Riding the high?: Is Pokemon Sun/Moon a worthy main entry after GO!s success?

It has been nearly twenty years since children were first infected with the pokebug but the franchise shows no signs of slowing down. Just this summer Pokemon GO!, an augmented reality smartphone game, became a world-wide phenomenon, bringing both former and new fans into the world of catching and battling with their beloved Pokemon.

But Nintendo did not stop there to please its fans. In late November the Japanese publisher released the 7th generation of Pokemon on their handheld system 3DS. Now someone coming off their Pokemon GO! high and searching for a new Pokemon-fix might ask what could be the difference between Pokemon Sun/Moon and his old Yellow Edition he knows has to be somewhere in his parents attic. The honest answer to that is not much really. Sun/Moons strength lies totally in iterating on what makes Pokemon great, while changing seemingly small things to make the game much more enjoyable than previous installments in the series.

Like in all editions that came before, the players main aim is ‘to be the very best’ Pokemon Trainer in his region. Which in this case is Alola, a gorgeous Hawaiian inspired archipelago of islands. Of course the graphics of games have evolved quite a bit since the times of the first Pokemon games, but Alola is a treat to look at with various locals you would not except in this island setting, like an old western town. Also, since generation 6 Pokemon is no longer played but from the top down but rather a more traditional third person view. Sadly all of this beauty has a price – performance. At times the 3ds just can’t handle the game anymore and the players experiences a noticeable drop in frames per second.

A new and neat twist on the way the story plays out is that one the stables of the franchise is gone and that are gyms, themed arenas in which skilled trainer battle each other for the chance to challenge the powerful Gym-leader and maybe even beat him to earn a badge. Now your character is sent by Professor Kukui on a rite of passage sorts, the island trials. And boy are they tens times more engaging then every gym through generation 1-6. While every gym followed the basic rule of battling some henchmen before facing the leader sometimes with gimmicky puzzles thrown in, island trials can be anything from cooking a meal to attract a certain Pokemon or spotting which Pokemon messed up a dance routine – I have my eye on you far left Marowak!!!

While the protagonist advances through these trials he captures and trains his Pokemon as is tradition. And while this is as fun as ever, it becomes an overwhelming task to keep up with all the new Pokemon and their evolutions. Right now around 800 Pokemon exist and even for experienced players that seems like way too much.

The journey culminates with the protagonist battling the elite four of the aloha region. In this series of fights the new editions to the battle system really shine. Overall the games battles are more challenging this time around and the elite four are no different. To beat them, the player has to wisely choose his team of Pokemon and decide when to use their all new Z-Moves. Z-moves are super strong attacks that can only be used once a battle. And sure most of the time they are not much more than a move that takes a lot of lifepoints from the enemy but the developers applied the rule of cool, resulting in visually stunning and devastating feeling moves. After beating the elite four, there is some sort of post-game content like catching unique Pokemon or battling super strong trainer but it is in no way fleshed out like in silver/gold or black/white 2.

Pokemon Sun/Moon delivers improvements on all fronts of the core game and that should justify its 50€ asking price. A much tougher sell is the system its on. A new 3DS is still around 200€ and comes with no games or bundled with other Nintendo classics like Super Mario or Nintendogs.

It may not be the game for every casual fan of the series or Pokemon GO! but for every 3DS owner or hardcore poke-maniac this game is a must buy.

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