While Pokémon fans are still clamoring for the eventual release of a core series game on the Nintendo Switch, we do, at least, get a new 3DS title just in time for the holiday season. “But, Z.” you say, “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are just retreads of last year’s Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon!” (Okay, I don’t think you’re really saying that, but please allow me to use this helpful rhetorical device.)
Yes, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon do represent a return journey to the Alola region, but not strictly in the same rote manner as, say, Platinum in relation to the earlier Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Instead, these Ultra editions feel more like an alternate-dimensional take on the island originals, a parallel journey that’s familiar but not without its surprises.
Nintendo and The Pokémon Company International have made much of the new additions and enhancements to Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, and, despite some initial skepticism, I was universally impressed with these tweaks. But rather than spoil unexpected variations on familiar plot points, I’d instead like to look at how these Ultra editions have altered the way the games play.
With that in mind, here are my five favorite new things about Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon.
1. More Pokémon Variety
By the time I’d battled my way through my first island challenge in the original Pokémon Sun, I was already so sick of Yungoos that I could barely see straight. Here a Yungoos, there a Yungoos, everywhere a Yungoos. In Ultra Sun, however, I’ve yet to reach that level of Yungoos fatigue.
The addition of all these extra Pokémon really shows, even from the earliest hours of play. And while I would’ve loved to see a passel of exciting Alolan variants—I still can’t quit you, Black Metal Marowak!—it’s a bit hard to complain about extra vanilla Pokémon when we also get exotic delights like new Ultra Beasts (UB Assembly, UB Burst, and UB Adhesive) as well as multiple forms for the Legendary Necrozma. (Though, sadly, I have to wait until Friday’s street date before I can unlock my Dusk Form Lycanroc.)
The inclusion of new Ultra Wormholes, portals through which you can access small shunt dimensions, offers even more opportunities to battle and capture rare Pokémon. It also helps to give these new titles their unique, otherworldly feel.
2. New Z-Moves
Z-Moves are kind of like Final Fantasy summons—they’re ridiculously cool at first, but after a while, their cinematic glory begins to fade and they become just another thing you have to endure on your path to victory. That being said, the new Z-Moves featured in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are a wonder to behold.
Necrozma’s ultimate attacks are perfectly punishing—as befitting the games’ new poster boy. But it doesn’t just stop there. Of particular interest is the recently revealed Mimikyu Z-Move. Which is, to put it bluntly, a freakin’ horror show.
3. New Characters
Alongside its upgraded roster of Pokémon, moves, locales, and activities (like Mantine Surfing and the Festival Plaza’s new Battle Agency), Ultra Sun/Moon also rolls out some new (not to mention older returning) characters. Much has been made of the reveal of Team Rainbow Rocket, a coalition of baddies led by Giovanni and consisting of team leaders from previous titles, but, personally, I found myself much more interested in the Ultra Recon Squad.
Introduced early in the game and seemingly destined to show up at the most (in)opportune of times, this mysterious duo intrigued me from the word go. Always offering additional exposition that runs slightly askew from our existing knowledge of the Pokémon universe of Sun and Moon, their hints at a world outside our own—much like that healthy injection of new Pokémon –really helps to make the Ultra titles seem less like a rehash of the original games and more like its own odd adventure.
4. Upgraded Rotom Pokédex
From the time of its initial reveal, I was over the moon about the Rotom Pokédex in Sun/Moon. Having a ‘dex imbued with the spark and charm of the Plasma Pokémon seemed like a real game-changer. In truth, it was little more than a cosmetic alteration.
While playing through Ultra Sun, though, I was struck by just how different the Rotomdex truly is this time around. A character unto himself, your Rotom now talks to you, providing encouragement and asking you questions. He also offers the player a chance to win big in the Roto-Loto, a spinning wheel game—a la The Price is Right‘s Big Wheel—that can be used to acquire buffs for your battling Pokémon, and his Z-Rotom power lets you use two Z-Moves per battle instead of one.
In short, this Rotom Pokédex is a much more colorful character, both literally (the system menus have a much more vibrant sheen this time around) and, thanks to his newfound personality, figuratively.
Yes, of all the new hotness included in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon, my favorite is the new sticker-collecting feature. I’ll allow you a moment to compose yourself.
Better now? Good.
Scattered throughout the environment are golden Totem Stickers. Approach them and peel them from the wall using the A button, and they’ll be added to your growing collection. As your number edges higher, you’ll be able to swap them for massive Totem Pokémon. If, like me, you spent your entire play-through of the previous game(s) longing to add some of these mammoth monsters to your squad, consider that wish granted.
But even on its own, the sticker mechanic is everything a collectibles hunt should be. It’s easy (the glittering stickers are seldom hard to see), addictive, and a whole lot of fun. Moreover, it gives the series’ trademark emphasis on exploration yet another carrot. Maybe you won’t find a hidden item or a rare Pokémon on your circuitous trek across the islands, but you’ll very like at least get a handful of stickers for your trouble.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America