Pokemon is one of those franchises that meant a hell of a lot to me in the mid-’90s when I was first playing video games. It has barely changed its core formula since, and I still eagerly play every time it comes out. It’s always predictable. I always care slightly less about the designs each generation. I still love that core gameplay loop.
Pokemon Sun and Moon are the first entries in the series to really feel like a much-needed refresher. This is the most I have enjoyed a Pokemon release in over a decade.
Pretty much all of the changes made to Sun and Moon that make them engaging games are centred around the new region, Alola, which is the centre point for a far more interestingly fleshed out and realised game world. From the world itself to the Pokemon spread throughout it, everything feels unmistakably part of this new game.
The most visible mechanical change to the game is the new replacement for formalised Gyms in the region. Where you used to find a specific building labelled “Gym”, entered it, battled your way to a leader and leave once beating them, the gym structure is far more open-ended and flexible in Sun and Moon.
Challenge areas, set in the open world, might set you NPCs to fight, but they could just as easily task you puzzles, stories, or scavenger hunts to find meal ingredients. These challenges have very nebulous start points within the open world, which really help to make them feel more a part of a living, breathing world.
From the world itself to the Pokemon spread throughout it, everything feels unmistakably part of this new game.
The game’s world commits pretty fully to the idea of the Alola region as a living world which exists outside of its use in Pokemon, and as one that has existed since before the start of the game. The challenges leading up to ‘gym leaders’ give a sense of the leaders’ personalities and their roles in their community, the local customs of differing areas, and the fact the world has existing lore and identity, which really helps improve the sense of exploration present in the game.
Winning ‘gym battles’ awards the player with Z-Crystals, which are basically a replacement for Mega Evolutions as ways to increase a Pokemon’s power once per battle. Rather than changing your Pokemon’s appearance and boosting the power of their standard moves, instead there is a new move which is overly powerful. It’s largely unnecessary in the balance of the main game, and doesn’t feel balanced well for competitive play, but it’s a nice way to save yourself from losing a fight in a pinch. As a self-imposed Nuzlocke player, I could see it being helpful for saving me from losing a run unexpectedly.
There’s also a far greater variety of Pokemon types available in the early game, which helps players start building balanced teams far sooner than previous entries.
Let’s get talking about probably the most important part of any new Pokemon game, the Pokemon themselves. The entirely new Pokemon created for Sun and Moon are some of my favourite new designs in series history. Rather than trying to replicate things which have worked in the past, Nintendo have leant hard on the idea of giving Pokemon interesting descriptions that fit with the world, then designing them based on that place within the lore, which has resulted in some adorable designs.
The new starters starting with one element triangle (Grass, Fire, Water, like in every other game) and by their final evolution having a secondary type triad in the opposite direction makes for a really interesting balancing act, with the Pokemon likely to be a core part of most players’ teams.
Lastly, the new Alolan forms of older Pokemon make a really nice addition for long-term fans of the series. They manage to simultaneously manage to feel like a reminder of the early days of the series, but also feel new, refreshing and exciting enough to not feel like a retread. It’s a really smart way to get older fans excited about playing with a new set of creatures.
YOU CAN ALSO ADD POKEMON YOU CATCH RIGHT TO YOUR PARTY EVEN WITH A FULL PARTY AND INSTEAD SEND ONE OF YOUR PARTY TO THE BOX TO MAKE ROOM TO ADD THAT NEW ONE TO YOUR PARTY RIGHT AWAY WHICH IS REALLY COOL AND I DON’T KNOW WHY WE’RE ONLY JUST GETTING THIS FEATURE!!!
The only disappointment is that the Pokédex feels relatively small, perhaps in part due to the Alolan forms of old Pokemon feeling familiar enough to not feel like part of that collection of new monsters in places. Having so many new entries being essentially remixes of older Pokemon makes the pool of entirely new entries feel smaller.
The battle system in Sun and Moon does a really good job of helping you wrap your head around new Pokemon right from the offset. The battle menu not only includes descriptions of what your attacks do if you need a reminder mid-battle, but also displays type advantages of the move to help you work out contextually which moves are best when fighting new creatures.
The games also avoid forcing you to load Pokemon up as “HM slaves” by removing the need for HMs. and instead having a player-level solution for gating and allowing progression. I am so bloody thankful to not have to load up non-competitively viable HM moves onto my team.
The only battle system change I really dislike is the new Call for Help feature. Wild Pokemon can attempt to call in other Pokemon of their species to help in battle, but once they successfully call in a second, you’re not able to throw Pokeballs. This creates issues where sometimes, if you’re unlucky, it can become near impossible to catch a low power Pokemon, or you can find yourself in battles that seem to last forever. It’s rarely an enjoyable addition to the game.
Ultimately, Pokemon Sun and Moon feel like a familiar experience refreshed and renewed. I’m back in love with a series I’ve been treading water with for a little while now. It feels damn good.
Oh, and Moon is set twelve hours out from your system clock time. That’s probably important to know.
Developer: Game Freak
Release date: Out Now
- New and refreshed Pokemon feel engaging
- World feels distinct and alive
- Better early type distribution
- Call for Help can get really fucking annoying
Pokemon Sun and Moon feel like a much needed refresher for a series content to do the same repeatedly.