I’ve played and completed every iteration of Pokémon since picking up Pokémon Blue all the way back in ’99. Over the years I’ve returned time and again, ready to play something that feels incredibly fun but also entirely familiar. The classic Pokémon formula failed to deviate much for nearly 20 years, but recent entries have sought to correct that, albeit with baby steps.
The subtle changes to the standard formula have helped keep things fresh, especially for seasoned players like myself. In Pokémon Sun and Moon the script feels entirely flipped, with a brand-new setting and all-new Pokémon.
I got the chance to play the first couple of hours of the game, and the excellent core remains the same. It’s the tweaks all around it that look like they’ll make sure I remain a Pokémon addict who’ll be trying to “catch ’em all” long after the November launch.
I won’t quite tell you everything that’s new in the opening of Pokémon Moon. You should experience it for yourself. Let’s just say the game starts with a bang. Entering the game, we’re introduced to the new Alola region and some of its inhabitants, starting with Professor Kukui.
Having spent years with Professor Oak and all of his equally nerdy spin-offs, seeing this latest professor with his lab coat open and nothing on underneath, I’ll admit I was offput. This probably brings to light the hypocrisy of old-school fans like me: demanding change then bemoaning the slightest difference. But, hey, a flashing prof is a step too far.
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However, in a world currently obsessed with 4K resolution thanks to the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio, it was nice to return to the 3DS and Pokémon. With its step-ladder jaggies and bright colours, the new Hawaiian-inspired landscape is still beautiful, and feels incredibly warm thanks to the adorable musical score. The presentation has also been given a complete revamp, with new camera angles and pans as you explore the terrain, which makes things far more interesting than the old-school high angles which were very restrictive on detail.
After creating my character in traditional Pokémon fashion, I awake inside my new Alolan home. As always, my room is filled with boxes and the latest Nintendo console – just a Wii U, although I was desperately hoping it’d be a Nintendo NX – and I’m soon called downstairs by my mum. After a knock at the door, I go to answer, but the new Pokémon Prof lets himself in anyway – he does this at least three times during my demo, adding to the list of why I hate this new guy – and provides some more narrative context to this new adventure.
It’s not long before I’m introduced to the Professor’s co-worker, Lillie, who will clearly play a key part in Sun and Moon’s story. Unfortunately, once again, this is a spoiler-free zone, but what I can say is that it’s quite clear the latest round of Pokémon will not follow the tried-and-tested “beat all the gyms, become the best!” formula, mainly because there aren’t any gyms.
Replacing gyms is the new “Island Challenge”, in which you take on Trial Captains in the game’s four islands, each of which will give you a particular task. This change in formula is welcome, and opens so many opportunities for new gameplay experiences and something new for players to strive for. Unfortunately, with only a couple of hours playing the game, I didn’t quite reach the first trial, but it was clear even in the opening moments that the quest to become the best trainer in the land isn’t as in-your-face as it once was.
I was incredibly impressed by Moon’s narrative direction, primarily because it felt new. I didn’t know what was about to happen because it simply isn’t like any previous game in the series, and that’s a great thing.
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One thing which hasn’t changed, thankfully, is getting to choose your starter Pokémon. Of the three newcomers – Rowlett, Litten and Popplio – I opted for Litten, the smitten-looking kitten. As always, you will have a rival – Hau – to compete with throughout your journey, but the interesting thing is that, unlike in previous games, your rival takes the Pokémon which is weak compared to yours. Previously, if you chose water, your opponent picked grass, you picked fire, they picked water and so on. Litten is a fire Pokémon, and my rival went with Rowlett, the grass-type.
This is an early indicator of a couple of the ways in which things have been made a little easier for players. It continues in the battle itself. Part of the fun in battling Pokémon is learning each type’s strengths and weaknesses. Learning which Pokémon and moves can overcome the ever-tricky ghost, psychic and dragon types was always fun, but this time the game does a lot of the hard work for you.
After battling a Pokémon once, the moves displayed on the lower screen will now tell you their effectiveness against it. After spending some time running through bushes in the local area to catch some creatures, I knew everything about them after just a couple of encounters. This takes away some of the mystery of match-ups. I’d much rather learn how to best each Pokemon myself rather than have the information spoon-fed.
Bonding with your Pokemon is now encouraged post-battle. After each contest you can groom and clean your ’mon to help improve the relationship between trainer and creature, as well as feed them beans. This isn’t superfluous, though, as treating your Pokémon after battle also cures any status effects.
It reminds me of Pokémon Yellow, in which I tried desperately to get my trailing Pikachu to love me. After each battle I spent a good few minutes brushing, tweezing and blow drying Litten, to which she responded warmly. However, despite having the full colour spectrum of beans to feed her, none of them took her fancy. She turned her nose up at every bean. Litten so sassy.
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Naturally, if you’re the type of player who engages in many trainer battles and random Pokémon encounters, it can become tedious. I found myself forgoing the post-match grooming for large spells, but it was always fun to return to.
Unfortunately, some of the most interesting things I got to experience in Pokémon Moon I’m not at liberty to discuss – yet. But rest assured this is an entry that significantly tweaks the narrative formula. While the core mechanics of Pokémon battling remains largely the same – although sadly a little easier – everything wrapped around the battles feels fresh and new.
I can’t wait to find out more about Sun and Moon’s story, as, for the first time in a long while, Pokémon feels truly different.