Review: Pokémon Sun & Moon

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80%
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Great

What it lacks in competitiveness and story development, Pokemon Sun and Moon makes up for in witty dialogue and humour and unique Pokemon designs.

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The Pokémon franchise is one of Nintendo’s main cash-cows, so one would expect them to keep the basic formula the same for their newest games; after all, familiarity breeds success. But with Pokémon Sun and Moon, they have taken a major gamble, uprooting many of the most classic elements of the older games in favour for newer innovative ideas, perhaps in an effort to refresh a franchise which is lacking in terms of originality, if not in terms of sales.

The newest region, Alola, is far-off from Kanto, Johto et al. and unsurprisingly, the game-style reflects this. Gone are the traditional eight gym leaders and badge collecting as you work your way up the ladder to challenge the League. Instead, they are replaced by Island Trial – seven of them in total, and four Grand Trials against Kahunas, a hybrid of Gym Leaders and effectively Island bosses. While they are a welcome break in terms of their uniqueness—they have you collecting ingredients, snapping photos and identifying dances—they do lack the real sense of achievement that defeating a Gym Leader did bring. They just seem a lot easier in comparison to some of the more infamous Gym Leader battles that previous games had offered (Whitney’s Miltank, I am looking at you).

The general battle and collect mechanic is still the same, and the storyline, although featuring a new ‘evil team’- Team Skull does feel worryingly familiar. Pokémon isn’t designed to be a particularly troubling or difficult series to understand, but the formula for the in-game antagonists is starting to become very stale. Despite this, cut-scenes do look cool in some cases, and add necessary depth to parts of the story. For the first time in almost forever, I wanted to use my 3DS Depth Slider to actually experience 3D elements of a game. Generally cut-scenes hit the right notes, but at times they still do feel clunky and forced, as if they have almost been rammed in for the sake of a cinematic.

The post-game content is also very lacking in comparison to Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, and apart from the classic mantra of ‘catch-em-all’, there is little replay value once the main story is complete. The Battle Tree operates as cameo central for some of the older series characters to make appearances, and provides more of a challenge for players who are looking for competitive battling, but it still feels lacking. Considering they cracked a brilliant post-game formula back in Generation III with the Battle Frontier, one can only wonder why Nintendo seem adamant that this series of battling quests will not return.

One new thing Alola did well is acknowledge the concept of adaptation and evolution with unique forms of existing Pokémons that have had to adapt to new environments. Some of these look cool and showcase this mechanic well, but some of the designs just seem very gimmicky. That said, they work in a game series that hardly sells itself as being for hardcore players. New evolution methods also add an element of surprise for some returning players. The mechanics do differ in each game as well, which enforces once more the need to trade between the two versions. While some might argue this is done for creative purposes, and to really mark the difference between Sun and Moon, the cynic in me still makes me feel it is in most cases, a cash-grab. Fortunately, examples like Rockruff do challenge this notion-the different evolution paths depending on version and time do make sense when you see the evolved form.

Also very welcome for returning players is the removal of the barrier of Hidden Machines. Previously these proved a stickler because Pokémon could not forget them from their moveset without a special help of an NPC. But, with the new altered mechanics, the out-of-battle functions of HMs like Fly and Surf have been displaced sensibly by the ability to call wild Pokémon to help you. Need a Rock Smashed? Tauros is your man. Want to Fly somewhere? Call on Charizard. These sensible moves work as a great anti-frustration feature, and stop Party ‘Mons having their movesets clogged up by unhelpful, and unnecessary moves like Rock Smash or Cut. It took seven generations, but Nintendo finally listened to fans.

If Nintendo are trying to advertise Sun and Moon as being total revamps of the series and operating as a major break from the norm, they haven’t succeeded. It seems far too familiar to be considered unique, and although they have diversified by removing gyms and slightly tweaking some mechanics, the usual formula still remains. This isn’t suggesting it doesn’t work, however, as Sun and Moon are perfectly fun to play. What Pokémon Sun and Moon lack in competitiveness and story development, they make up for in witty dialogue and humour, plus a welcome uniqueness when it comes to actual Pokémon designs. Sun and Moon don’t say Bon Voyage to the entire old formula, but they certainly give it a welcome twist.

Pokémon Sun and Moon is available now for Nintendo 3DS.

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