Come with me, adventurers, as we take a journey in a time machine. All the way back to late 90’s when my mother and stepfather first became husband and wife. I was a young tyke then, wide-eyed and full of innocent wonder that would eventually sour into jaded isolation. With my mother’s wedding approaching the whole family had a lot of things to focus on, and most of those things did not involve me. Only-child that I was, the lack of constant attention was a bit of a challenge and my family needed something to keep me distracted and happy during all the wedding nonsense, particularly when we left town to where the ceremony would take place.
That, adventurers, is when I received my very first Game Boy Color, and with it a copy of one of the greatest video games ever made: Pokemon Blue. While my mom was getting married to the love of her life or whatever, my focus was solely on throwing those red-and-white balls at every creature that crossed my path. Accompanied by my trusty pal Squirtle, I explored the world of Kanto and fought to become the Pokemon League Champion.
Those early days began a lifelong journey with Pokemon, much to the disappointment of my mother who regretted getting me the game after being dragged to every animated movie that came out in theaters. I’ve fallen off the wagon at times – I skipped the fourth generation of Pokemon games and never bothered to finish fifth gen – but even when I wasn’t current with the main series I still played Pokemon games. Sixth generation in particular brought me back to the series in a big way, and I’ve probably beaten Pokemon Y six or seven times since I got the game back in college. When Sun and Moon were announced, I followed all the news I could get my hands on with a voracious appetite. I wrote articles about every new Pokemon reveal, proposed theories about the starters and their final forms, and speculated about how the Nuzlocke challenge would be affected by the game’s shift away from gym leader battles.
But something about Pokemon Sun and Moon just didn’t work for me.
The game was universally praised by critics and players as a fantastic Pokemon game. GameFreak went all out to create an engaging story on a scale much greater than any that came before. Alolan forms of first-gen Pokemon appealed to those who, like me, experienced the original games twenty years ago. And the Island Challenge was seen as a breath of fresh air compared to the typical gym leader set up. Yet I lost steam by the time I reached the game’s third island, and didn’t pick it up to finish it for months. Despite writing about how interesting it would be to Nuzlocke the game, I stopped trying before even reaching my first island challenge. Pokemon Moon failed to engage me, so when GameFreak announced that a re-imagining of the games would be released only a year after the originals came out, I immediately said “no, pass.”
As a result of totally dismissing Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon when it was first announced, I didn’t follow any of the news around it. Only when it was bundled into a Nintendo Direct along with other games did I see anything about the games at all. But since that Direct, even more information has come out concerning Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, which makes a lot of sense given that the goofy things come out a month from now. So with their release fast approaching, I thought today I would take a minute to review any recent announcements and see if there’s anything about this game that makes me think I’ll enjoy playing it.
This is the meat and potatoes of a new Pokemon game, right? I mean, the game is literally called “Pokemon!” So there should be some new critters to capture and train. In my ideal world, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon would feature new Alolan forms (some for Pokemon not from first generation) and new Mega Evolutions (since the original Sun and Moon didn’t add any). However, at this point that does not seem to be the case.
The games are set to feature a larger selection of Pokemon from the original Sun and Moon – over 400 species present in the game. Since there’s like 800 of the goofy things, that means that half of the Pokemon universe is available to you in this title out in the wild. This is an improvement over the original Sun and Moon (which as far as I can tell had around 300), and is comparable to X and Y (which apparently clocked in around 450). That’s definitely an improvement, as you can catch more Pokemon in the wild rather than having to rely on trades, but does that number include any NEW Pokemon?
As of the posting of this article in October 2017, the only real “new” Pokemon to be featured in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will be Necrozma, a legendary on the level of Solgaleo and Lunala from the first Sun and Moon. This thing will have a couple of different forms that basically look like the other two legendaries trying to cosplay as this one, but that’s about it. Rockruff’s evolution Lycanroc will have a new forme, but that’s only if you get a special Rockruff when the game launches. That’s not exactly what I was hoping for when it comes to new Pokemon to catch. It also seems that there will be at least three new Ultra Beasts, so that will pad out the legendaries a bit more. You know, because we need more overpowered Pokemon for people to use in VGC and competitive.
Additionally, adding new Pokemon to Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon won’t matter much if they don’t fix the encounter rates. If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology here, a Pokemon’s “encounter rate” is that specific Pokemon’s chance to appear whenever you get a random encounter on the route. Whenever I played Sun and Moon, I always felt like the encounter rates were really off-balance compared to X and Y, but I couldn’t quantify it. Luckily, Bulbapedia does the quantifying part for me, so now there are numbers to back up my frustration.
Comparing a segment of Sun and Moon’s Route 2 to the Route 2 from X and Y, you have five different Pokemon you could potentially catch in the former and six in the latter. In Sun/Moon’s route 2, the highest encounter rate is Spearow, who has a whopping 40% chance of showing up. Compare that to XY where three different Pokemon are tied for the highest encounter rate at 20%. Conversely, the lowest encounter rate in Sun/Moon is 10% (shared between 2 different Pokemon) while in XY the lowest is 11% (only one Pokemon has this low rate). So in Sun and Moon on route 2, every other encounter will probably be a Spearow, with the rarest Pokemon showing up maybe once in ten encounters, while in XY there’s only a 10% difference in the likelihood of any Pokemon appearing and many Pokemon are tied, meaning that they are equally likely to appear.
