Game Review: Pokémon: Sun & Moon Versions

Date released: 2016
Version played: Pokémon: Sun Version on an (old) Nintendo 3DS XL in 2016

In celebration of Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon versions were released for the Nintendo 3DS in mid-2016. Players take control of a new Pokémon trainer, starting their journey in the archipelago of Alola (based on real-world Hawaii) as they attempt to complete the Island Challenge, a series of quests, progressing in difficulty, ultimately with the goal of becoming Alola’s most powerful Pokémon trainer. These new entries in the vast Pokémon series introduce upwards of 80 new Pokémon, as well as new ‘Alolan forms’ of popular Pokémon from the Red, Blue and Yellow games. The games also introduce new features, taking advantage of the 3DS’ touchscreen, as well as the device’s internal gyroscope in a Pokémon Snap style camera mini game.

(As with all Pokémon game pairs, the differences between the two — Pokémon: Sun Version and Pokémon: Moon Version — are usually cosmetic changes, or the availability of a handful of creatures. This is a review using the Sun Version, though most, if not all, points below are relevant to both versions.)

+ very detailed story, with fleshed out characters that felt more like a traditional JRPG instead of a Pokémon game. The story which isn’t told (that is, the implied events from some dialogue) is far and away the darkest and most mature story in the franchise. Many of the Pokédex entries are downright morbid
+ most of the new Pokémon are good new additions, and a handful might even be some of my new favourites (Yungoos, Sandygast and Toucannon, to name a few). The Pokémon models are all detailed, and the move animations really are worthy of the ‘next generation’ label these games are given
+ the change up to the game progression, whilst maintaining the core mechanics, are a very welcome break. Not needing to waste HM moves (Fly, Surf etc.) on Pokémon was fantastic, and the game focusing around clearing trials, rather than gaining gym badges was, whilst more or less the same thing with a new coat of paint, a refreshing change
+ mechanically, a handful of gameplay changes are overall for the better. The touchscreen is able to be used for far more, such as using items on your monsters without having to go through menus, and the ‘press A to enter building’ thing I mentioned loving in the demo is still very much appreciated here
+ players of the meta game will find much to tweak and play with, with EV training easier than ever and the new ability to increase IVs, as well as breed for certain natures

– the whole story, but particularly the early game, is so cutscene/exposition heavy that it takes far too long to allow the free exploration which makes the game so much fun. And, ironically enough, I was left with some questions about some unresolved plotlines. Nowadays, in this 20th anniversary year more than ever, the Pokémon games need an option to say “I have played these before”. Either that, or proper difficulty settings which remove the tutorials altogether
– the game is incredibly easy (though maybe I’m just amazing). I did not black out once during the whole main story, and I never needed to rely on the majorly overpowered Z-Moves. After nearly every story battle, someone would offer to heal your Pokémon, and the new version of Pokémon Amie, here called Pokémon Refresh, allows you to heal any status effects instantly. This certainly felt like it was made for new players, rather than returning veterans
– some of the new Pokémon, and many of the new Alolan forms of classic monsters, are just horrid. Alolan Rattata takes the cake for worst design… at least until it evolves into Ratticate which looks like it literally took some cake
– there are some mild-to-heavy framerate drops, especially when it comes to double battles or during Z-move cinematics. The issue in the double battle could have been resolved by simply not having the trainers appear behind the Pokémon in these instances, but unfortunately this was not the case

> At the end of the main story, I had played for ~70 hours with 115 entries in the Pokédex. My main team was Gengar, Pallosand, Salazzle, Primarina, Toucannon and Gumshoos
> maybe I just managed to miss them all, but the timed events I detailed in my review of the demo were absent from the main game. I would have liked to have some more of these, even if it was for item rewards to sell or something

Should you play this game: Yes. If you have not played a Pokémon game before, this is a perfect place to begin; if you have taken a few years off, this will feel familiar enough, but still offer new surprises to keep your interest; and, finally, if you have played every other game, the updated gameplay and new Pokémon will hold your interest.


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