By shaking the series to its foundations, Pokémon Sun and Moon took the world by storm last year in a game I described as “undeniably a superior evolution to previous Pokémon games overall.” Evidently it seems Game Freak felt their creativity wasn’t spent and so to everyone’s surprise they announced Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon earlier this year. Many had written this off as a quick cash-in, but even with the minor updates there’s enough new stuff to justify the pseudo-sequels.
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon can best be described as Sun and Moon but with minor tinkering. This means that everything that was wrong with the fundamental game engine such as performance dips when things get too busy on screen remain. This isn’t to say I was expecting anything more out of the 3DS however, as Sun and Moon already pushed the system beyond its capabilities, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.
There was also an air of déjà vu as I was playing through the main campaign. Most of the plot elements and some of the trials that were introduced in Sun and Moon were copied straight across. Yet with the introduction of the Ultra Recon Squad, things take a dramatically different tone. It doesn’t come until several hours in, but it marks was a definite turning point where the campaign is now brand new.
That isn’t to say though that Alola hasn’t changed at all. Pokémon encounters have been tweaked so that those that were not native to the Alolan islands now appear in wild encounters, for example. As such, my team was wildly different, thanks to the variety on offer encouraging me to use different creatures to what I was used to.
In fact there’s a whole bunch of new additions. Totem Stickers have been placed around the entirety of Alola, which reward diligent players with Totem sized Pokémon. It’s similar to how Tiny Medals work in Dragon Quest, appearing in just about every nook and cranny that one can think of, only the rewards are hyper-inflated critters, which are admittedly a great incentive.
Even the Pokédex has had a significant upgrade. Whenever it looks sleepy, pressing the touch screen will wake it up and cause its eyes to flash. Pressing on the flashing eyes initiates the “Roto Loto” which randomly gives you two of a particular item, such as for HP recovery or increasing encounter rates. It also has a small chance to replenish the use of a Z-Move mid-battle, though this is seemingly for offline battles only.
The Ultra games also introduce Mantine Surfing relatively early on. The idea is you gain speed by weaving the Mantine, before slamming it to the top of the wave to leap and pull off tricks. As you get better, more tricks are unlocked for use, as well as BP gained for performance. It’s a neat little mini-game that works surprisingly well and is a welcome distraction.
What’s less good though is the Ultra Wormhole mini-game. If I was to declare one thing about these games as objectively bad, this would be it and it’s because of the control scheme. As it uses the gyro controls found within the 3DS, it makes movement very imprecise and this, coupled with the need for fast reflexes, does not mix. The lack of an option to not use gyro controls is a huge oversight for what is a rather important mini-game to your progress.
UPDATE – 18/11/2017: It seems that there is a method of changing the controls to the Circle Pad, but it is hidden in a particular building where the Game Freak employees work. This only occurs Post-Game however. Review summary has been updated to include reference to this information
It’s no secret that there are new Pokémon to be caught in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon – a first for the second game in a generation – and while it certainly fits thematically with the plot, I don’t feel this was the best move. Where the previous generation got it right was by introducing new Mega Evolutions in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire on top of those in X and Y, so new Alolan forms that could incorporate Pokémon beyond the first generation would have worked wonders. It’s a missed opportunity to say the least.
For some though, Pokémon isn’t just about fighting, but expressing themselves as well. A new Photo Club mode is available which allows you to take pictures with your Pokémon and add stickers. These can be shared with others and while the pictures aren’t a particularly high quality, it’s certainly fun to mess around with it.
Online offerings in the Festival Plaza are bolstered by including every feature in Sun and Moon, as well as the Battle Agency where you rent a Pokémon from a small selection and along with two companions fight in 3v3 battles. In a way, it’s very similar to the Battle Tree from Sun/Moon, only you have little control on which creatures you have on your team. Those who liked renting Pokémon in Pokémon Stadium will feel right at home here.
Upon completing the game, there’s plenty of post-game content, much more than was present in Sun and Moon, though we can’t really go into much detail through embargo conditions. Generally speaking, it’s clear that becoming champion is barely scratching the surface of what these pseudo-sequels offer once the credits roll.
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon surpassed my expectations. There were things overly familiar in more ways than one, but it’s not fully covering old ground. Plenty of new features and details will make fans of the franchise very happy and while I still mourn for the DexNav to this day, the new content is well worth becoming Alolan Champion once more.
Version Tested: Pokémon Ultra Moon