2017 is drawing to a close and what a great year for games it’s been! Hit after hit after hit has dropped, meaning that no matter your taste, you’ve probably found something worth playing and you’ve loved it to death. We’re not quite into 2018 yet, though, so there’s time enough for a few more solid releases before the ball drops. Case in point: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, a set of updated re-releases of the original Pokémon Sun and Moon released only last year for the 3DS.
In a move somewhat akin to the “third versions” of Pokémon games seen since Pokémon Yellow back in the day, Ultra Sun and Moon are something like remakes of the original Pokémon Sun and Moon released last year. The basic idea is still the same: you’re a young kid who’s just moved to the Alola region of the Pokémon world, an island chain based on Hawaii, and you’re going on an adventure with your monster pals. Ultra Sun and Moon are quality games but they aren’t going to blow you away quite as much if you played Sun and Moon, which introduced massive and sweeping changes to the Pokémon formula that improved the experience for the better.
Those changes are still present and accounted for here, of course – in particular, the elimination of Hidden Machines, a thorn in the series’ side since the first games – and they make Ultra Sun and Moon incredibly pleasant to play, but you’re probably here for what’s new over the original versions of these games.
If you’ve already played through Sun or Moon, I think the most noteworthy change for you is going to be the significant alternation to the Pokémon available in different locations. Alolan Pokémon are known for enjoying the relaxed pace of island life, by which I mean they’re often incredibly slow, and many of the creatures imported from other regions address that issue nicely. It’s also interesting to see monsters available early in the game that were originally difficult to find and use in their respective titles. Zorua, for instance, was an unusual fox from Black and White that was only available in rare circumstances without resorting to trading. Here, you can pick one up in the wild within the first hour or so and use it for the entire game if you’d like. There’s even a few entirely new Pokémon!
While the altered Pokémon distribution is the most immediately tangible change in the Ultra games, more obvious differences become apparent as you continue. The game’s story is shaken up, for instance, with new characters like the Ultra Recon Squad showing up and altering how things play out. There’s also a ton of new post-game content, which is a great boon to a Pokémon title that will help keep the game alive even after you’ve made it through the plot; without getting into spoiler territory, suffice to say that there’s both Pokémon and characters from previous titles that show up for a little nostalgia bombing, not to mention numerous additional battles and adventures to check out. It’s not as loaded as the superlative Pokémon Emerald, but there’s more to do than the original Sun and Moon (and much more to do than X and Y, which basically had no post-game experience at all.)
As has been the case for a few games now since the Pokémon series’ switch to 3D, Ultra Sun and Moon look great but are somewhat held back by the limitations of the graying 3DS. In particular, the tendency of wild Pokémon to call in allies shines a light on the engine’s difficulty when rendering more than two battling Pokémon at a time. This isn’t the end of the world, but it does make one just a little more enthusiastic for the inevitable move to the Switch. Soundwise things are much the same as the original Sun and Moon with their peppy island soundtracks, though something must be said for the, er….interesting changes made to both the music and the overall tone of the game in the new areas introduced here. Pokémon might be at its most interesting when it’s diverting from sunshine and rainbows, after all…
Pokémon Sun and Moon set a new benchmark for what the series could do, and Ultra Sun and Moon only continue to build on what those games did rather than rewriting the book yet again. There’s nothing wrong with that, though – there’s a lot to love here. Certainly fans of the series are going to have a great time with Ultra Sun and Moon, but the real winners might be players who skipped the original Sun and Moon. They’re going to come in to Alola with fresh faces ready to experience Pokémon anew all over again. And again!