Pokémon Sun and MoonNovember 18th, 2016
I have vivid memories of first playing Pokémon Blue. Christmas morning, ripping open wrapping paper, playing it with a new Game Boy Color under a lamp for hours on end, neglecting any other presents entirely – fond memories, that I’ve failed to replicate with every Pokémon launch since, save for perhaps Gold & Silver. Until now, that is. When I first played Pokémon Sun and Moon I hunched over my 3DS, blocked out all outside interference, and just played for hours on end, not wishing to stop for any reason, for the first time since Christmas morning eighteen years ago.
Pokémon Sun and Moon kicks off with your character arriving fresh from Kanto, moving to the Alola region. Quickly you meet the familiar Pokémon cast – a professor who gives you a Pokémon, and the neighbor kids, Hau and Lillie. It’s from this point onward that what was set up to be a typical Pokémon adventure is turned on its head.
The first big difference Sun and Moon presents players is the complete removal of Pokémon Gyms. In every game before now collecting 8 Gym Badges and becoming the Pokémon League Champion was the main goal in a Pokémon game, but now Gyms are gone, replaced by several Island Trials which take the form of light puzzles or exploration, capped off with a great Totem Pokémon battle.
Totem Pokémon are cool, unique monsters with boosted stats that act like boss fights in place of Pokémon gyms. A battle against a single Pokémon would likely be too easy, so Pokémon Sun and Moon allows Wild Pokémon to call help during battle, quickly turning your standard 1v1 fight into a 1v2 scramble. This makes catching Wild Pokémon harder than ever, as you can only throw PokéBalls when in a 1v1 environment, and can cause some serious frustration. Against Totem Pokémon, however, the system makes perfect sense – though despite this, a move like Toxic or Curse will swiftly eat away at any single Pokémon’s health, making Totem fights somewhat simple if you have the right tools.
Alola’s four Hawaii-inspired islands might make up one of the smaller Pokémon regions in recent memory, but it’s also one of my favorite. Alola feels surprisingly linear, with routes and pathways blocked off (literally by big barricades) until the player manages to clear Trials or defeat Captains. This forces the player on a very deliberate linear path which sees them systematically clear routes, dungeons, towns and eventually entire islands as you pass through.
Despite this linearity, the routes themselves are bigger and more expansive than ever. HMs have now been replaced by Ride Pagers, which allow you to summon certain Pokémon to help you with tasks in the overworld – can’t push that massive rock? Machamp can. Can’t get through the uneven path? Mudsdale can. Can’t fly to another island? Charizard sure can, etc. Eschewing HMs in this way also frees up the four moves your Pokémon can learn (HMs were previously unremovable unless you found a special NPC), it also allows for more detailed and interesting Pokémon and animations when you summon your ride. When passing through routes I couldn’t help but notice that I can almost always just run through if I wanted, avoiding trainers, tall grass and extras, but when taking time there are small hidden islands everywhere just off-shore, collectables hidden everywhere, and even trainers that won’t fight you unless you defeat everyone else on a route.
From the rides to the hidden extras, all of this points towards a Pokémon world that is more detailed and thought-out than ever before. Each route and dungeon feels like nothing I’ve ever seen before in a Pokémon game, despite being familiar grassy routes and caves otherwise, because they feel so much more alive. Pokémon cries, bushes rustling and bubbling bodies of water ripe for fishing are everywhere, bringing the Pokémon world closer to the vision of a true 3D Pokémon we’ve all wanted for so long. Sure, we’ve had X and Y and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire for a while now, but none of those titles feel as polished and sharp as Pokémon Sun and Moon does – this feels like a generational leap, where X and Y felt like an incremental step forward, despite being the first true 3D Pokémon.
And this is true for the characters too. Lillie and Hau may seem like your generic Pokécast, but they’re more nuanced and detailed than ever, with plot twists and turns delivering a surprisingly heartwarming and epic story – one that I don’t think Pokémon has ever achieved before now. When it comes to characters, plot and world, Pokémon Sun and Moon just outdoes all of its predecessors.
Even small additions like Poké Pelago are appreciated. A small minigame island where you can collect Pokébeans and upgrade island facilities for your Pokémon in storage – you can have them grow beans, berries, train or even send them into caves for a spot of gem collection. For the first time, it feels like there’s a reason to catch a glut of Pokémon and have them in storage boxes, while in the past it felt like a waste of time.
What more can I say about Pokémon Sun and Moon? It feels so refreshing, from the setting to the story, characters and Pokémon themselves, and I absolutely adore it. This feels like a mold-breaking Pokémon games, a standout entry in a franchise that was certainly looking tired. I had my doubts about Sun and Moon, I really did, but after playing it they’ve all washed away. Sun and Moon are, for my money, the best Pokémon games released during this handheld generation or even the last. It’s great and Pokémon fans past and present are in for a wonderful time.
Review code provided by the publisher.
Whether you're an old Pokémon fan or a brand new one, there's loads to love about Sun and Moon. These might just be the very best mainline Pokémon games ever.
- Great world
- Good mix of new and old Pokémon
- Series feels fresher than ever
- Could've been less linear