Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon don’t change things dramatically, but for anyone who hasn’t played the excellent Sun and Moon, this is now the definitive version.
Pokemon fans should be very much used to these third versions of Pokemon games by now. Even with that in mind, however, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are something of an oddity. That’s thanks to how quickly they’ve arrived – they’re out barely a year after the original Pokemon Sun and Moon, and after the full-blown Sequel of Pokemon Black and White 2, the Pokemon Company and Nintendo have gone for something a little different this time around.
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are basically a halfway house between the full-blown sequel shindig carried off in the Black and White Pokemon generation on DS and the more typical ‘enhanced edition’ take that was featured in games like Pokemon Yellow and Platinum. Basically, these games are pretty significantly similar to those released last year, but they still offer more new than your typical extra release in any given Pokemon generation.
“These games include a stupidly large amount of content and Sun and Moon remain the most compelling, charming and interesting world Pokemon has presented since it was brand new back in the the nineties.”
Ultra Sun and Moon are best considered as a ‘remix’ of the main games, with the same world, characters and overall outline reshuffled and adjusted, sometimes thanks to fan feedback, sometimes because of developer inclination and sometimes just for the sake of it. There are a handful of new Pokemon, some new areas, NPCs, items and moves to boot. The differences are relatively modest, but they add up to be more than the sum of their parts.
If you missed our Pokemon Sun and Moon review last year, here’s the basics – you play a young child on the islands of Alola, a rough analogy for Hawaii. Instead of setting out to battle gym leaders and ‘catch them all’, your coming-of-age quest instead sees you travelling across the islands, visiting each and besting their best Pokemon trainer to gain recognition. It’s similar to the old games but different enough to actually feel quite fresh, and that structure is retained here, though it’s significantly altered by various changes and additions.
So this time there are Aliens that follow you around, for instance, the ‘Ultra Recon Squad’. They’re new, and they introduce you to some of the deeper twists and turns from the Sun and Moon games a little earlier, preparing you more for when the game twists into family drama and inter-dimensional world-threatening shenanigans. Favorite characters from the previous iteration are given more time to breathe, almost as if the Pokemon Company noticed certain characters’ popularity and decided to build a little more for them to do as the game progresses.
In other places, favourites return. A big deal has been made in the marketing about the return of Giovanni and a version of his organization, Team Rocket, a familiar favourite to Pokemon fans of a particular age. In other areas, the returning surprises are features that are expanded out in various ways. There was a dodgy-looking Photo Mode that tanked the frame rate in the original release with not much reason to do it – now there’s a ‘Photo Club’ built around that concept, and photos can even be shared with others via the Festival Plaza, which is also still intact here. For the hardcore fan, there’s a new area called ‘Pikachu Valley’, which is exactly what you’d expect it to be.
Most of the joy for Pokemon devotees will come in the form of new Pokemon and new moves to teach them to use in battle. Sun and Moon’s dimension-twisting story makes the next logical leap here, with you eventually able to hop between dimensions using the new ‘Ultra Wormholes’ – here you’ll learn more about the Ultra Recon Squad, but you’ll also be able to catch the handful of new Pokemon.
On top of this, the Pokedex has been rejigged in general, with way more classic Pokemon that weren’t found in the original version of Sun and Moon now rearing their heads here. Many Pokemon also get new Z-Moves and new transformations.
There’s a decent number of quality-of-life changes, but some things remain unbearably steadfast. The lengthy Z-Move animations remain unskippable, and the pace of the early part of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is painfully slow. I understand, of course, that a lot of kids play these games and need a gentle introduction, but especially in the second version in a generation, it begins to feel like there should be the option to speed this stuff up. The original Sun and Moon was slow, and thanks to the additions, this too is slow in a way that its quirky, atmosphere-filled and charming storyline and characters can barely mask.
Ultimately, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon take well over ten hours to get going, and that’s quite painful. When it hits its stride it really does begin to get rather good, however. Its adjusted story is never quite brave enough to make cuts but always willing to bring additions that make previously dull sections far more exciting. Most of the truly meaningful new content, including the Team Rocket stuff, hits in the very late game. If you’ve sunk enough time to reach that point in the game, what’s special about Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon has without a doubt clicked with you.
In spite of all the niggling problems, for Pokemon fans, those who skipped Sun and Moon or kids looking for their first Pokemon experience this is a fantastic package. These games include a stupidly large amount of content and Sun and Moon remain the most compelling, charming and interesting world Pokemon has presented since it was brand new back in the the 90s. For its audience, this enhanced edition is well worth the price of admission, though I’d be lying if I said my eyes weren’t firmly towards the future when Pokemon arrives on the big screen via Switch.
Pokemon Sun tested on New Nintendo 3DS. Review copy provided by Nintendo.