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Pokémon Sun / Moon

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2016

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3DS Review - 'Pokémon Sun'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 29, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Embark on a new adventure as you catch and trade new Pokémon on the tropical islands of the Alola Region, where you discover Z-Moves and unleash intense attacks in battle.

Buy Pokémon Sun

Pokémon seems almost eternal. Its flames have died down since the explosive success of the 19902, but it's never reached the point of irrelevance. This year's massive success with Pokémon Go shows that the franchise has nostalgia and staying power to spare. Pokémon Sun and Moon don't try to reinvent the wheel but remind older players what they loved about Pokémon while providing an entry point for younger gamers. The result is what is likely the most polished Pokémon to date, though there are still some rough edges.

Pokémon Sun takes place in the Alola Region, which is effectively the Pokéworld version of Hawaii. A young girl named Lillie is assisting the Pokémon Professor of that island with guarding a Pokémon called Nebbie. When your character saves Nebbie from danger, you earn the right to compete in the Island Trial, a contest to discover the strongest trainer. Along with Lillie and friends, your character sets off to tour Alola and see its sights. As with any good Pokémon game, a mysterious organization is lurking on the sidelines, and they want to capture Nebbie to complete their dastardly goals.

Sun and Moon are by far the most plot-heavy Pokémon games to date. Early on, you're bombarded with characters and cut scenes. Some are fun, but others go on way too long. It's clearly designed for the younger crowd, but it might be too much for older players. The game revolves around Lillie and her mysterious pal Pokémon, to the point where it's more about her and you're on the sidelines at times. The main plot involving her takes a long time to get going, so you're stuck in first gear for most of the game. However, the world of Alola is charming, and the colorful characters make it feel like a thriving area.

The core Pokémon concept is still there. You're a novice trainer, you get one of three elemental themed starters, and you travel from location to location, beating trainers and proving your worth. Sun and Moon almost feel like a light reboot of the franchise that focus on creating an accessible adventure rather than piling things on. They're very safe Pokémon titles that should be pleasant for both newcomers and longtime fans.


However, there's a lot of new stuff in the game. The biggest change is that Pokémon Gyms have been replaced by Pokémon Trials. They're similar, but rather than battling your way to a trainer, you have to complete minor puzzle challenges and then fight the totem, which is an existing Pokémon who has a specialized stat boost. After completing multiple trials, you'll need to fight the kahuna of an island. It's a somewhat superficial change but impacts the feel of the game. Rather than competing to be the very best, you're completing rituals important to the Alolan islands, and everyone is glad to participate. It provides a cheerful, lighthearted and friendly atmosphere.

One of the most significant and by far most welcome changes is the removal of Hidden Machines. In previous titles, you were stuck dedicating one or more of your six Pokémon slots to a Pokémon whose only purpose was to fly you around, surf or break rocks. In Sun and Moon, you befriend specific rideable Pokémon who are not part of your team and can be summoned with a button press. Each of the Pokémon fills a certain niche: Tauros can break stones, Lapras allows you to surf over water, Charizard is flight, and so on. Riding across the map on your giant dog feels way better than fiddling with a menu to watch a half-second animation from a Pokémon you're only keeping around because it can learn four HM moves.

Sun and Moon are linear even by Pokémon standards. It takes a long time to open up, and in some ways, it feels smaller than prior games. You get Fly and Surf equivalents very early on, and the islands feel more restrictive and guided. It's not a huge flaw, as Pokémon has never been that free about exploration. The game feels built for beginners, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but might annoy long-term fans since they're taught a good chunk of the game all over again.

There are a host of minor changes that exist only to make the game more user-friendly. For example, when you capture a new Pokémon, you're given the option to instantly add it to your party. This makes it much easier to swap new Pokémon since you don't have to trudge back to a Pokémon Center to swap in your freshly caught monster. If that monster is holding an item, the game warns you and lets you automatically strip the item from the monster before you send it away. The game is more transparent about some of its hidden mechanics, and a lot of things that used to take a lot of fiddling with menus can now be done at the press of a button. The game will even tell you if your move will be Super Effective or Not Effective when you fight a Pokémon you've encountered before, reducing some of the knowledge burden with regards to elemental types. They're all minor changes that add up to a friendlier experience.


