Just as with the selection of Pokemon, the idea of combining new and old seeps into every facet of Sun and Moon. HMs (Hidden Machines) are now a thing of the past, replaced by a new Pokemon Ride system. As you proceed through your journey, specific Pokemon will be registered to this aid system, able to be called any time to perform an HM function. Paging a Tauros, for example, will allow you to ride it and smash through rocks. Not only do players no longer have to sacrifice a Pokemon move slot to hold an HM, but it reinforces the idea of Pokemon and people working together.
The battle system remains largely the same one you’ve come to expect in a Pokemon game, but the animations are slicker than ever and things feel even a bit more responsive than X and Y. However, if a Pokemon suffers a status effect in battle, you can now heal it after battle with a system called Pokemon Care. This is basically the same as Pokemon-Amie in X and Y, letting you at any time feed your Pokemon beans or pet them to raise affection.
There are new battles in Sun and Moon known as Battle Royals that pit four trainers against each other at once. These aren’t things you encounter incredibly often in the story, but the four player free-for-alls are hectic and fun. Each trainer has a team of three, and it’s an unpredictable mode that keeps you on your toes.
Two other new menu options are Festival Plaza and Poke Pelago, both accessible at any time. Festival Plaza takes you to your very own social area where you can get fortunes read, dye clothing items, and access online battles and trade. This all works seamlessly, and you can jump in and out at any time to access the online options, a much better option than having to travel to a Pokemon Center. Poke Pelago, on the other hand, gives you your very own set of islands to build. Here you can harvest more beans, grow berries, send Pokemon on expeditions to find items, and have them train. It’s a fun little minigame that creates a place for all the Pokemon in your PC, and lets you spend beans as a resource to speed things up.
One of the most incredible aspects of Sun and Moon is its presentation, which feels grander than ever before. The new 3D art style really works for the game, giving humans realistic proportions and fluidity to Pokemon animations. Alola itself is a colorful region that is an absolute joy to explore, with each island having its own distinct themes and aesthetics.
It really feels as if Game Freak has harnessed the power of the 3DS, and used it to their full advantage. The music carries this same diversity, and there are some really catchy tunes, along with new renditions of familiar ones. A map resting on the bottom screen at all times, indicating your next objective, also makes it easier to traverse the world.
The entire game is also dotted with optional content and objectives. Character across the world will ask you to find specific Pokemon or items, and will pay you for your time. There are a host of minigames to partake in, as well as shopping for new clothing items and doing things to increase your Pokemon’s happiness. These new games are incredibly polished experiences that consistently provide you with new and fun things to do. There’s scarcely a moment where you’ll find yourself bored, and not wanting to see what’s next.
The primary annoyance of my time was a surprisingly high encounter rate when walking through tall grass. This did slow things down occasionally, as I was eager to get to the next trial or see what happened next in the story. Running into a wild Pokemon every couple of steps wasn’t ideal, and there’s also a new S.O.S. function in battle that can slow things down more. This allows wild Pokemon to call for help in battle every once in a while, pitting your one Pokemon against two wild ones.
Sun and Moon also aren’t as difficult as some previous games of the series, as they make it easy to gain levels and plentifully give you items that can give you boosts in battle. On top of that, being able to execute one Z-Move per battle gives you a striking advantage against in-game opponents. You get an Exp. Share early on in the game, allowing you to earn experience for each of your six Pokemon with every battle, and drastically reducing the amount of grinding and training you have to do.
Most of the experience throughout Sun and Moons feels steady with its difficulty, and there never felt like there was much of a rising curve. Trainers and trials always felt a little below my level, and you almost never encounter a battle where someone has more than four Pokemon. Combine this with the fact that you’ll be getting a lot of experience from random battles, and Sun and Moon feel a touch easier than past games. However, there’s so much personality and diversity to central to the enjoyment of the games that this almost seems irrelevant.
Sun and Moon provide such an expansive and interesting adventure to go on that the difficulty wasn’t a drawback for me. Luckily some of the post-game content like the Battle Tree ups the ante, but I was more concerned with seeing Alola and catching new Pokemon than being overly challenged in battle. Jumping online for a battle or partaking in a Battle Royal, did help diversify the flow and challenge of the action for me when I wanted it.
Pokemon Sun and Moon does more than just appeal to players’ nostalgia; it harnesses and combines it with new experiences to provide something that feels both familiar and fresh. The new experiences are bursting at the seams with new content and creatures, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best experiences available from the 3DS’ library, and the best Pokemon games to release since the beloved era of Gold and Silver.
SCORE: 5/5 – EXEMPLARY