Pokemon Sun and Moon Review: The finest Pokemon games in years – SlashGear
Version tested: Pokemon Sun
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $39.99 MSRP
The fact that Pokemon Sun and Moon are different from their predecessors is obvious from the moment you start. Gone are the truncated openings where you quickly receive your starter Pokemon from the region’s professor. Instead, you’re greeted with the early stages of an actual story that involves more than just becoming a Pokemon Master and defeating this entry’s evil organization along the way.
It’s a refreshing change of pace, because it makes the characters that populate Sun and Moon’s Alola region feel a little less one-dimensional than the NPCs that came before them. This is especially true for the characters of Professor Kukui, Lillie, and your rival, Hau.
The trade-off, though, is that the opening hours of Sun and Moon can drag a little more than the beginning of other games in the series. Not only is there more of a focus on character development, but Sun and Moon changes the structure of the games as well, replacing traditional gyms with island trials and gym leaders with captains and kahunas. This all needs to be explained to players, which means that Sun and Moon get off to a slow start.
Still, this really only lasts as long as the first island, and once you leave it, the game begins to hold your hand less. Consider the first island in the Alola region as something of a tutorial area, where the new concepts found in the game are explained to you before you’re given free reign. There’s a lot to get through too, as Sun and Moon offer quite a few changes to Pokemon’s tried-and-true formula.
The most obvious change comes in the disappearance of gyms. In Sun and Moon, you have to prove yourself as a strong Pokemon trainer by completing a variety of trials. Some of these will be given to you by captains, while others will be given by kahunas. While Pokemon battles are still at the heart of many of these challenges, you’ll also have other objectives to complete. Some trials end in battles with Totem Pokemon, which have more defense than their more standard counterparts and can call in help from other wild Pokemon.
Calling for backup is an ability all wild Pokemon have, not just Totem Pokemon. This adds an extra layer of difficulty to the game, especially when a wild Pokemon attempts to call for help every turn. This new feature is both a success and a frustration at the same time. The extra difficulty is appreciated in a series that has been notoriously easy, but if you’re just trying to get from point A to point B and you keep encountering wild Pokemon that continuously call for help, it can be annoying to say the least.
Luckily, some of the routes in Pokemon Sun and Moon seem to be laid out in a way that allows you to avoid most of the patches of tall grass on return visits. This gives you more control over whether or not you encounter wild Pokemon, which is an great addition.
Another excellent change comes with how Sun and Moon handle hidden machines – known as HMs to many. In previous games, HMs taught your Pokemon moves that were required to traverse the environment. Those moves could be used in battle, but the problem was that only a few of them were actually good. Since each of your Pokemon can only have four attacks at any given time, having one of those slots taken up by a move you’ll only use in the overworld was frustrating.
To counter this, many players would often catch a Pokemon that could learn a variety of HM moves, leaving the monsters they actually wanted on their team free to fill all four move slots with attacks that would actually see use in battle. But even that method wasn’t perfect, as it meant players would only be able to take five viable Pokemon into battle with them
In Sun and Moon, hidden machines don’t exist anymore. Some of the stronger HM moves like Fly and Surf have been turned into technical machines, and the player is given a number of Pokemon they can summon and ride to traverse the environment. If you need to fly somewhere, you’ll summon Charizard and pick your destination from the map. If there’s a body of water you need to cross, you’ll hop on the back of Lapras and go for a swim.
These Pokemon can be summoned at any point in the overworld and don’t take up an ever-important spot on your team. For the first time ever in the Pokemon series, you play through the game with a full team of six Pokemon who don’t know a single HM move between them. That is a beautiful thing, and Game Freak’s approach to rideable Pokemon is an very clever solution.
The way Sun and Moon handle trainer battles is the best in the series as well. Now there’s no more guessing if an NPC you encounter in the overworld is a rival trainer or one who exists simply to give you information. When you’re nearing a trainer who will challenge you to a battle, you’re given an on-screen alert. You can then step into their line of sight or talk to them to initiate the battle.
This is a small change, but it’s a huge help because it takes the guesswork out of exploring the routes that connect towns on each island – something that is infinitely handy when your team is in shambles and you just want to find a Pokemon Center to heal them up.
Z-Moves are a new additions that allow your Pokemon to let loose on your opponent with an absurdly powerful attack. They can only be used once per battle and, much like Mega Evolution from X and Y, require that your Pokemon hold a special Z-Crystal. Z-Moves look great when performed in-battle, and they can shift the tide of a fight that isn’t going your way.