POKÉMON SUN AND MOON Review
A very obvious tell for a good game is if the player sees themselves becoming a perfectionist and sweating the small stuff when they typically do not. Imagine, if you will, a young Pokémon trainer spending a little over an hour walking back and forth through the same patch of tall grass on Route 1 to find Pichus of both sexes. Pichu, because the path to victory should be hard fought, and the bonds built on said path should be cherished. Every battle and petting sesh were steps to make the bearing of thunder stones all the more rewarding for those little electric mice. And finally seeing a matured Pikachu transform into a beautiful Alolan Raichu, who surfs on his tail like a hoverboard thanks to his newly found telekinetic abilities, brought tears to my eyes. It sounds insane being so invested in virtual monsters, but the Pokémon games have consistently struck a chord with adults and children alike. And with these editions heralding in the 20th anniversary of the series, POKÉMON SUN AND MOON is among the most authentic and exciting Pokémon experiences ever.
The trainer-Pokémon relationship is highlighted here in more ways than one. As mentioned in my earlier look at the game, the choice to place trainers standing alongside their respective Pokémon does wonders. Executing Z-moves, which have proven to be actual wild cards in battle (unlike the assured victories following mega evolutions), beautifully showcases your special influence on your Pokémon. After every battle you’re given an opportunity to care for your loyal buddies. Though it’s still not completely necessary in constructing a super strong team, helping a Pokémon fight off a status condition with the 3DS touch screen is a satisfying experience in a game that aims to be more personal, and is a more useful approach than previous games’ Pokémon-Amie. If a nasty Salandit vomits toxic sludge on my beautiful Raichu, blow drying off the muck and applying the medicine myself rather than simply shoving an antidote down its throat is a very nice touch.
Player characters themselves are finally offered a tiny bit of cosmetic customization, but nothing compares to the unique designs of Alola’s trainers and native Pokémon. You’d think that the tropical theme would coat everything in a Hawaiian flower print, but not so! Clean cut Pokémon conservationists add some futuristic sleekness, while Team Skull splashes in some black paint with their emo-meets-hip hop aesthetic. Even if some folks are clones or only have a minor role in a supplemental story, nearly every character embodies the richness of creativity in the Alola region.
I’ll be completely honest, when I was first introduced to the prospect of Alolan variants for older Pokémon, I was skeptical. Compared to the new roster, which perfectly strikes the balance between cute and cool (Just look at Cosmog! He’s like if Kirby sucked up the God particle!), the concept of a snowy Vulpix seemed game breaking and to ride too hard on the nostalgia train. Thankfully, I ate my words after seeing that many fan favorite Pokémon across many generations were carefully chosen to receive a significant but tasteful Alolan treatment. For instance, a classic Cubone evolving into a tiki-inspired, fire-dancing Alolan Marowak fits perfectly into the game’s fun atmosphere, but also opens the gates for a plethora of strategic possibilities playing with these new powers. Alola is diverse enough to where even the seemingly familiar will throw something new and interesting at you.
When you’re out of e-juice and the vape store closed
The region and its fully realized 3D landscape (not sprites like older games or chibis like X and Y) are breathtaking even with the rigidly fixed camera and underutilization of the handheld’s 3D capabilities. Lush forests, snowy mountains, and fiery volcanoes are only a few places that these islands have to offer. Progressing through them by way of the various island trials gives you some easy stepping stones, but all the freedom and potential is up to the player. Surprisingly enough, it’s the battles that really show off these areas’ visuals. Waterfalls cascade in the distance as my Raichu performs some thunder jutsu on an innocent Poliwag. And with the bike substituted for a Pokémon ride pager allowing players to mount a Tauros and smash rocks to uncover secret areas (No HMs wasting space!), or a Stoutland sniffing around for hidden items, exploring the land is a delight. I found myself manually going from one end of an island to another instead of paging a Charizard for fast travel.
On those roads, the Pokémon you’ll meet have more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Like in previous games, many have special, condition-specific abilities that come into play for them in sticky situations which the player can utilize once they’re caught. Even if it’s eye to eye with the scariest Kadabra, my tiny Petilil’s “Own Tempo” will prevent it from ever being confused. But an even more present threat, wild Pokémon and boss-like Totem Pokémon tend to call for help, and another Pokémon will almost always arrive to fight alongside them. This gives more tension to typical training runs, and can really push even the most seasoned of trainers into a corner that’s a fun puzzle to get out of. It trains your team to adapt quickly and prepare for the new free-for-all four player Battle Royal matches in Alola that really test one’s limits. Again, nearly every aspect of Pokémon has been vastly improved with interesting nuance and challenges aplenty.
Whatever you do, Madoka, don’t sign that contract!
The game isn’t without its snags. Dialogue is cringey, forever tailored to a second grade comprehension level. Progression is also still babby’s first vidya, with characters literally opening up roadblocks and saying “Your world just got a bit bigger.” My biggest gripe has to be the revamped Pokédex. Infused with its own personality thanks to electro-fetus Rotom, the new Pokédex is the biggest purveyor of the game’s lackluster writing, as he tritely guides the player to the next checkpoint with horrible, pun-filled lines. But his biggest offense has to be forcing the Pokéfinder upon you. A shadow of what it once was, the new Pokéfinder at first looks like an interesting callback to POKÉMON GO, or the more deserving POKÉMON SNAP, in where the player shoots photos of the creatures in their natural habitat. But this part of the game is far from being fully realized, seeing that many Pokémon simply walk a fixed path and your shots are graded by a pseudo-social media presence that desperately tries to lampoon internet culture. You can put the pics on an SD card, so the game begs you to share, but the poor photo quality and a lack of variation (it’s often only a single Pokémon you’re voyeuristically shooting) hamstrings the significance. Plus, you usually don’t even get to battle them once you’re done like in the demo!
But those are all nitpicks that don’t come close to ruining a wonderful core experience waiting for players in POKÉMON SUN AND MOON. Everything that made Pokémon great in the past has been kicked up ten notches here, giving a warm welcome to newcomers as well as some cool changes out of left field for old timers.
Reviewed on 3DS. Version Reviewed was MOON but everything discussed above is also included in SUN.