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Are Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Worthy of Sunsetting the Handheld Era?

For 21 years, the Pokemon franchise has made its home on Nintendo’s flagship handheld consoles (outside of the occasional spinoff on consoles) and was the go to place for hundreds of hours of monster catching RPG fun. From the Gameboy to the 3DS, there has never been a shortage of Pokemon fun to be had on the go. Now, with the release of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, the age of handheld exclusive Pokemon games has come to an end. Even with the Switch being a dual purpose console, the main series games will enter territory uncharted for them on a home console. So it goes without saying that Game Freak would want to send the series off with a bang on the console that truly revolutionized and reinvigorated a franchise that some saw growing stale.

Pokemon Sun and Moon were something unlike anything we’ve seen. The gyms were gone, replaced with Island Trials. HMs were also removed in favor of Poke Rides, a unique and welcomed feature that removed the need for bogging down your team with largely useless attacks that annoyed players for years. The franchise was given a breath of fresh air with a new approach to a formula that was largely unchanged for the better part of the last two decades. With all that being said, what could Game Freak do to truly make Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon the most memorable and defining titles in the series to date, or as they said, the “culmination of their work on the 3DS” before their move to the Switch?

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon aren’t sequels to 2016’s Sun and Moon. Rather, they’re built in similar fashion to Platinum: A re-imagining of the original stories with increased content. Ultra Beasts play a larger role in the game, specifically Necrozma. The addition of the Ultra Recon Squad also adds a new layer to the original story, which I found bland and pretty bare bones. I struggled to push through to the end of the games last year, yet in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon I found myself drawn in deeper with every new route discovered and story page turned. I couldn’t pull myself away for a second. The added story content overall adds over 20 hours of gameplay to the main game alone, meaning you’ll spend between 45-60 hours just going through the first half of the content available.

The story itself isn’t outstanding. It’s nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking. But it is one of the stronger stories told by a Pokemon game. It doesn’t compare to Black and White’s story, but it does hold up beside it. At times, it feels a little rushed and down right insipid. Generation 5 had two of the darkest and most in depth stories I’ve ever seen in a kid’s game. So why Game Freak has taken to going back to a sugarcoated story (outside of a couple scenarios which were borderline disturbing) that seemingly lacks backbone. I understand it’s for kids, but they already proved that it isn’t off limits to go into darker themes and tropes in these games. Hopefully the future Switch titles return to the excellent storytelling of Unova.

The post game received quite possibly the second biggest buff of content. Gone are the Looker missions to hunt Ultra Beasts. Rather, now you fly through the Ultra Wormholes in a really fun mini game. You can find almost every Ultra Beast by doing this, as well as a gigantic amount of legendary Pokemon from past generations. On top of that, there’s also a modest selection of exclusive Pokemon that can be caught in the wormholes, twenty of them to be exact. But if you’re not into the catching, there’s the newly added Rainbow Rocket episode. Similar to Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire’s Delta episode, this adds an entirely new storyline to the games allowing you to take a trip down memory lane and battle one of the strongest collections of villains the series has seen to date. That being said, it’s not perfect. The post game epilogue episode suffers from the same fate as the Delta episode. It feels hurried and at times haphazardly put together for nostalgia’s sake. I would say Rainbow Rocket is an improvement over the Delta episode, but if the epilogue episodes are going to be a continued thing in future titles, there’s a lot of work to be done to make them more than lackluster extra content.

Out of all the added story content, and the expanded post game as well, the biggest buff to content comes in the form of well over a hundred side quests. From the most minor of fetch quests to the most complex of collection quests there’s never a shortage of things to do. One of the biggest side quest changes is the Zygarde Cells quest being replaced by the Totem Sticker quest. Another major side quest addition is Mantine Surfing. Not only is this mini game great for having fun and achieving a high score, it’s the new way of traveling between the four islands. It’s something brand new to the series, and certainly worth going about if you want to earn a lot of Battle Points but don’t want to subject yourself to constant battling in the Battle Tree.

All these major changes, it’s worth talking about the little things. For starters (puns are great), you receive and battle with your starter Pokemon a lot faster than you do in the originals. The UI is also improved, with a better more vibrant look and even a faster way to save your game when you need to. The tutorials are still there, and sadly Game Freak still hasn’t seen fit to include a skip tutorial option for veteran players. Hopefully the Switch version fixes that. The hand-holding throughout the game is still present and overbearing at times, which was a major complaint from the first games. It feels almost insulting at times, but on the other hand they did let up in some areas. It was a slight improvement, but not enough to really make it anymore bearable. The battles with trainers and Totem Pokemon were also given a major overhaul to the point where I found myself having to reattempt a few of them more than once. The Elite Four received the biggest change, as I noticed all four members employing actual competitive strategies you’d see in the World Championships between actual players. That was a frustrating discovery, but a more than welcomed one at the same time. Game Freak implementing actual strategies to give the games a stronger challenge is a step up from previous games making every battle feel like a button mashing “EARTHQUAKE EVERYTHING” experience. You actually have to think and plan your moves as to not be overpowered quickly.

Some of the changes are not as appreciated, however. The Rotom Pokedex has been given a much larger personality and he has a lot to say, and I mean a LOT to say. It seems in programming a lot of new lines and interactions with our little buddy, he never knows when to shut up. So many times I wanted to access the map I had to wait for him to stop talking about advice I didn’t need or asking me mundane and extraneous questions about growing up or the type of person I was. There’s no option to turn it off either, so you have no choice but to live with his constant blabbing even when you need to access some of his features. However, answering the questions leads to one of the nicer edits to him: The Roto Loto. These are boosts similar to that of Generation 6’s O-Powers. You get prize money boosts, faster egg hatching, and even discounts at the Poke Mart. They’re randomly generated, but his constant talking means you’ll probably have an abundance of them in no time at all provided you are willing to answer all of his invasive questions.

Everything considered, the games aren’t perfect. They’re not the greatest additions to the franchise nor will they set the genre ablaze with innovation. But they offer a fitting close to the main series before the move to the home console systems. For all the faults these games have, what was done right outshines it all in the end. If you exhausted yourself on the originals, there might not be a reason to make a return trip if you feel burnt out. But for everyone else, I can’t recommend these games enough. You’ll easily sink a couple hundred hours into them without ever getting bored, and they’re a great way to end your Pokemon career on the 3DS. So grab your Poke Balls and head on out into the open world one more time, cause there’s always something new waiting for you on the horizon in the world of Pokemon!

-Screaming Rowlet

STORY:

8/10

GAMEPLAY:

9/10

GRAPHICS:

9.5/10

SOUND:

9/10

REPLAY VALUE:

10/10

OVERALL:

9.1/10

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