Come along with me on a trip to a faraway island paradise. We’ll enjoy tropical drinks, participate in sacred native customs, and befriend and fight specialized animals for sport.
How do Sun and Moon differ from previous Pokémon title?
One could generously call the core Pokémon titles formulaic; an adolescent protagonist takes to the road, his new Pocket Monster in tow, to prove his mettle by beating the region’s gym leaders. In other words, the story of Pokémon is, as ever, a quest “to be the very best / like no one ever was.”
Your adventure beings in earnest as you relocate from Kanto to the tropical Alola Region, where things are done a bit differently. Professor Kukui, for example, is a bare-chested free spirit whose passion for Pokémon, while certainly scholarly, is far from studious. He’s backed up by an eclectic cast of characters like his mysterious assistant Lillie, fun-loving fellow trainer Hau, the hip-hop wannabes and all-around hapless villains of Team Skull, and a passel of new Pokémon (and regional variants) that reflect the island region’s vast and differing ecosystems.
Does the new setting really make that much of a difference?
It truly does.
On a more functional level, Sun and Moon feel like a looser experience. Rather than battling your way through one Gym after another earning Badges that are little more than keys to the next prescribed area, you instead make your way across Alola’s individual islands, taking part in themed Trials that, upon completion, grant you the right to challenge the resident Kahuna.
Besting a Kahuna, while still the game’s central plot engine, now affords you a related Z-Crystal, a type-specific item that can be used to unleash powerful Z-Moves when held by appropriate Pokémon. And you’ll need all the help you can get!
In addition to Team Skull, rival trainers, Kahunas, and their island Captains, Alola is both home to special island guardians, unique Pokémon known as Tapu, and is prowled by fierce Ultra Beasts. I won’t reveal any more, lest I ruin what is a genuinely engaging mystery, but suffice it to say the game offers tons of new experiences, throwbacks to beloved franchise characters and other touchstones, and a plot that should entertain trainers of all stripes.
How does it look?
Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon achieve the sort of visual fidelity you’d expect from a late-cycle first-party Nintendo title. While Alola’s four islands each have unique topographical slants, the game world and its various denizens still manage to achieve a beautiful cohesion.
From crystal-clear waters and lush jungles to sparse volcanic mountains and snow-capped peaks, it’s exactly the kind of world you want to return to time and time again—which is key when you’re dealing with such a robust RPG adventure.
The only time things falter is in the cut-scenes. Obviously rendered in-engine, these character model close-ups (particularly on the bigger screen of the New 3DS XL) tend to show some unsightly seams. Jagged outlines, heavy use of blur effects, and the like slightly sour the visuals somewhat, but the gameplay is so tight and the narrative so interesting that you can’t help but forgive these minor trespasses.
What about the 3D?
Brace yourself, friends. Pokémon Sun and Moon do not support the titular system feature of stereoscopic 3D. (I know, right!)
Whether this was done to lend more processing power to the overall graphics and gameplay or is simply a tacit admission that few 3DS players actually employ the system’s 3D feature is beyond me. Still, I’ll say again that the overall game experience is so strong that you’ll likely never miss it.
What’s the deal with the new “Z-Moves”?
Keeping with the Polynesian theme, Z-Moves are accompanied by specific trainer animations, hula dance-like movements that call forth the requisite elemental might. Somewhere between the previous Mega Evolution system and the classic Final Fantasy-style Summon, these attacks, while still subject to the same type-beats-type-rules of combat, are always impressively elaborate affairs.
Any other gameplay tweaks I should be aware of?
Sun and Moon ably build on the supplementary content you enjoyed (or possibly just ignored) in previous 3DS releases like X and Y and Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, but they do so in a way that makes them feel more a part of the core experience as opposed to merely idle extras.
Pokémon Refresh takes Pokémon-Amie to a logical next level. Not only can you shower your Pocket Monsters with love and affection (and Poké Beans), you can also use Refresh to groom them between battles, removing both grime and pesky status effects. The game even prompts you when an opportunity to Refresh an active Pokémon arises.
You’ll notice shades of the Secret Base system in both the Festival Plaza, an intuitive multiplayer hub that also offers training mini-games and some light clothing customization, and the Poké Pelago, a collection of island retreats complete with facilities that help amuse those long-neglected Boxed Pokémon and can occasionally even lure in new visitors.
But don’t think that those bells and whistles are all the game has to offer. Remember Hidden Machines, those dreaded must-have moves that were required for traversing water or smashing environmental obstacles but did so at the expense of one of your Pokémon’s coveted attack slots? They’re gone!
Instead, Sun and Moon offer the Poké Ride system. Need a boulder bashed? Call Taurus. Want to explore a distant shoreline? Summon Lapras. Need to fly to a faraway location? Holler at Charizard.
Getting to use Pokémon as mounts in a meaningful way is a good enough perk, but having this also serve to replace such an outdated system really sweetens the deal.
Will younger gamers enjoy it?
As always, the only thing really required to enjoy Pokémon Sun or Moon is the ability to read and understand the game’s dialog. Don’t get me wrong; Sun and Moon do feature lots of adorable monster-on-monster violence, some of the new Pokédex entries can get a little grim, and there is some family drama at the heart of its oversized RPG plot. But, all that said, the game is rated E for a reason.
If your geekling has enjoyed a previous Pokémon entry, loves the animated series, or has simply reached that age where she wants to get in on the Pokémon Zeitgeist, this latest chapter is fun, satisfying, and kid-safe.
How about older Pokémon fans?
When Pokémon X and Y arrived on the Nintendo 3DS, I was blown away. In a series that so often felt iterative, it truly afforded something special. It seemed like a new experience for a brand new generation of trainers—one where you could tailor not just your party but even your own dress and appearance.
If X and Y seemed like a step in the right direction, Pokémon Sun/Moon feels like a leap forward for the franchise—in graphics, in gameplay, and in storytelling. By both building on the ideas of previous entries and learning from their missteps, this truly is a Pokémon experience 20 years in the making.
Yet even that is bittersweet. With the Switch already on the horizon, it’s unclear how much longer the 3DS line will remain a priority for Nintendo. This is, conceivably, the platform’s last true Pokémon title, but, if that is true, I can honestly say it went out on a high note.
If I have to choose, should I get Sun or Moon?
The central conceit of Sun and Moon is that the games take place 12 hours apart from each other, but that, while a cool narrative hook, doesn’t exactly delineate their respective gameplay. Both games let you unleash Z-Moves, collect disparate Zygarde Cores and Cells, participate in new Battle Royal format matches, and chat with your friendly Rotom Pokédex.
With a few minor exceptions, things still come down to version exclusives. The game’s key Legendries, Solgaleo and Lunala, are the most notable, but you can get a look at the other exclusive Pokémon via the official site.
Most importantly, how long do I have to play until I can catch a Mimikyu?!
In truth, it’s a little difficult to get into the wheres and whens of Pokémon Sun and Moon without stepping on the story. That said, you’ll encounter several of the much-touted new seventh-gen Pokémon early on: the starters, obviously, but also monsters like Mudbray, Pikipek, and Yungoos.
However, some of the new fan favorites—specifically Mimikyu and Sandygast—likely won’t reliably turn up into well into your adventure. (Anywhere from 10-20 hours, depending on where you go and how thoroughly you search.)
But don’t fret; you’ll be having so much fun you’ll scarcely have time to notice. Such is the magic of the Alola Islands!
Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America