The first four generations of Pokemon games each had a special edition that was released later. From Pokemon Yellow through until Pokemon Platinum, these games added small amounts of extra story whilst adding extra features and/or additional older Pokemon from previous generations into the mix. Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 bucked this trend by making direct sequels to the original story, yet keeping up with the expectations of a special edition Pokemon title. Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have been scaled back to a traditional special edition, though strangely still have two editions of the game. This is because the Ultra titles each add new Ultra Beasts that are divided between the two games meaning anyone wishing to fill out the Pokedex will either need to find a trading partner or buy both copies of the game, even if they already own both Sun & Moon.
The traditional Pokemon league does not exist with the Alolan islands of Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, instead the player must complete a Grand Trial on each island, defeating the captains that reside there before ultimately defeating the island Kahuna and moving on. The Elite Four still exist though, and the player will need to battle their way through them in any order if they are to be crowned champion of the region.
There are not just new Pokemon though. In addition to being able to acquire most of the totem Pokemon fought during the trials, there are also three new forms for existing Pokemon, two of which are the legendary Pokemon shown on the box art. These new legendary forms are obtained during the new story segments in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon that revolve around the Pokemon Necrozma, the Ultra Recon Squad, and a new area of the game: Ultra Space. Ultra Space technically existed in Sun & Moon, but that was only a single area. It has now been massively expanded upon to include multiple areas where previously unavailable Pokemon can now be caught, including the largest amount of legendary Pokemon in a single game to date. The mechanics of Ultra Space also increase the chance for shiny Pokemon to appear, meaning less effort is required to get some elusive shiny legendary Pokemon.
A new method of traveling between islands is introduced in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon – Mantine Surfing. This mini-game allows the player to ride the Pokemon Mantine while attempting to rack up points by performing tricks. Doing well in these games earns Beach Points that can be spent on items in the shops at the new beach locations on each of the four islands. Only the first course is compulsory and replaces the ship journey that would have otherwise taken place.
Perhaps one of the main draws in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon is the appearance of team Rainbow Rocket. Appearing once the player has beaten the Elite Four for the first time, this new team is comprised of all the major villain from the twenty year history of Pokemon and is lead by none other than Giovanni himself. The former head of Team Rocket has traveled to other worlds and recruited the heads of each faction after they successfully executed their plans. These masterminds never got thwarted by a young trainer on his Pokemon journey, but were transported away before they got to see the results of their ambition.
Structurally, the first half of Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon remain almost identical to their base versions. Players will still be undergoing the Island Challenge, traversing the four islands of the region to take on Trials, Alola’s answer to the Gyms of older generations. The routes, towns, and cities you pass through, and the vast majority of people, all remain mostly the same, but different items may be acquired, new trainers may be battled, or some different Pokemon from previous generations may pop out instead of those that would have been expected. This makes the early game feel somewhat repetitive for returning players who want to see the new content in the game, and this is doubly so for collectors who need both copies of the game to fill out their Pokedex.
The difficulty of the game is largely unchanged as well. X & Y removed the experience share as an item and made it function across the entire team while it is turned on. Sun & Moon removed Hidden Machines and with it a large amount of puzzle solving that players had to accomplish during their travels, and added the Rotom dex, a Pokedex inhabited by the Pokemon Rotom that will give the player hints and direct them where they need to go on the map. The dumbing down of the seventh generation Pokemon titles made the games feel simpler than their older counterparts, so it is nice that some of the new encounters added to the game feels challenging for veteran players. Sadly, these are again mostly in the latter half of the game when the new plot points are expressed.
On the competitive side of things, it is now the easiest it has ever been to breed and raise a team of powerful Pokemon. Instead of heaving to visit someone with each Pokemon whose Invisible Values the player wishes to have checked, an app is now installed on the Pokedex which will rate a the stats of a Pokemon. Space no longer needs to be kept in the active party to pick up eggs from breeding, instead they can be sent directly to a box on the PC. Sun & Moon also introduced Poke Pelago, a series of islands where Pokemon can be sent to be raised passively in real time, even if the game is suspended. Poke Pelago allows the player to hatch eggs, train Effort Values, increase experience, hunt for rare items, and even recruit additional Pokemon with minimal effort.
Interaction with other players has been simplified with the addition of Quick Link. Players just tap the option in the menu then hold the touch pad to connect with other nearby players for all social interactions. Communication with distant players takes place through Festival Plaza, a base of sorts that players can customise with various shops and features. Completing local and global missions award the player with Festival Coins that are spent at the facilities, but also increase the rank of the plaza when the player acquires enough of them. Ranking up gives the player a new facility to install at their plaza which could potentially be rarer than an existing version.
Battling has been expanded upon again in the seventh generation games with the addition of Z-moves. Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon expand upon this further by increasing the amount of moves that can be used by Pokemon after the player has acquired the Z-power ring and the relevant crystals. The mega evolution mechanic also returns, although the player will not have access to this until they are into the post-game. A word of caution here for anyone who regularly battles or trades with other players; any Pokemon that has learnt a new move or holds a new item cannot participate in battle or trades with players who are still using Sun & Moon.
Graphically, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon keeps the expansive 3D world that was introduced in the sixth generation games. The camera generally follows the player and will rotate itself as the player follows the various routes and paths through the game. Likewise, battles are still in full 3D, though the game does not use the 3D function of the 3DS any longer. This will be a blow to players who own a New Nintendo 3DS with the improved 3D functions.
Aside from a few stand out tunes that series veterans will instantly recognise, the music of Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon is very much in the background. It is there, but it one be hard to pick out any of the tracks against those you might hear while riding an elevator. The game continues the tradition of mimicking the cries of individual Pokemon. Some may sound like a child hitting all the keys on a keyboard, but they somehow manage to sound like the Pokemon they represent.
Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon shake up some of the established staples of the series, and while there are some good aspects to this, it leaves the games feeling like an imitator rather than a successor. This reviewer quit an hour into playing Sun despite owning a living Pokedex that took hundreds of hours to complete, yet even the promise of a definitive version with extra content was not enough for the game to be played on release day. The living Pokedex is yet to be completed again because doing so requires a purchase of the counterpart game, or finding someone willing to part with unique Pokemon that can only be caught once each play through. Newcomers to the series will find a world filled with places to explore and creature to catch, but veterans may find this is not the same game they have come to expect.
Title: Pokemon Ultra Sun
Genre: Japanese role-playing game
Developer: Game Freak
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 17 November, 2017