Twenty years after the original Pokémon games took the world by storm, Pokémon Sun and Moon delivers the seventh generation of the RPG franchise. The long awaited release is both a welcome return to a familiar series and a refreshing take on the much loved adventure.
One of the game’s greatest and most engaging assets is its beautiful new world. Alola is the most fleshed out region we’ve ever seen in a Pokémon game, with history and lore that perfectly complements the art style and the story. New Pokémon are inspired by island living, and existing Pokémon appear in different forms, having adjusted to life in Alola. NPCs greet you in unique, clever ways that constantly reinforce the environment and progression in the game is only possible through defeating trials, totem Pokémon and each island’s captain. It’s a big departure from the format we’ve become accustomed to over the past two decades.
Sun and Moon does still follow the overarching rules of the series in many ways; you’re a young trainer departing home to travel a new region, fill your Pokédex and build a team of six Pokémon to battle other trainers in order to ‘be the very best’. None of that changes, but certain pillars of the franchise have been replaced. Casualties include the eight badge gym cycle and the use of HMs to pass through the game, replaced instead with island trials and helpful Pokémon rides. Rather than carrying around that low level HM caddy, you can call upon a Charizard when you need to fly or jump on Lapras to surf the water at the click of a button. It’s a thoughtful change that lets you focus on your battle team, rather than worrying about losing that precious sixth place to a Pokémon you only need to cross the sea or smash up obstacles.
Overall I found myself happy to lose most of these features, but one thing I did miss was the puzzles. As someone who remembers having to solve the mysteries of Slyph Co. as a kid with no internet, I did miss the feeling of being utterly confused and close to frustrated with the game’s riddles – only to eventually solve them and feel pretty smug with myself. Unfortunately Sun and Moon doesn’t offer anything that requires too much thought, but it does offer a greater variety of puzzles for its island trials, with memory challenges, fetch quests and quizzes. Each one feels unique and feeds into the island setting, so whilst they aren’t exactly brainteasers they certainly aren’t boring.
One thing that can get a little tiresome however is the frequent cut scenes, particularly the first few hours of gameplay. The dialogue is cute and enjoyable, but it does limit that feeling of exploration and openness that made the original games so unique. It slows the game down and sometimes towards the start I found myself just wanting to ditch the professor and gang entirely, along with the story. The new map marker function often warns you with flag points when a cut scene will be triggered, but this feature is also guilty of making the game easier. It isn’t a deal breaker and at times its really useful, but sometimes figuring out where you need to go next was half the fun of story progression. In Sun and Moon you need only look at the second screen for a guide.
This simplification of the game extends to battles, where you can now see the effectiveness of each of your Pokémon’s moves against the opposition. Whilst this may annoy veterans who know the type grid off by heart, it is a clever way of easing in more new and casual gamers or players who have maybe returned after the success of PokémonGo. Simplifying type-effectiveness in-battle and removing the unnecessary HM mechanic is an excellent way to welcome new players, without alienating long suffering fans, and ultimately the game’s innovations do make it more enjoyable for everyone.
Alongside battle and move revisions, there is also a new four person multiplayer battle mode, and wild Pokémon can now call for help, adding another layer to wild encounters. Sun and Moon is notably trying to break the mould, and it is by no means first in the series to do so. The games have in fact been constantly evolving and learning over the past twenty years. The very first sequel in the franchise, Gold and Silver, was the first game to introduce breeding, Dark and Steel type Pokémon and the in-battle XP progress bar – all of which have become staple parts of subsequent sequels.
With Nintendo releasing the original Red/Blue/Yellow games onto virtual console earlier this year, it’s easier than ever to appreciate just how far we’ve come and notice all the features missing from the original game. Changing up a winning formula can be a risky bet for any successful franchise, but Pokemon has a habit of pulling it off. Sun and Moon is no different, its unique style is inherently likeable and ultimately necessary for the series to remain relevant.
Overall the game is an exciting venture into a beautiful new region, with a thoughtfully crafted style that really outshines previous areas for its distinct feel and engaging environments. The story gets off to a slow start, but ditching HMs is an excellent move which, together with other simplifications, speeds up gameplay and puts greater focus on training and exploration. The game’s biggest weakness is that it can at times feel a bit too easy, but the dynamic challenges and unique setting means that even in its easiest moments Sun and Moon is never really boring.
TL;DR: If you’re a Pokémon fan, it’s a great break from the usual formula but you might find it isn’t challenging enough for you. If you’re new to the franchise or you’re a bit rusty, it’s the perfect time to jump in.
Pros: No more HMs! Also simplifies battle mechanics just a little to remain accessible to young audience. Beautiful, fleshed out new region has plenty of personality and is fun to explore.
Cons: Frequent cut-scenes make the world feel closed off. Story isn’t great but its no worse than past games. Also lacks challenging puzzles and holds your hand quite a bit in terms of finding your way though the map.