By Tyler Lubben / December 6th, 2016
As with every new game in the series, there is a mix of new, returning and (inexplicably) eliminated features. Probably the most immediately noticeable addition is Pokémon Refresh; a bit of a revamp to X and Y’s petting and feeding minigame, Pokémon-amie. After a battle, players can also use this to heal any pervading status effects without the need of a healing item. It was a nice feature at first, as I always loved petting my Rowlet for a good job after each battle, but I ultimately ended up ignoring it for much of the game except to heal the odd poison or paralysis after battle. Festival Plaza is your basic online mode where you can… sort of interact with other players online. I still don’t quite understand how the various special shops and random NPCs work, but you’ll be coming here a lot for online battling, trading and the returning Wonder Trade. Also making its debut in Sun and Moon is the Poké Pelago, a collection of islands that offers a variety of different services. At first, it seemed a little gimmicky to me, and I wasn’t too interested in looking deeper into it. You definitely owe it to yourself to take some time, though. From these islands, you can recruit some free (sometimes rare) Pokémon, find evolution stones or level up your Pokémons’ effort values to make them stronger, even while you aren’t playing. At the time of this writing, I actually have an Abra and Slowpoke training up their stats on Isle Evelup. I definitely ended up spending more time here than I anticipated.
Another new thing that Sun and Moon introduced was the concept of evolution. And I don’t mean the old “level up till your Pokémon changes forms” kind. I’m talking about it in a Darwinian sense. Several Gen 1 Pokémon return in Sun and Moon, but have adapted to Alola’s new environments. Meowth in this region are less accustomed to human contact and have gone feral. Vulpix and Sandshrew living in a snowy mountain range have taken on more winter-friendly forms. Geodude, subsisting on a diet of magnetic rocks, have taken on electrical properties. It’s a great way to breathe new life into certain Pokémon that have been around for years, but I felt like it was a fairly underused feature. Only a handful of Pokémon went through these changes, and, even then, it only happened to certain ones from Gen 1. While it may have somewhat missed the mark, I still enjoyed the changes to some classic Pokémon. Alolan Muk with its Poison/Dark type pairing has definitely found an honored spot on my team.
As a longtime fan, one of the most prominent changes I noticed in Moon was the elimination of Hidden Machine (HM) moves. Moves like Surf, Fly and Strength — used to traverse the game’s environments outside of battle — have been staples since the original Game Boy games. The main drawback of this was the fact that players would be forced to keep at least one Pokémon on their teams that would be able to use these moves just to ensure they would never run into a spot they couldn’t reach. All that has changed now with the inclusion of the Ride Pager, a device which allows you to call in certain Pokémon unlocked throughout the story. Tauros can be called in to smash rocks in your way and doubles as a faster method of travel (goodbye, bikes). Lapras allows you to cross bodies of water and reach new areas. Machamp can cradle you in its arms and push large stone blocks that hide secret areas. These are just a few of the Pokémon you’ll team up with throughout your journey, but the elimination of the long-irritating “HM Slaves” means that you can focus solely on the team you want rather than including those that don’t fit into your strategy just so you can explore more.
Despite some small disappointments here and there, Pokémon Moon was still a solid experience for me. The roughly 40-hour story should satisfy casual fans of the franchise, and may even surprise those who find the games’ plots a little too meager. Of course, longtime fans know that the real game doesn’t start until after the credits roll. With new areas opening up, new legendaries to catch and new, more powerful trainers to take on, there’s plenty to do after the story is wrapped up. I’m eager to really dig into the metagame and breed a really great team. Sadly, the real real game won’t begin until Nintendo releases the Pokémon Bank update in January, allowing players to transfer all their old teams, legendaries and special fighters from previous games. Then the fun will truly begin. Until then, though, at the $40 pricetag, The Pokémon Company has really nailed it with this new iteration. Longtime fans and first timers will both find a lot to love in Pokémon Sun and Moon, and I’m sure it’s going to be a game that’s going to keep me busy for a long time.
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