It is the end of the road for the mainline Pokémon series on Nintendo 3DS. The community may have scoffed at the fact that Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon aren’t on the Nintendo Switch, but, as Game Freak continue to work hard on a new outing for the portable home console, we have one more chance to explore the Alola region and see what new adventures await us.
There’s more to look forward to than the developer simply retreading Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, at least. Sure, it can be said that this enhanced edition meanders the same path as Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition, Pokémon Crystal, Pokémon Emerald, and Pokémon Platinum in retracing your journey across the tropical islands. But, there has been a clear effort to deliver enough differences to make sure that it can be just as exciting.
It starts in the same way, though. You are a new trainer that has moved to the Alola region, and, wandering to the Ruins of Life, meet Lillie and her mysterious Pokémon, Nebby, after they are attacked by Spearow. The story continues to unravel similarly to Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, but it isn’t long before those that basked in the region’s sun-drenched beaches last year will start to notice changes that, eventually, derail it from what happened before as you draw ever closer to the end of the game.
That, as The Pokémon Company has already revealed, includes the Ultra Recon Squad, a strange team that have travelled from another planet to harness Necrozma after it stole the light from their world. These are characters that you will bump into throughout the game along with Team Skull and the Aether Foundation, who, collectively, all play their part in the story as it builds to the player finding Necrozma and travelling to Ultra Megalopolis.
As mentioned before, there is a lot that has been added to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. That comes in what was expected, such as Move Tutors, but also surprises like The Battle Agency – a rental battle service where you don dark-tinted shades and take on other trainers. The hook here is that the more that you battle, whether that be locally or online, players will be rewarded with more powerful Pokémon to add to their three-strong team. With Gold Bottle Caps up for grabs, it’s certainly a challenge that many will enjoy spending time with.
The additions don’t end there, either. Players can ride the waves in Mantine Surf, a fun little mini-game that will remind many of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, in that you score points by performing increasingly daring tricks. The better you do the greater the reward that the player will receive, and there are some significant ones, too, such as the use of Move Tutors. It’s an entertaining distraction, but unless you are someone that really enjoys repeatedly challenging their high score, there is little reason to return to it after securing the reward for topping the leaderboard on all islands.
There’s also the delightfully playful and adorable Alola Photo Club, where you can dress your favourite Pokémon in ridiculous outfits and then take photos of them against different backdrops at stylised angles. These photos can be framed and decorated with stickers, and then shared with other players in the Festival Plaza. Again, this is a diversionary addition, but, if anything, it’s sure to raise a smile for those that play around with it.
As many will have already seen in the lead up to launch, there are also new Pokémon to encounter – a first in a game that doesn’t begin a new generation. This is a change to Game Freak’s tried and trusted rulebook, and, while that new Pokémon count may be low this time around, it’s a welcome shift in presenting some surprises away from new forms of Pokémon.
The more significant changes come towards the end of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon, with the story that surrounds Team Rainbow Rocket and the leaders of all the teams from past games. And, not wanting to get into trouble for spoiling anything, considering that it feels like a strong play on nostalgia, it’s an interesting diversion that plays out well.
And then, beyond that, players will be left to explore Ultra Space. Leaping through the Ultra Wormhole, you will have control over Solgaleo (or Lunala) and can aim for coloured Wormholes that each indicate their location. At first, it seemed that these instances could only be awkwardly navigated using motion – one last hurrah for the gyro sensor in each Nintendo 3DS. Before you get frustrated, know that you can change it to button input… but only in Heahea City, for some reason. In any case, once you have soared to your destination you can find randomised Pokémon, Legendary Pokémon and Ultra Beasts, which will take some time for those that want to complete their Pokédex.
The game’s presentation is a clear step up from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon with areas that feel more lively and Game Freak infusing far more colour into the world. There are more Pokémon in the field too, whether that be a friendly Rockruff running up to sniff you or seeing a Magmar running down a volcano. This continues to breath more life into the Alola region, rather than hiding Pokémon away in tall grass. However, the graphics, generally speaking, aren’t that much of an improvement. The game still struggles in battle on both the original Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS, as previous games have done before it. The framerate may not be fluid, but the new moves that have been introduced in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon are beautiful to watch. It is certainly in keeping with what Game Freak has said about pushing the handheld to its “absolute limits.”
Game Freak has been on point with their soundtracks lately, and the music in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon continues that trend. With a focus on extradimensional travel and worlds, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the new tracks that have been penned for the game have a classic science fiction b-movie feel – adding to the sci-fi elements that adorn the pocket monster series right now. It really helps to build the experience, whether you’re trekking across the tropical Alola region or flying through the kaleidoscopic Ultra Space.
Whether Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon deliver a substantial enough change from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon to warrant spending your Pokédollars on is a decision that, perhaps, is best left to you. The new narrative hooks are meaningful and entertain, and, while there are new Pokémon and forms to discover, it’s still only an enhancement of the adventure that you set out on a year ago. And we’re still missing what the community has wanted in a long while – the return of the Battle Frontier.
But from my perspective, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon commendably build on the improved foundation that Game Freak had built for Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon to result in a much more wholesome adventure – even if there aren’t any dramatic changes to the structure. Whether you are still yet to explore the Alola region or are making a return visit, these Nintendo 3DS exclusives can be seen as not only a worthy addition to the long-running series but the definitive Pokémon adventure this generation.