, while Alolan Exeggutor takes on a Dragon type, not to mention an extremely elongated neck. Some Pokémon even look completely different. Diglett’s Alolan form has blonde hair. No joke.
These new forms are actually quite interesting, but it remains to be seen how they’ll factor into future games. It seems that Pokémon could theoretically be any type going forward (there’s an Ice type Vulpix and Ninetales now), and even if they don’t fit in with the environment, who is to say a future game won’t see a trainer visiting from another region and bring along their Water type Pidgey that somehow knows how to use Surf?
Pokémon Sun and Moon may very well be the best games in the series since Red, Blue, and Yellow hit North American shores nearly 20 years ago. The setting is entirely new but very inspired, and lush for new creatures. With over 750 Pokémon now, Alolan types add a unique twist to the series rather than just adding a bunch more creatures (which they did anyway). The updated battle and move mechanics may not be for everyone, but they progress the series by moving away from tried and true gameplay in favour of switching things up a bit to keep them fresh.
And what a fresh game this is considering how storied the franchise is.
- Visual fidelity is exceptional
- Story is the perfect blend of battle and narrative
- Alolan form Pokémon are certainly unique
- Audio doesn't do anything spectacular