All this is to say that, if Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon add more Pokemon but still leave the encounter rates heavily weighted like that, the extra Pokemon won’t matter because you’re never going to meet any of them.
It’d be kind of a bummer to pick up these new games if all of the areas you explored ended up being the same. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon promise an Alola with quite a few changes, the most significant of which being that you can actually spend a significant amount of time in the Ultra Wormholes introduced in the first game to learn what is on the other side of them. This is actually a pretty clever way to expand the region – rather than totally rearranging the entire Alola region, they simply give you a way to access new places that weren’t accessible in the original games.
Part of this world beyond the Ultra Wormhole is a place called the Ultra Megalopolis, which is apparently an entire city that exists inside the Ultra Wormhole. The thing is, the light has been stolen from the city by that jerk Necrozma, so chances are it’s up to you to get back that stolen light from the legendary Pokemon. Still, the addition of an entire city definitely opens up some new story possibilities, and that is evident in the presence of a group of new villains called the Ultra Recon Squad.
So far this all sounds like good news to me. Although I’m not particularly interested in Ultra Beasts as a concept, I do think exploring the world they come from is a pretty good idea and it definitely adds a new story element that was not present in Sun and Moon. The fact that human beings come from there is compelling, and it seems like right now the Ultra Recon Squad’s goals are a mystery.
THE ISLAND CHALLENGE?
Island Trials, Totem Pokemon, and Island Kahunas are all back in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Which makes sense, considering that most of these things were received as positive features from a critical perspective. But for me personally, I am a bit disappointed that we still don’t have gyms and gym leaders to look forward to. I mean, I guess that could be a plot twist of the Ultra World, but somehow I doubt that they’ll have seven island trials with four kahunas to fight followed by eight gym leaders and an Ultra Pokemon League. That just seems like a ton of content for a Pokemon game.
I do appreciate that apparently Mina now has a trial, as it felt kind of lazy that you didn’t have to do anything for her in the original Sun and Moon. Additionally, the trials of the other captains are allegedly different and so are their totem Pokemon. That will certainly be a nice change, although I didn’t particularly enjoy Totem Pokemon and am not excited for their return. For me, the difficulty of a Pokemon game should come from capable trainers, but most of the Alolan trainers are pretty simple while the real challenge comes from these overpowered Totem Pokemon. Totems and island challenges are all part of Alola’s culture, so changing that definitely feels dishonest – I just hope the next Pokemon game doesn’t carry on in this manner.
So far it seems like the trial captains and kahunas will all be the same characters, but I really hope they change it up a little. Since this is a re-imagined version of the original rather than a direct sequel, it gives an opportunity to use the cast in fun new ways. I’d love to see new kahunas, or some trial captains now being kahunas while kahunas are trial captains, a different Elite Four – all of this would add some life to the game’s Island Challenge, but so far it looks like we are dealing with more of the same.
NEW GAME FEATURES?
The last thing to look at when considering whether Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will be worth the time is whether or not there will be any new features. It does seem that a couple of new things will be added to the game. The Rotom Dex is said to be more fleshed-out this time around, with your Rotom adapting to your personality as you grow closer with it. This can unlock new abilities for the Dex including the ability to give items, enhance your trainer or Pokemon with effects similar to the O-Powers from XY, and even letting you use Z-Moves twice in one battle. It’s cool to see the Rotom Dex getting some love after it was so hyped up for the original games and then ended up being pretty boring.
Z-Moves are back and apparently there are even more of them this time, so that’s cool, I guess. I really didn’t get too interested in Z-Moves during my Sun and Moon experience, but for those who did you now have even more to work with. This includes special Z-Moves for Solgaleo and Lunala as well as the Necrozma forms that are fused with them. Because, you know, legendary Pokemon don’t have enough ways to murder you.
If you are lucky enough to have a child old enough to play Pokemon games, that child just might want to pick up the new Z-Power Ring, an accessory you can use alongside your Pokemon game that lights up when you use Z-Power. Yeah, they had these for the original Sun and Moon too, but the rings in this game don’t look the same, so obviously you need to get the latest and greatest in plastic Z-Ring technology. I didn’t look up the price point on this thing because thankfully, my son is not old enough to understand what it is and want it. I just hope Skylanders is done by the time he gets to gaming age…
So there you have it, adventurers, everything I could learn about Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon by going over the Pokemon website. Am I convinced to buy it yet? I’m gonna have to say no. I also know I can’t trust the reviews because Sun and Moon were very well-received but they ended up not being my kind of Pokemon game. I think I’ll probably end up sitting this one out and I’ll give the series a chance again when the next mainline title comes out on the Nintendo Switch.
I’m interested to hear what you think, adventurers. Do these new versions of Sun and Moon seem engaging to you? Do you plan to get them? If not, what would you have to see in order to have your mind changed? Let me know in the comments below!