Previously, Game Freak took us to the island-based Alolan region for Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. Before putting a bow on this era of the franchise, we put on our beachwear one more time explore Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Not having played Sun or Moon prior to this, I can’t really give you a sense of how different this new entry is in comparison.
This time, you’re playing as a boy or girl who has just moved from Kanto to Alola. Being old enough now to become a certified trainer, you set off on a quest to be the very best, like no one ever was. Being in a tropical environment, you’re actually treated to “remixed” versions of original Pokemon that have evolved differently on Alola. For example, Alolan Exeggutor is now a very tall and skinny tree, versus an average-looking palm tree. Alolan Vulpix is now an ice type white fox. Of course, there’s Alolan Raichu too, who looks cheery hovering on its tail like a surf board. It’s essentially Malibu Stacy with a new hat, but it makes sense within the lore and freshens things up a bit.
As with other games in the series, you’ll trek across the land, catching new Pokemon for your team, meeting new people along the way, and proving your skills as a trainer. There are a few new wrinkles to the experience worth noting. Towards the end of the first major challenge, wild Pokemon start calling out ally Pokemon to fight alongside of them. This opens the door for two active Pokemon per side. It’s a notable shift and welcome addition to the meta, as there’s more to consider on the battlefield as you fight.
Less impactful is the inclusion of Z-moves, which allow Pokemon to equip special crystals that give them access to flashy super moves, not unlike those found in modern fighting games. The animations look great, and they certainly pack a punch, but I personally find them to be more flashy in nature.
Most obnoxious is the ability/requirement to take personal care of the Pokemon in your party. Using the touch screen, you’ll brush their fur, dry them off, feed them, pet them, and more. You’ll do this in order to make sure your party is fed and happy. If they’re happy and fed, they’ll gain bonuses in combat. However, if you neglect them, they suffer from status effects. It’s cute the first time you treat your Pokemon, but it becomes extremely annoying when you have to play this same mini game every 15-20 minutes to maintain your team.
Overall, the combat is what continues to make the Pokemon games a wonderful experience. However, there are still lingering structural issues that drive me nuts. For example, the game doesn’t have any sort of quest log, making the myriad of side missions you stumble upon extremely difficult to follow up on. While I think the game is much better than X and Y and directing you to where to go, there are times when you’ll backtrack to the nearest Pokemon Centre, only to be completely mystified as to how to get back to the point where you left off.
Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon maintains the level set by previous games while adding a few cool wrinkles to the combat. However, the user experience and clunky progression structure of the past continues to be problematic. While I ultimately enjoyed my time with this one, I really hope Gamefreak is able to improve on the game’s weaker aspects for the upcoming Switch game.