One Last Adventure: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - December 06, 2017
One Last Adventure: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review

Tasked with writing this review for Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon has been bittersweet. While I’m always excited about a new mainline Pokémon entry, knowing that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will be the final Pokémon title I’ll play on my 3DS makes me a little sad. The previous entries on the 3DS finally brought the franchise into 3D and helped push storytelling in the franchise, especially with Sun and Moon. We know that the future of the franchise lies on the Switch, but it’s time to see just what Game Freak has done with Pokémon‘s swan song on the Nintendo 3DS.

The story in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is very similar to that in the original Sun and Moon. Your character and their mother have just moved to the Alola region from Kanto. After meeting with the Alolan region’s resident Professor, Kukui, you receive your starter Pokémon and meet with the Kahuna of Melemele Island before beginning your Island Challenge. From here, if you played the original Sun and Moon then you’ll know how much of the story will play out. There are some new elements to the story like the Ultra Recon Squad, but much of the story is mostly the same up until about the halfway point of the game.

If you’ve paid any attention to the pre-release hype for the game, then you likely know the biggest addition to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is the return of Team Rocket.  Along with Team Rocket comes the boss, Giovanni and he has brought with him the leaders of each of the other evil teams that have appeared in past Pokémon titles. These cameos are quite welcome and once you get into the reason that these groups have banded together under the Team Rocket banner and come to Alola, it really does a lot to expand the lore of the Pokémon universe. Sadly, the Team Rocket episode isn’t available until after you’ve finished your first playthrough of the game, but it’s well worth the time investment to play through it. It offers some challenging battles and an interesting stroll down memory lane with all the previous villains from the franchise.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon does just enough different to help it stand out from the original Sun and Moon while still maintaining my interest. It manages to boast some of the most well developed secondary characters in the franchise and even further expands on some characters, which helps the story feel more fleshed out than its predecessor. If I have a major complaint about the game’s story, it’s simply the player character. No matter what is going on around you, your character is always standing there with a smile. It’s something I had noticed a bit more as I’d just replayed Pokémon Y prior to Ultra Sun, where your character’s facial expressions would change during cut scenes based on what was going on around them. This may have only been something that bothered me, but it just got on my nerves after awhile, though it wasn’t something that bothered me enough to ruin my enjoyment of an otherwise good story and one of the best in the franchise to date.

The one thing you can expect to remain similar to the previous titles, however, is the gameplay. It still features the tried and true rock, paper, scissors gameplay that the series has become known for and you’ll still find the Z-Moves introduced in Sun and Moon here. There are only a handful of notable changes, many of which are simply quality of life enhancements, but for the most part the core experience is the same.

The only new mechanics you’ll find are Mantine Surfing and navigating Ultra Space. Mantine Surfing is exactly what it sounds like. Your character will jump on the back of a Mantine and use it as an alternate method of traveling between the islands. The minigame is fairly simple and just has you riding waves while doing tricks to earn points. Once you arrive on the next island you’ll unlock Battle Points, or BP, which can be used at any of the new Beach Areas to teach your Pokémon new attacks or in the post-game at the Battle Tree. Additionally, you will unlock new tricks the more you play this mode with the ultimate goal of unlocking the returning Surfing Pikachu, which hasn’t been seen in the series since Pokémon Yellow.

Navigating Ultra Space works in a similar, by initially flawed way. Without going too much into spoilers for the story, once you reach the climax of the game’s storyline, you’ll unlock the ability to travel through the Ultra Wormholes into other dimensions. These areas will let you find and caption Pokémon that aren’t native to Alola, as well as a number of legendary Pokémon from the past games in the series. Controls here are a little mixed since, by default, this mode uses the 3DS gyro controls, which is less than stellar for a mode that requires constant movement like this one does. Thankfully, Game Freak was smart enough to add an option to change the control style to traditional controls, which salvages what could have been an otherwise frustrating experience.

Of course, there is a lot more to see in Alola, but much of that delves into spoiler territory.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something that really stood out to me with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon and that is the increased difficulty. These are, without a doubt, the hardest Pokémon games I have ever played. Key Trainer battles and battles against Totem Pokémon are difficult even if you’re on equal footing, or sometimes even a few levels higher than your opponent. It’s something I wasn’t expecting from a Pokémon game, but I really loved every minute of it. The games usually feel like they’re on autopilot after you’ve played for a few hours, but this game had me on my toes the entire time and I used more than my fair share of healing items during my playthrough, and even then I barely won some battles.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are also the best looking games to come out of the Pokémon franchise. While the battle graphics haven’t seen much improvement from the previous games, the overworlds have seen some nice enhancements thanks to additional details. Many routs on Alola now feature extra things like flowers and trees that make them really standout. It’s a minor thing at the end of the day, but the extra attention to detail really shows how much love was put into crafting these titles.

This goes for the audio as well, while many of the game’s tracks are pulled directly from Sun and Moon, many have been remixed. These remixes offer some much needed variety and help the games feel more distinctive, despite taking place in Alola once again. Of course, thanks to the cameos from previous games and the returns of a number of older legendary Pokémon, you can also expect to hear plenty of classic tunes mixed in with the newer pieces. It all comes together to offer a great audio package that will make sure your volume is turned up for the majority of your time with the game.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the culmination of more than twenty years of Pokémon on Nintendo’s handhelds and it’s a fantastic way to send the series off on the 3DS. With cameos and callbacks from across seven generations of Pokémon titles and even brand new content and Pokémon not seen in the earlier Sun and Moon. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon feature a similar story to the originals but offer enough tweaks to make the climax of this game feel even more fulfilling than the last. The visuals have seen a definite improvement over the previous entries on the 3DS and culminated in the best looking and sounding game in the franchise thus far.

As the Pokémon franchise readies to move to its new home on the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon serve as a love letter to the series roots on the Game Boy and Nintendo DS lines. It’s a fantastic love letter to the series as a whole and great jumping on point for newcomers and for series veterans alike.

This post was written by
He is a senior editor at Kulture Shocked. A seasoned gamer, Zach has been playing video games since the early 90s and have owned everything from the NES to the Xbox One. Aside from video games, Zach is a nerd of all trades and dabbles in everything from collectible card games to Gunpla.
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