Every new Pokémon game needs to have a bunch of new Pokémon, and Sun and Moon is no different. There are two kinds. One are the brand-new Pokémon who only appear in the Alola region, and they offer some nice new features for longtime fans. They're bolstered by the inclusion of Alola versions of existing Pokémon. Franchise mainstays like Rattata, Raichu and Vuplix gain specialized new variant forms that look similar but have different elements or skills. For example, Alola Rattata is a dark-type Pokémon instead, and Vuplix is an ice type. It's nice to give older Pokémon some more relevance, but it does feel overly familiar at times. 

Some effort was spent in making the Alola forms feel like a coherent part of the ecosystem instead of random. There are a lot of insect and sea-life monsters, and the Alola forms have plenty of references to actual Hawaiian animals and mythology. I wish the new Pokémon were greater in number, as the selection feels anemic when you take away the Alola form variations.

Pokémon battles haven't seen too much drastic change. They still default to one-vs.-one fights, where the winner is the one with the last Pokémon standing. No new elements have been added in this generation, and instead, there seems to be some all-around rebalancing of moves so they're more or less powerful. As in the previous games, you can get into battles involving more than one Pokémon. The coolest is the new Battle Royal, which is a four-trainer battle where each trainer attempts to take out as many of the opposing sides as possible. Since this is a free-for-all, it lends itself to trying different tactics, such as turtling up so you can knock out foes weakened by a different opponent.

The biggest addition to the battle mechanics is the addition of Z-Moves, which are effectively once-a-fight special moves. Generic Z-Moves are tied to one of the elements, and special Z-Moves can only be used by certain Pokémon. They're either absurdly powerful attacks or incredibly powerful buffs, but the act of using a Z-Move is limited to once per battle. They're neat visually and have some uses, but they're difficult to get excited about. Short of finishing off an enemy in a stylish fashion, they don't feel as impactful as a Mega transformation. Their primary use seems to be adding a small amount of extra damage when an enemy survives with a smidgen of health. They'll likely be more impactful in advanced player-vs.-player combat, but in the story, they boil down to letting you one-shot all but the toughest enemies.


One new battle mechanic that negatively impacts the game is the addition of reinforcements. Wild Pokémon and several boss Pokémon can call for help and summon another Pokémon to the field. This looks like a neat idea until the glaring flaw comes into play: It doesn't take an enemy turn, and there doesn't seem to be a hard limit on how often they can use it. Short of one-shotting a Pokémon, you can get stuck in a cycle of foes infinitely calling for help. You also can't capture a Pokémon if there is a second Pokémon on the field, so if you choose to spare a Pokémon, you might have to deal with it infinitely preventing you from throwing Pokeballs at it. You can stop it by using status effects on the Pokémon, but it shouldn't really happen in the first place. Technically, there are benefits to this, as rare Pokémon can only be encountered if called for help, but that just makes it more tiresome to find them.

The last Pokémon games were uncommonly easy, even for a franchise designed for young kids. The inclusion of EXP Share as a default option meant it was very easy to out-level the game with your entire team. Sun and Moon are a step up, but they're still not very difficult. EXP Share is a default option, but the way experience points scale means that it's very difficult to out-level the area you're in. Short of grinding a bunch, you'll probably be just a little ahead of the curve for most fights and a little behind for boss battles. It's not enough to give anyone a hard time, but if it does, it means you can't depend on your starter's level advantage to steamroll everything. The game has a habit of leaving enemies underequipped, with most trainers having 1-2 Pokémon at most, but that stands out less when you're encouraged to swap to meet the challenge.

Pokémon Sun is the best-looking Pokémon game by a significant degree. It's colorful, charming, well-animated and has a lot of adorable little touches both in and out of battle. The environments sparkle with life, and it's a joy to explore the Alola region. Perhaps its most significant issue is that while the game runs smoothly on a New 3DS during regular battles, it chokes to a halt when more Pokémon are thrown into the mix. Considering two of the new features are four-player battles and Pokémon calling for reinforcements, this really can drag down the battles. The music is excellent and fits the atmosphere and Hawaiian tone of the game. It has some of my favorite battle and environmental music in the franchise as well as lots of excellent audio touches.

Pokémon Sun and Moon is a safe and enjoyable entry in the franchise. It doesn't reinvent the wheel but focuses on polishing the rough edges and making the entire thing shine. It has enough new features to make it a fun adventure without feeling too familiar, and that's important. Some nagging flaws, like a poor frame rate and annoying Pokémon reinforcements, drag down the experience a little, but die-hard fans and curious newcomers alike should still have a great time. Pokémon Sun and Moon offers over 800 monsters to collect, so you'll be catching them all for a long time.

Score: 9.0/10



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