Hey everyone, Derrick here with a quick note that this review consists entirely of previously released footage for Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon. The embargo for the games forbid the use of any new footage that we captured ourselves, but we still wanted to provide our thoughts before the game’s release. And with that, let’s get to the review! It’s been eight years since the last time Game Freak released an expanded version of a Pokémon generation. It was such a common practice for them back then that it was weird that they dropped the format with Black & White 2 and didn’t even bother with X & Y. But despite the fact that there’s no unified version of Sun & Moon, there’s no doubt that Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon follows the expanded formula to a tee. The core of the 7th generation is still here, but there’s a ton of new content and changes to potentially enjoy. Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon begin much the same as the vanilla versions.

Your trainer has just moved to the Alola region and decides to embark on the Island Challenge, a new idea that forgoes the traditional Gym Challenge of past regions. Rather than fighting Gym Leaders, players must complete a Captain’s Trial then defeat an extra large, extra powerful Totem Pokémon. But where this has been changed is in finer details and the threat to Alola. The Legendary Pokémon Necrozma is said to be on its way to the region to steal its light, and it must be stopped if the people are to survive.

Necrozma is a more tangible threat than the Ultra Beasts, but I feel that it has an ill effect on the story overall. I loved the story and characters of Sun & Moon. They felt closer to an RPG with actual character development and more stakes than almost any Pokémon game before. But here, it feels like a step back. Whenever Necrozma is involved, it left the plot bland and bog-standard for a Pokémon game rather than the complex and interesting implications that were there before. I honestly think that some character motivations are destroyed, or at the very least muddled, in this new story. They act the same as in Sun & Moon, but the reason for doing so is different just to fit the Necrozma storyline causing many to just not work.

What was once one of my favorite villains in the franchise has become motivated by something far less interesting. Worse is that some of the best moments of the original game are removed completely. But the frustrating thing is that while some characters are hurt in this change, others really come into their own. It’s a give and take that I understand but still wish the strongest parts from both versions were kept. But that’s just the remixed story. Almost every other new addition to Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon is fantastic. The journey itself has been expanded to fulfill the promise of the original games. No longer are some elements oddly left out as there are now eight full Trials rather than seven. And almost every one of those trials has been changed in some way, either remixing the trial itself or the Totem Pokémon you face. It helps make the experience feel fresh even for those who already played Sun & Moon. However, there’s no denying that with this releasing only a year after the originals, it still feels very familiar, at least until you make your way to Alola’s fourth island where the differences become much more apparent.

Let’s break down some of these additions though. One of the most fun ideas is Mantine Surfing. This allows you to travel between the islands, but along the way you can perform tricks to try and achieve a high score. The more you play, the more tricks you unlock and the rewards are both useful and a great callback. In the grand scheme, the mode is pretty minor but it was an enjoyable break from the standard gameplay that did get more challenging. There’s also the Photo Club which allows trainers to show off themselves and their Pokémon in different poses while gradually unlocking new frames and ways to customize those pictures as you progress in the game. The Photo Club really is just an extra, and it never pulled me into the idea, but photo aficionados will definitely get something out of the addition as it is more entertaining than the picture-taking of the Poké Finder.

While Pokémon Refresh and the Poké Pelago haven’t seen any changes, still acting as a way to bond with your Pokémon and adding extra utility to what you can do with them respectively, the Festival Plaza has had a new addition, the Battle Agency. After it’s unlocked, you can battle random trainers with rental Pokémon. You can pick from any three, but they do become more rare and powerful, the more you win. However, you can only pick the one Pokémon. The others on your three-person team are determined by the trainers you battle with. They can either be people you StreetPass with or the game will provide standard trainers if you haven’t. It’s a nice way of expanding the battle possibilities while trying out Pokémon you may not have used before.

Then there’s the Totem Stickers that have thankfully replaced the tedious to find Zygarde Cells. Finding enough allows you to trade them for Totem Pokémon although they don’t have the auras of the ones you face during Trials. While I never used one in battle, it was cool to actually have the option. And the hundred new Pokémon ensured that things stayed mostly fresh when it comes to crafting a new team.

In fact, one of the best changes is to SOS Battles. Rather than the Pokémon being able to endlessly call for help, it’s now limited to just one making them far less tedious you just want to get through an area. However, Adrenaline Orbs will still allow you to reap the benefits of fighting in SOS Battles so you can potentially catch rare Pokémon. Finally, there’s the exploration of Ultra Space while riding either Solgaleo or Lunala. During these sequences, you have to fly through rings to keep up your energy while avoiding hazards.

The farther you make it, the rarer the Legendary you’ll find through an Ultra Wormhole. It should be a good, challenging system…if it wasn’t for the controls. Rather than use the circle pad to go where you need, the game forces you to use tilt controls and they are not good. The first time I attempted it was a mess, and while I’ve gotten better, this extra level of challenge is more frustrating than rewarding when I just want to reach the next Legendary Pokémon or Ultra Beast. This isn’t the only gameplay misstep though. Rotom’s role has been expanded so that you can interact and befriend him. This in turn gives you access to the Roto Loto that grants items that have a ton of great utility like getting more experience, healing you in battle, and making eggs hatch more quickly.

These are absolutely worth obtaining. The problem is that Rotom never shuts up. He’s constantly talking to you on the bottom screen and offering the same advice ad nauseum. It’s annoying, distracting, and even takes away from the utility of the bottom screen as a map. And when you are using Roto Loto, the process takes far longer than it should making me question whether I even wanted the items. You can ignore him but he just ends up looking depressed the entire time. The rewards are great. Everything else about Rotom is just a pain. Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon still look fantastic on the 3DS. A lot of the locations have even more added detail that just make Alola pop.

Sun & Moon really pushed the system to its limits yet somehow they found a way to cram more in. However, this also means that the same issues are there, especially on a classic 3DS. Anything more than than a 1 on 1 battle results in slowdown although the hang-ups never seemed quite as egregious as before. However, the music is utterly fantastic. Most of the the soundtrack is the same, but it holds up and the new tracks fit right in and make the experience a treat for the ears. While it does have a few issues when it comes to the story, exploring Ultra Space, and the integration of Rotom, there’s no doubt in my mind that Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon is the better game. I like it a lot and how they added so much to a Pokémon generation that I already loved.

If you missed out on Sun & Moon, absolutely pick up these versions. However, with these games coming out only a year after the originals, they also feel incredibly familiar to those who traveled Alola before. It takes a while for the changes to truly be felt making the first half a bit of a slog for returning players. But once you do, there’s some real gems to found here. Thanks for watching and be sure to subscribe to GameXplain for more on Pokémon and other things gaming..

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