Developed by: Game Freak Published by: Nintendo Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Welcome to the first game review on Puffin Zero. Not to worry, this review will mostly be positive – none of that apathy stuff that Assassin’s Creed brought up. I’ve spent well over 30 hours playing through the latest edition of Pokémon, spending my time endlessly catching Pokémon, training them, battling with them and generally having a good time. Though this review may be a little late, I had to feel confident with writing about it. So, let’s get started.
For those who don’t know – it’s fine if you don’t, I won’t judge.. not much anyway –Pokémon is a series of games first conceived by a man who used to catch bugs as a child. Naturally, this piece of insect poaching translates very well to a series of games in which you catch some strange, cute, awesome, strangely cute and cutely awesome creatures known as Pokémon. With these critters at your side you travel across various regions, battling other Pokémon ‘Trainers,’ having all sorts of cool adventures and taking down variations of the Pokémon mafia along the way.. oh and also the Pokémon League which is always fun.
Pokémon has remained largely unchanged as a game for over 20 years now. Sure, in each game there are new creatures for you to catch, new things to see, and new people to encounter, but every game has followed a pretty simple formula since 1996. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so, there are games out there which work well keeping to a tried and tested method, Nintendo games being the most famous of these. If Pokémon games changed too much then would it be Pokémon? In an industry which is always switching between trying to change itself and maintaining the status quo as much as possible, it’s always been nice to know that there’s a game there which you know will be the same no matter what. You might have different views, this does contrast with my statements made about Assassin’s Creed after all. But those are different genres of games, and I find that Pokémon wears nostalgic formula than other games do. In future years this may change, but only time will tell in that respect.
So where does this leave Sun and Moon? Well, I can say that they feel a bit different from previous Pokémon games – at least appearance-wise but I’ll get to that. It takes place in the Alola Region, based on Hawaii, with a series of different trials that you have to complete in order to become a Pokémon Master. I assume that anyway, that was pretty unclear in early stages.. You meet some interesting characters along the way, with a host of changes that alter the feel of this Pokémon game in small but arguably meaningful ways.
I took my time when playing Pokémon Sun, just enjoying the game with all it’s visuals. There’s something to be said with how relaxed I felt while playing this game; the islands were cool to explore and nearly every new Pokémon that I met was cool in their own way. As the number of creatures now gets to over 800, it’s clear that the focus has shifted from quantity to quality when it comes introducing new monsters to catch. And visually, the game does it’s job very well, with the islands looking like a true paradise, actual cutscenes to watch, and updated Pokémon sprites to behold. While part of me is nostalgic for the old top-down view that you had in the older Pokémon games, I can’t deny that this game is one of the best looking yet.
In addition to new Pokémon, Sun and Moon also introduces regional variants of older classic Pokémon – like an Ice Type Ninetales or a Psychic Type Raichu. Having this small change was a nice transition, with new typings and appearances to make building your team more interesting. I myself had fun using new Pokémon in combination with more nostalgic ones. While there were many fun ones to use – like a fish Pokémon that can summon it’s brethren to become a bigger fish – I found that going with what I new was a wiser course of action once I got to the end.
Story-wise the game was acceptable, with fun new characters – including a Professor who was essentially going without his shirt through the entire game – and an interesting plot to keep things going. I would say that it did take a while to get going though, not helped by the fact that the first two islands are essentially serving as extended tutorials about how to play the game and more advanced mechanics. Not that this is a bad thing per se. I was content to spend the time getting to know the new Pokémon that were on offer and engaging in battle after battle. But for those who are powering through, they may end up being exhausted by the slow pace that the first part of the game has. But the sad thing is that, while I was certainly engaged in what was going on once the plot picked up, I struggle to remember specific parts that made me tense or excited. You may argue that story isn’t as important in Pokémon, but I feel that should be considered important. (Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire had the excellent Delta Episode post story after all) I don’t think the developers were being lazy with the story, it just wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped.
On the subject of changes, the game certainly looks and feels different from previous titles, with bright and colourful visuals, and a new system of battle that replaces the gym leaders. This time you’re completing trials that range from fishing challenges to dancing mini games and cookery challenges. This is done before battling the fearsome Totem Pokémon, different from regular ones in that they are much more powerful. In my opinion, this is a great way to introduce new Pokémon; a boss encounter that shows off just how powerful they are. When you complete these trials, you battle against the island’s Kahunas – master trainers that mentor you and test your skills on each island. These are also great battles that showcase the capabilities of each type. (For the record my favourite was the Rock Type lady Olivia)
Though on the outside these changes are drastic indeed, these are still as formulaic as the previous Pokémon games; you pretty much know what to expect when you start a new trial. Regardless, the effort is appreciated and it’s nice to see a regional variant of an old system.
As for gameplay, if you’ve played any other Pokémon game you played all of them; it hasn’t significantly altered since it’s inception, which is probably a good thing. No real time battle system or ‘paradigm shifts’ here. Outside of battle you’re still running around through tall grass, looking for battles, Pokémon and adventure. The presence of Riding Pokémon to bypass obstacles instead of assigning necessary moves to your team is a welcome addition, as well as fun to just ride around on the back of a Tauros or in the arms of a Machamp.
In battles, you’re taking turns to deal out damage and gain experience so that your partner gets stronger. The biggest addition here is that you can now call upon Z-Moves, special attacks similar to the limit breaks of Final Fantasy, with a special animation that makes your Pokémon feel very powerful. While it is a long animation that many will get tired of, it can still be fun to use; at least when I remember to use it anyway since I’ve gotten through most of the game without needing to call upon those powers. Overall however, it’s still the same battle system before, which is as reliable as ever.
My final thoughts on Pokémon: Sun and Moon should be predictable by now. I really like this, I think it’s still great to play and the fact that I can come back to it and play at my own pace is something that I’ll always appreciate. Pokémon is and will likely always be my comfort zone where I can just relax and enjoy. A lot of people that I talk to buy a 3DS exclusively to play Pokémon. Where other series have become stale because of a refusal to try enough new things, and evolve in a meaningful way, I find that Pokémon has remained a refined experience. A niche series of games? Yes, but there’s never really been anything wrong with that – it’s been the modus operandi for years now. Sun and Moon was clearly a labour of love on it’s creator’s part and – like every other Pokémon game – gets one of my highest recommendations. It’s future is something to be mindful of, but for now it’s enough for me.
By the way the Pokémon in the image above is called Decidueye.. and it’s awesome!