The 3DS should now be phased out. The Switch is far from a complete failure, at least for now, and Nintendo has already started pushing its biggest and brightest franchises onto the new hardware. Pokémon, the international catch-and-battle craze that only justified having three different Game Boys as a kid, isn’t far behind (especially when you count spin-offs).
That’s why Pokemon Ultra Sun and pokemon ultra moon feel so weird. The series is no stranger to remakes, but these new ones come just a year after vanilla Sun and Moon graced the same hardware, not the more standard two, or three, or even 10 years apart. That’s not to say Nintendo has a perfectly good new game system without traditional Pokémon games that could have been remakes. you’d think Ultra would be a better fit because not only is the new content new, but the old content is new as well.
And make no mistake: Ultrazone and Ultra Moon are a year old games with some new stuff in them. They have a whole bunch of new stuff, to be honest, but essentially the games are the same as their predecessors. Starting out as a kid newly moved to the islands of Alola, Pokémon’s equivalent of Hawaii, you set out on an adventure to pass the Pokémon-focused trials of each landmass. These replace Gym battles from the past two decades of Pokémon games and shake things up considerably, but not so much that fans won’t recognize the tribulations for what they are.
Playing with the pieces
What really set Sun and Moon apart from the rest of the series was their charm. Pokémon has gotten weirder over the years (just ask anyone who’s seen the latest movie), but Sun and Moon lean into that goofiness tenfold. The Team Rocket stand-in is a gang of lovingly useless hip-hop followers. Dugtrios has Fabio hair and Persian has a Garfield face. Then there’s this whole invasion of interdimensional monsters and an evil mother. Because the Pokémon games have become so predictable over the years, these breaks with convention (and every ounce of self-seriousness) have meant that Sun and Moon excel.
Ultrazone and Ultra Moon double the charm as well as the madness of the jump. Anyone who has played the previous games will notice immediate differences, such as a mysterious alien duo called the Ultra Recon Squad that follows you through the games. These two offer: Ultra‘s more out-of-left-field plot points earlier than in previous versions. That gives the heavy sci-fi story time to breathe and gives weight to moments like when I traveled to another dimension myself.
Other additions are less obvious, but connect the games’ existing fan service with meaningful mechanics. Characters such as Samson Oak, cousin of red and blue‘s Professor Oak, show up earlier and have more to do for example in the whole story. Then there’s the photography system, which has been blown out with a photo booth mode. It still listens back to the fan favorite pokemon snapbut the mode now makes it much more fun to model your character in island-specific outfits.
Speaking of dressing up, the Ultra incarnations are chock full of similar pacifist derivations. Poké Pelago, Festival Plaza and Pokémon Refresh all return to distract you with light city management and Nintendogs– style pocket sample care. They also draw attention to where the Ultras still room for improvement.
Slowpokes and Slowpokes
In 2017 Pokemon feels meticulous slowly. That’s partly due to the same dedication to serving the two fans Ultra use games to their advantage. For example, experience will still only be shared between multiple Pokémon in your party after you earn the “Exp. Share” item. Mounted and fast travel similarly don’t unlock until you’re several hours into the main story. Vital tools like these have always been doled out in scripted, plot-justified events, going all the way back to the earliest Pokemon games. But right now it feels like tradition all making them unavailable at first.
To their credit, Ultrazone and Ultra Moon roll out these essential tools sooner than most games in the series. But they’re already asking you to perform the same moves that Pokémon has been relying on for 20 years: pick one of three starting creatures, stomp on Rattata, and duel a series of element-themed bosses. Now you’ll also need to use the 3DS touchscreen to manually scrape mud and poison from your partners, spend time manually harvesting beans on your Poké Pelago farm, and watch the same unmissable Z-Move animations countless times as if Final Fantasy VII‘s subpoena is the pinnacle of animation design.
I was tired of it by 10 o’clock, but just as gradually…it grew on me. By hour 15, the non-combat activities felt just as integral as the turn-based combat. Most of the “busy stuff” comes with painfully cute animations, sound effects, and lines of dialogue that are a joy to explore, and at least one new Z-Move is really worth checking out every time.
Linked to Sun and Moonthe generally soft themes of teamwork and friendly rivalry, the “busy work” ultimately feels just as good as it does in Animal Crossing or Nintendogs. Your island hopping adventure is not (in the first instance) about saving the world. It’s about bonding with colorful animals! The critters on Team Skull aren’t really out for hurt everybody; they’re just a bunch of idiots who end up caring more about each other than their “evil” escapades.
But 15 hours is still a steep hill to climb to reach the game’s less tender meat. That hill is made all the more difficult to scale because I already saw the main lines less than a year ago in standard Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. Because as much fun as it is to poke around aimlessly at the world – to discover that a cop is actually a Ditto with a different shape or to listen to a cubic caterpillar scream with joy because I patted it just right on the head – it’s a solid investment to make twice over a 12 month time frame (assuming you didn’t skip last year’s) Sun and Moon).
The remixed story and expanded cast also brighten up the returning players. The added sci-fi plot threads are: just tempting enough to pass the remake to the flesh of the new content, manifesting itself in the extreme late game. Then you struggle with the nature of Ultra‘s Team Rainbow Rocket faction – a conglomeration of all the villains in the series so far, from Giovanni to Lysandre – and For real dive into the interdimensional travel angle. It’s strange to say I’m worried about spoiling a pokemon game, but Ultrazone and Ultra Moon justify it.
And that’s what I still love about these seventh-generation games, even during this second spin around Alola. They are so often gentle, pleasant, laughably surprising. Those pleasant surprises date back to before the games even came out, when I was just chuckling at the idea of a depressed goblin in a dime Pikachu costume being canon. Ultrazone and Ultra Moon have more of those moments, just wrapped in a not very surprising structure.
The novelty of classic pokemon on a TV, via the Switch, may have distracted from the repeat a year later. If nothing else, it would have smoothed out the graphical lag present in some of the bigger battles (which are even present on the more powerful “new” 3DS XL). But the Ultra games still justify themselves with a mountain of fan service fit for pokemon‘s supposed swan song on the 3DS hardware.
- The definitive versions of two of the most interesting pokemon games in years.
- Characters, mechanics and plot beats are more balanced throughout the story.
- tons other things you can do besides catching Pokémon and competing against each other.
- Crazy, charming sci-fi stories that test the limits of what pokemon even passes.
- Fan service feels more deserved and more important.
- Starts incredibly slow
- Strangely timed remakes, just a year after the last games on the same handheld.
- The frame rate may drop during boss battles.
the ugly one
- Mimikyu is not a starter…
verdict: Anyone who skipped Sun and Moon has no excuse not to buy them Ultra successors. Returning players should know that they are off to a slow start, but should still consider purchasing the new games.