Early Impressions: POKÉMON SUN AND MOON SPECIAL DEMO VERSION

In this Crossfader series, our video games staff takes a look at early versions of upcoming releases so that you can know which hype trains to board.

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As the tidal wave that was POKÉMON GO swiftly dies down into a forgettable mist, fans are getting something heartier to whet their appetite in the POKÉMON SUN AND MOON SPECIAL DEMO. Of course, hype follows every iteration of Pokémon like flies on dung, but SUN AND MOON’s new features seem much more out-of-the-box than previous endeavors. Promotional videos have revealed an array of interesting new Pokémon, the tropical splendor of the new Alola region, and more than a few revamped creatures from other generations. Expanding on Mega Evolutions, and in line with the series’s various power-ups and status conditions, Alola’s geography allows certain Pokémon to be imbued with different traits mid-battle, altering their type, stats, and appearance. Now you can nab an icy Sandshrew or Ninetails! Who woulda thunk?

There are other instances that make old flames spark again, such as the player character’s “Z Ring,” a wrist contraption eerily similar to a Digimon Digivice, that signals a Pokémon to unleash a dazzling “Z-Move.” My favorite has to be the goofy dance moves you can perform with your Pokémon, fully taking advantage of the fact that both trainers and Pokémon are always visually present during battle. And that’s only the tip of the Diglett! It might not be reinventing the wheel, but SUN AND MOON promises to offer several new and fun dimensions to Pokémon that finally give a reason for old fans to return (exactly what the series needs after the POKÉMON GO user drop off).

sun and moon food

Food?

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The demo itself is much deeper than anyone could have imagined. Following an independent story completely separate from the main game, you play as Sun, a young new resident of Alola who mysteriously receives a level 36 Greninja. Right away, Sun is thrown into the world of Pokémon training in Hau’oli City with Professor Kukui (a decent professor, as he easily beats the glass daddy that was Willow and the not-so-suave Sycamore) and instant best friend Hau by his side. Writing, including dialogue, is as wooden and poorly translated as previous games, but is negated by the characters embracing the series’s anime feel. Dynamic cutscenes, though cemented in JRPG text boxes, play a more pivotal role than ever before as they create intrigue pertaining to Alola’s peculiar population. Every fellow trainer is introduced with a flashy, anime-intro-style name card that highlights their unique animations and character designs.

The demo also has a night and day system, using the 3DS calendar to trigger special events. It may not go as deep as MAJORA’S MASK or ANIMAL CROSSING in terms of time keeping, but making good on a promise to meet an NPC at a scheduled event and earning a reward adds depth.The world itself, as in the spaces you run around in, seems soulless and empty, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for being a demo. Trailers, on the other hand, make it seem like the game will hit every alluring stop with this tropical theme. (I may be biased. SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE is my favorite. Sue me.) This is merely the starting zone we’re exploring, and at least towards the end you get to ride around the area on a freakin’ Tauros! How cool is that!?

sun and moon sunn

Yo, is your name Sunn O)))?

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Embarrassing localization aside, the people at the Pokémon Company seem to have their fingers on the cultural pulse with SUN AND MOON. Running rampant in the Alola region are Pokémon stealers known as Team Skull. A slant on modern teen alternative (goth, rave, hip hop, you name it) culture, Skull members are the only characters in which poor translations are appropriate, as they parody wangsta inflections and mannerisms. Simply put, these guys beg for more of a beat down than their Team Rocket counterparts, and should prove to be fun targets for players to let out their Hot Topic-related frustrations ($20 for a Charmander shirt!?!?).

Playing cleverly into the real world warrior culture of Pacific island nations, Alola is all about completing trials that test trainers. Trials are more or less the replacement for Gyms, seeing as a few trials have been assigned type-specific “Trial Captains” in this run. The first one Kukui gives Sun, however, is a bit unorthodox, in that before battling a boss-tier “Totem” Pokémon, you must first get familiar with a new feature called the Poké Finder. Recalling memories of POKÉMON GO, along with the much adored POKÉMON SNAP, the Poké Finder is a camera that allows you to search for and engage with wild Pokémon from a first person perspective. Although its functionality in the demo is limited (no zoom, and Pokémon are relegated to obvious peep holes), you could easily see the Poké Finder used to fully appreciate Alola’s beautiful vistas or a new, realistic way to witness Pokémon in their natural habitat.

sun and moon rockruff

Rockruff evolves into a Lycanroc in Midnight form on the left if you have POKÉMON MOON, or a Midday form on the right with POKÉMON SUN, and holy crap this reminds me of Innistrad

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The functionality of every other part of the game seems to be even more streamlined than before. Sleek UI makes battling an absolute breeze, and sometimes even too easy, as each move will indicate whether it’s effective or not against a targeted enemy. Instead of huge baby buttons on the center of the bottom screen, we get several cute sprites summing up the crazy action on the top. Need to check how many Leers your baby has endured? Simply tap on its sprite to get a neat rundown on status effects and abilities, similarly with opposing Pokémon to exploit their weaknesses. It’s a nice little touch that makes strategizing all the more personal, perhaps more personal than the status transformations advertised.

The problem with Mega Evolutions in POKÉMON X AND Y was that the conditions for them seemed set even before a match began. Sure, seeing a sexy new Charizard or Mewtwo was cool, but rarely did their appearance ever change the course of battle. By adding variants to similar transformations, SUN AND MOON might make Z-Moves, dances, and different forms actual wild cards, but the demo doesn’t give the game a chance to prove that in any way. While Ash-Greninja looks badass, he only shows up after defeating another Pokémon, and thus merely heats up an already hot knife cutting through butter. The one Z-Move you do get to perform, Pikachu’s Gigavolt Havoc, is scripted to the degree that it pretty much serves as the demo’s “finale.” I’m not saying they’ll all be like this, but the demo sure doesn’t say otherwise.

sun and moon yungoos

Stakeout allows Yungoos to give some extra damage to Pokémon you have substituted in. He’s gonna deport any new Pokémon he sees, folks

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That being said, this demo definitely fulfills its purpose in getting me even more hyped for the game. Though it could have done a lot more to show off the final product, the new Pokémon, world, characters, story, and other features are all pointing in the right direction, and are enticing even doubtful Pokémon players such as myself.

POKÉMON SUN AND MOON SPECIAL DEMO VERSION is free to download on the Nintendo eShop for 3DS.

Mr. Alexander Ignacio Larios used to own a Sega Dreamcast. Follow him on Last.fm at: http://www.last.fm/user/KeroseneBath. on RateYourMusic at: https://rateyourmusic.com/~KeroseneBath. on Letterboxd at: http://letterboxd.com/Phallixander/.

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