You know when a piece of game music turns into an ear-worm and it makes you want to dive back in every 20 seconds?
That’s what Pokemon Moon’s battle music has been doing to me for the last week. I think I’m out for a few hours, then suddenly I’m sat watching Westworld, eating pizza and garlic knots, and it’s there again, drowning out another of Anthony Hopkins’ thought-provoking monologues.
The irony isn’t lost on me that we’ve gone from walking for hours on end, searching for something that isn’t a Zubat, to curling up in bed, twiddling a thumbstick around some long grass in the hopes of bumping into a Pikachu. And even though it’s apparent that Niantic couldn’t replicate the same spirit and feel of a traditional Pokemon title, the introduction of the mobile phenomena has unquestionably given this franchise a new lease on life.
Despite this being the Seventh Generation, Game Freak have managed to create a title that will not only appeal to traditionalists, but equally open the door to the inevitably large surge of new players inspired to see what all the fuss is about.
And there’s plenty of fuss to be made because Pokemon Sun and Moon is an absolute delight. There is just so much soul and heart here and you can’t help but immediately get swept up by Alola, a gigantic grin firmly planted on that face the entire time. It’s a place that not only has a unique ability to unlock doors to your childhood, but also feel like a relaxing haven you never want to leave.
Reminicsant of Hawaii, Alola is a tropical region made up of several islands. Prospective trainers will meet Professor Kukui who teaches them the ropes and helps them discover their first Pokemon. The aim is to traverse the islands, beating other trainers of various skill levels, completing trials, and collecting the best, strongest Pokemon before Team Skull get to them.
Traditionalists may fault the paced out, tutorials during the first few hours of the game, but there is so much to take in with these games that it’s almost impossible not to give some sort of guiding hand to newcomers. Don’t worry though, once the game sets itself up, you’re free to roam as you please and everything opens up very quickly. There’s also plenty to discover and learn about this beautiful world.
The sense of progress also feels great, with barriers gradually being lifted as you explore the islands and go looking for stronger Pokemon. And while the difficulty naturally increases, you always feel capable and competent in battle areas providing you put in the work of training your allies properly.
A big part of this comes from completing the various Trials scattered throughout Alola. If you fulfil the set objectives – from beating x amount of Pokemon, to finding a particular type – and then fight the Totem Pokemon that resides there, you can then gather a Z-Crystal which unlocks Z-Moves. These Z-Moves are exciting, powerful attacks which vary between your allies and offer brash, flashy animation sequences that can wipe out wild creatures in moments.
Havig said that, some of these attacks can feel a little overhyped and built up by not having a desired impact. Sitting through such an epic animation only to see a small portion of health stripped away can be a bit irksome. They can also be countered quite easily on occassion which almost seems improbable.
It’s also important to mention that both games have introduced various new Pokemon, including various memorable additions. Salazzle, for instance, is a poison-carrying Pokemon that also uses fire and offers a deadly corrosion ability. And, of course, the lovable Rowlet who glides unsuspectedly down onto his enemies.
These are supported by the new Ultra Pokemon, which may remind you a bit of Summons from Final Fantasy in terms of their size, stature, and overally impressive abilities. They’re not traditionally, animalistic looking Pokemon, but they give off a distinctly otherworldly vibe in comparison to the rest. Of course, they’re extremely rare, and scarcely populated through the game, but the feeling of genuine excitement, nerves, and anticipation prior to that confrontation has been absent from the series for sometime.
The beautiful, cel-shaded aesthetic really draws out substance and satisfaction at every turn and the opening hours are full of Pokemon that will be familiar to everyone, while introducing new additions in a smart, natural way. Each island also has its own look and feel as well, seperating one from the next and allowing Game Freak to be experimental and creative in some truly surprising ways.
It is very interesting to note, however, that 3D support has been almost completely dropped and is restricted to use in the Poke Finder. It’s been said this is to improve the overall performance of the game, and isn’t a huge surprise as 3D support has gradually been stripped away from previous titles. Still, it’s a little sad the option isn’t available at all.
Fortunately, performance is rock solid. Pokemon Sun and Moon is gorgeous to look at, and the action moves very smoothly and steadily. The environment is extremely alive, from flowing water to weather effects, and the characters are extremely expressive and animated. Although, some do look very pixelated up close.
Game Freak haven’t really changed the Pokemon formula radically. They’ve often stuck with what works, but tweaked some of the features in clever ways to freshen up the action. For one thing, Pokemon Refresh is a sweet grooming and pandering mini game you can play to boost the morale of your Poke pals. You can comb muck out of their fur, use medicine to cure some ailments, give them a rub on the head, and even feed them.
But the best feature has to be that Sun and Moon makes use of your boxed up Pokemon. Previous games have been guilty of letting them just sit there and look pretty. Now they can actually be trained up, and even encourage other Pokemon to seek you out. This might even encourage you to swap out your Pokemon more often as they can reach a similar level to those already in your party.
And, of course, there’s the Festival Plaza. This is a fantastic communication hub that lets you get as much, or as little out of it as you like. You can go around chatting to people normally and boost the level of the Festival while adding in new stalls and attractions. Or you can trade with others, have battles, and even compete in fun mini games. There’s even extensive character customisation possibilities which have been a staple of previous games.
For a base package, not only is Sun and Moon incredibly polished, but it’s so effortlessly entertaining and varied that it reminds us why we fell in love with this series in the first place. It may even be the greatest Pokemon game ever designed as it not only flaunts the series’ greatest strengths, but it manages to be as compulsive as it is compelling.
Either way, this is easily one of the best releases across any system this year. Pokemon Sun and Moon is the cherry on top of a library oozing with quality and is further proof that the 3DS might be the greatest gaming platform – in terms of essential, exclusive releases – of the last decade.
+ Beautiful, refreshing, stylish, and incredible stable and smooth
+ Clever tweaks on familiar mechanics and exciting new additions
+ New Z-Moves and Ultra Pokemon give the franchise a real shot of adrenaline.
+ Many memorable new Pokemon that are sure to be fan-favourites
+ One of the best games of the year
– Tutorial like opening may frustrate series veterans
– Stereoscopic 3D almost completely removed
– Z-Moves can sometimes feel a bit anti-climatic
– Character models look a bit pixelated up close
Pokemon Sun and Moon
9.5 / 10
Platform review : – New 3DS
Version Tested: Pokemon Moon