With the release of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, there are now 802 confirmed Pokémon, throughout all the games. 802 ridiculous Pokémon names which give me ample material to make terrible puns as I talk you through my thoughts on the latest release in the franchise.
Pokémon Sun and Moon open with a surprisingly large amount of dialogue and cut scenes to set up the story, as you begin your adventure through the region of Alola, the Pokéversion of Hawaii. Nothing totally Onix-pected happens; you choose your starter, you bid your Mom farewell and off you set on your journey.
One small gripe I have is with how much hand-holding and tutorial aspects there are in the early stages of the game. I can understand it, as there are a lot of children who will be playing Pokémon for the first time, but for people like me, who’ve been playing Pokémon for as long as they can remember, an option to skip some of these more tedious sections would be appreciated.
Most of the changes to the game’s core mechanics are “quality of life” improvements. Gone are the days when one had to consult the various forums of the internet to find out which types were effective against which. The rock-paper-scissors, or should I say water-fire-grass, combat system now lets you see which of your Pokémon’s moves are effective against your opponent’s.
Traversing the world is also made more streamlined, as the need for HM moves has been removed. Instead of using strength to push a boulder, or rock smash to clear away the rubble, you now simply summon a ‘Ride Pokémon’ to help you on your way. Be it a Tauros (a buffalo-like Pokémon) to break down boulders in your way, or a Charizard (he’s a dragon to me, damn it) to fly you across the map, this new ‘Ride Pager’ system is Absol-utely more fun and engaging than the HM system.
They also introduced a shortcut to throwing a Pokéball, as in two quick presses of a button, you can capture that Pokémon and have it obey your every command. I don’t know what to do with all my free time now that I only have to press two buttons to throw my Pokéball rather than three or four, great job Game Freak!
Perhaps the biggest change the Pokémon Sun and Moon introduce is the decision to remove Gyms and badges from the game. Instead you travel from island to island in Alola, facing various trials and captains as you ultimately look towards taking down the Kahuna, the toughest trainer on the island. It is a refreshing change, holidaying on these paradise islands, not having to struggle down a linear path of collecting eight badges and catching a legendary Pokémon before saving the world. That is, of course, until you encounter the “sinister” Team Skull, the games antagonist, and you catch a legendary Pokémon… and maybe save the world… how many ten year old kids have saved the Pokémon world by now?
Having said that, I think Game Freak have done a good job of keeping each island fresh and interesting, through the variety they added to the Island Trials. The first trial on the starter island has you battle three weaker Pokémon before facing off against the ‘Totem Pokémon’ who is essentially a beefed up version of the previous Pokémon. Other trials have you taking photos of Pokémon to get the best score, which is reminiscent of Pokémon Snap, or collecting ingredients to prepare a Pokémon lure. These additions made it easier for me to play through another Pokémon game, having become slightly jaded of the same ole formula game after game.
Team Skull, as I mentioned, are the games antagonistic group, they are basically your modern day Team Rocket, though no one will ever reach the heights of Jesse and James (literally). While I did find them a-Mew-sing in my first few encounters with them, they quickly became stale. Their quest to steal other people’s Pokémon is altogether too familiar and they come across as laughably pathetic at times. These plots in Pokémon games always irked me as they took me away from the “real” game, my journey to beat the Pokémon league and become the very best, like no one ever was.
There a few other additions, like the Z-moves, which are like the mega-stones of the more recent games, which were used to super power certain Pokémon with temporary further evolutions. You give your Pokémon a Z-crystal, activate your Z-Bracelet, use your Z-move, realise it does barely more damage than the regular moves and never use it again because the animation takes so much time to complete.
Mega-Evolutions were such a dominant feature in the two previous instalments, Pokémon X & Y and Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, that it was surprising to see the feature take a backseat in this iteration. Speaking with Eurogamer, Pokémon director Junichi Masuda stated “What we have now is a way for people to use the Pokémon they want to use, so their favourites types, their favourite Pokémon, even those which perhaps weren’t so popular before, now they can focus on their favourites in battle.” At least now players can make their favourite Pokémon more powerful, but it would have been nice to see some new Mega-Evolutions this time around.
Overall, Pokémon Sun and Moon are essentially the same Pokémon experience that we are used to getting with every new release, with a few upgrades here and there to make the game feel more modern and approachable. The game is not without its flaws, but it manages to reinvigorate itself to keep it fresh for the seasoned players but also manageable for newcomers. I’m excited to keep playing after the credits have rolled, to see what new Pokémon await me in my journey to catch ‘em all.