|The Pokémon Company
|November 18, 2016
|ESRB – Everyone
There’s been a particular kind of Pokémon game I’ve wanted to play ever since the original Pokémon Stadium hit the West back in 1998. After seeing the amazing 3D models of the original Gen 1 Pokémon on the Nintendo 64, my 12-year-old mind was atwitter with the possibility of a Pokémon game that not only featured the much more animated models of the N64, but also a fully explorable 3D world with all the bells and whistles for which the mainline titles are known. This dream, sadly, would go unfulfilled throughout my childhood. Certain home console titles, like Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, would attempt to emulate the gameplay of the portable titles, but unusual mechanics and limited obtainable Pokémon prevented them from feeling like proper entries in the series. But now, with Pokémon Sun and Moon, the game I’ve wanted for so long is finally making an appearance. While it may not hit all the checkboxes I’d like, I still consider Game Freak’s latest outing the realization of a dream 20 years in the making.
I’m going to assume most everyone here has played at least one Pokémon game before, so I won’t bore you with the details of the game’s basic mechanics. You still catch Pokémon the same old way as always, battle trainers and try to build the perfect team. What I found particularly nice about Moon, though, is the way that some of the more cumbersome mechanics have been streamlined, and the game’s story, while not particularly deep compared to certain other titles, felt much more immersive thanks to the use of cinematic cutscenes and a lovable cast of supporting characters. Add in a sweet new graphics engine and some great additions to the Pokémon catalogue, and there’s a lot to enjoy here. Let’s get right to it.
As with every new generation before it, Moon starts players off by creating their avatar, made slightly deeper since Pokémon X and Y where the character’s skin color can be selected alongside gender. Once this is done, players find themselves in the new region of Alola, a tropical area based on the Hawaiian Islands. Soon after arriving at your new house with your mom, you’re paid a visit by Kukui, a professor who specializes in the study of Pokémon moves (generally by having them used on him). From here, the story plays out about the same way as any other game in the series. You’re taken to choose your first Pokémon – the fire cat, Litten; the water seal, Popplio; or the clear obvious choice, the leaf owl, Rowlet. After that, you’re introduced to the supporting cast who will aid you throughout your adventure. Hau, a local boy about your age, is your defacto rival, though he doesn’t take training quite as seriously as your Blues or Silvers of yesteryear. Kukui’s assistant, Lillie, will help you from time to time as well, and is also guarding a secret (albeit badly). In a lot of ways, Sun and Moon follow the well-trodden path paved by their predecessors, but they also do a few things differently to make it feel like a fresh experience.
Up until now, every game has followed the same general outline: catch Pokémon, make them stronger, take on the gym in each town and become the champion of the Pokémon League. But here’s the thing about Alola: they have no gyms, and there is no Pokémon League (yet). There’s still plenty for trainers in Alola to do, though. In lieu of the usual gym circuit, young trainers take part in the Island Trials; a series of challenges on Alola’s four islands based around each elemental type of Pokémon. They start off pretty standard, like having you reach the end of a cave to get a special item, but eventually get more entertaining. One trial has you trying to spot the differences between two dances with a team of Marowaks, while another one has you try to take pictures of Ghost Pokémon Fatal Frame-style. Each of these trials culminates in a battle with a powered up Totem Pokémon. Aside from just being bigger than the garden-variety version, Totem Pokémon also enjoy large state boosts and the ability to call in help to even the odds. It’s the closest thing to a boss fight this side of a proper gym leader battle. Successfully completing a trial nets you a Z-Crystal, which unlocks a powerful move for a Pokémon holding it. These also double as your gym badges as you’ll need to collect all of them before you’re allowed to take on the fledgling Alola Pokémon League. Unfortunately, not every Z-Crystal is earned in these trials, with more than a few of them simply handed off to you as you progress through the story. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, but it just feels strange to have such an important McGuffin just given to you. As a periodic break from the Trials, players will also come across the likes of Team Skull, the Alolan variation on Team Rocket that wants to steal people’s Pokémon for… apparently money? I don’t know, maybe I’d take them more seriously if they weren’t always trying to show me how hard they are with their crazy gang poses.
If I haven’t already made it clear, I was blown away by the graphics of Moon. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Pokémon game with graphics like these, but it is the first time we’ve seen it on a portable system, plus it’s never been on such grand a scale as this. Also, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque setting to show off these new graphics than Alola. Character models have cast aside the old chibi art style of previous titles for more anatomically-correct portrayals. Everything just looks more detailed, and cities and other environments look livelier than ever with bigger areas to explore. Sadly, you’re going to see quite a few of the same NPCs everywhere you go, since all the Lasses, Ace Trainers, Swimmers and Hikers look the same. But at least X and Y‘s Trainer Customization has returned, meaning that your own avatar at least can look as unique as you want. And, aside from the most hectic of 2 v 2 battles, the game runs at a constant buttery-smooth framerate. Don’t bother with the 3D slider on your 3DS, though. Its usage is nigh non-existent, aside from the game’s picture-taking minigame. The music, too, takes on a suitably tropical feel to go along with the setting. Almost everywhere you go, you can hear a relaxing guitar in the background, and picking up items plays the familiar “Item Get” fanfare from the first game, but with the twang of a ukulele. It’s a near-perfect mix of visual and audio, and you quickly find yourself sucked into the experience because of it. One of the highlights is definitely the theme when battling an Island Kahuna. It’s a fantastic mix of urgency and fun that you’d expect from such a pivotal battle: