As someone who has been a video gamer my whole life, it is no secret to anyone who knows me that the Pokémon franchise has long been one of my favorites. It has been nearly two decades since I first started playing Pokémon Red Version on my Game Boy Color, and this has more or less become a Nintendo franchise that has overshadowed nearly all others, including many of their more established ones. While there have been many spin-off titles, an anime series, a trading card game, and countless toys and other products, the “main series” video games have always been the best thing this franchise has had to offer.
If you have never played a Pokémon game before, the basic premise goes something like this. You are a young child living in a world that is inhabited by creatures called Pokémon. They come in countless varieties and types, and many youngsters go on a journey, capturing them, battling them against other trainers, meeting new people and seeing new places on their journeys to become the best. The basic premise has remained the same since the original games, which saw American release back in 1998 (though they had been available in Japan a few years prior to that). Each new generation of the franchise has introduced new monsters, new game play features, and has given gamers plenty of reason to stay interested, yet throughout it all the basic core mechanics have remained the same.
Despite the games often being called “childish,” due in no small part to the often cutesy monster designs, there is actually a good deal of strategy involved, which is a big part of the reason the games have been such a hit with all ages. Another standout fan-favorite feature of the games is the ability to trade monsters and battle them with friends. Because of this, each new Pokemon generation is released in two separate games; the core game play experience and journey in both games is essentially the same with a few slight exceptions, with the major difference being what monsters you can get in that game.
By my count (and please correct me if I’m wrong here), Pokémon Sun and Moon, the latest installments in the series, are the SEVENTH generation. This time around, you play as a young Pokémon trainer that has just moved to the Alola region, a part of the world comprised of four main islands. You set off on your journey alongside several friends/rivals, going from town to town and island to island completing trials as you advance on your journey, collecting new monsters along the way and participating in battles. And, as with other games in the series, there is an “Enemy Team” present, which appears to make trouble on your journey as well.
But of course, you are probably curious about what the new features in this installment of the Pokémon franchise are, and perhaps more importantly, if one of the games is worth purchasing. Having played through a good portion of the game thus far (I have not yet completed the main story), I can safely say that the answer is YES. The 3DS has received great new games in the franchise that are definitely worth playing through.
Thankfully, two of the biggest changes to the game rectify two of the biggest problems with the earlier generation titles. In older games, the main story involved collecting Badges from Gym Leaders, with each game typically having eight Gyms and Badges to get. And another requirement to get around the world was to teach your Pokémon “HM Moves” to destroy obstacles blocking the path on the road through the journey.
The former became a problem because the game designers got way too creative with the gym designs in more recent games, to the point that navigating them and trying to solve the puzzles and such was more of a hassle than the actual battles! This has been replaced with new Island Challenges, which differ from location to location. While they do typically involve battles, you may find yourself doing a few radically different things as well, including memorization exercises and trivia questions. It definitely feels fresh compared to what you have encountered in previous games.
The “HM Move” problem has been remedied in that you no longer have to teach your Pokémon these moves; you can now summon a Pokémon that has those moves to perform the task in question. This means no longer having to waste a valuable move slot just to get through the game, or assigning a monster to become an “HM Slave.” This is a welcomed change to the formula of the games.
Another interesting feature is that a number of the older monsters now have Alolan forms that differ from what you have seen in the older generations of games. For instance, the Rattata/Raticate evolutionary chain in other regions was simply a Normal Type. In Alola, it is a Dark Type. There are a handful of these alternative versions of the monsters, and they will definitely have you rethinking your strategies.
Amongst new features, new “Z-Moves” that you gain access to with completion of trials can give you a secret weapon to rely upon in battles as well. There are also a number of new standard battle techniques to add to your move list as well.
Of course, your nemeses have a few new tricks up their sleeves as well. Wild Pokémon can now call for help, making these battles less predictable. And you never know when you might be challenged to a battle by a rival trainer or an enemy team.
That said, there are a few minor shortcomings. The game starts very slow, which is a critical obstacle that works against a game like this. I appreciate the programmers wanting me to appreciate the story and the Alolan region, but I did not have my first Pokémon until nearly half an hour’s worth of wading through “story stuff!” Likewise, there is a new feature to take pictures of monsters in some parts of the game, but it is fairly basic and does not really add much to the game. The last major issue I have is the lack of 3D compatibility, despite the game being made for the 3DS; this has been an issue with many of the more recent titles in the series.
Starting early next year, the game will be compatible with Pokémon Bank and Poké Transfer, so you will be able to import creatures from your older games. When this happens, it will definitely make things all the more interesting, and the online trading features are sure to benefit from it.
Shortcomings in Pokémon Sun and Moon are minor; overall these are brilliant new installments in one of Nintendo’s finest franchises. Strongly recommended for 3DS gamers of all ages!