Review: Pokemon Sun
Developer: Game Freak
Platform: 3DS, 2DS
I am barely half an hour into Pokémon Sun and I already face a choice that will shape the next 60+ hours of play: what Pokémon do I choose as my starter?
Ever since the first Pokémon game on the Gameboy, your adventure has begun with the local Pokémon professor offering you a choice of three potential starter Pokémon. A starter Pokémon always has three evolutions, and their progress from cuddly ball of fluff to majestic God-monster marks the player’s journey through the game.
But even if you ditch them later on and stuff your roster with more powerful ringers, that first Pokémon will always be special. In Pokémon X I chose a fire-fox Fennekin that I dubbed “Feenie”. It was by my side up to the very final battles of the story, slamming my enemies with a mix of fire and psychic attacks.
Here the ultra-friendly Professor Kukui gives you three options: a cat that is on fire (Litten), a weird clown-seal (Popplio), and an owl with a bow tie that has an uncanny resemblance to Matt Smith’s Doctor Who (Rowlet).
Well, bow-ties are cool, an an owl with a bow-tie is obviously even cooler, so I pick Rowlet.
There is a small kink here: Litten is a fire-type and Popplio is a water-type, the foundational rock and paper of the ridiculously complex system of elemental strengths and weaknesses that captivate competitive-level Pokémon players. But Rowlet is not just a grass-type, it is also a flying type: if this is rock-paper-scissors, I have just chosen scissors with wings.
Experienced Pokémon players are nodding sagely right now, noting that the grass-type cancels the flying-type’s weakness to electricity. Everyone else is going “Bwa? Wha?” But the good news is, it doesn’t matter too much: Pokémon is only as deep as you want to make it.
So I have chosen a starter, but it’s not as easy as just having them hop in my Pokéball and then ordering them to beat up wild animals. No, in an open-air ceremony with has a small crowd scrutinising me, the Rowlet has to choose me. It eyes me and sizes me up. I am nervous: this is not the way picking your starter is supposed to go!
Then Rowlet hops into my arms: it looked into my soul and more or less approved of me. Sure, that was always going to happen, but it was a sneaky way of making me care about this little pocket monster. I am already planning to go out and buy a Rowlet plushie.
Pokémon is a franchise that is often criticised for its glacial pace of innovation, but that misunderstands the appeal of Pokémon. Pokémon, like Dragon Quest, is a comfort food: you want it to be a little fresh, but mostly familiar. You want Nurse Joy to work in the Pokémon Centre, to have your pick of three starter Pokémon, and to fight a gang that will always be called Team Something.
Pokémon X and Y (Generation VI) were a forward burst for the series, stuffing the game with long-overdue features like avatar customisation and Super Training that enabled the player to fiddle with some previously hard-to-tweak Pokemon stats. The types of some old Pokémon were even altered with the addition of the fan-popular Fairy type.
Sun & Moon’s Generation VII builds on that foundation, less focused on pushing the game forward than with using what is already there to tell a new, slightly more cinematic story in a fresh world. Very cleverly, this game introduces regional variants: Rattata, bane of the Pokémon Go player, has received a makeover, and the absolutely mad new look for Exeggutor has achieved a kind of nirvana for Pokémon design.
The Alola region is Hawaii-inspired, a laid-back archipelago of beaches and volcanoes and good food. Aloha is a greeting in Hawaiian, and the way it chimes with Alola makes this perfect name for the relentlessly welcoming world of Pokémon. This (typically for a Pokémon game) is a world you can be 10 and run off having an amazing adventure with the full endorsement of your supportive mom. Everyone in this game is keen for you to get out there and have a rich and rewarding life with no fear of the dangers you might face. If only life was more like Pokémon.
The island setting is also perfect from a progression point of view, with your adventure taking you from island to island to face the local Kahunas in a story that centres around the mythic, deity-like Totem Pokémon. As the story unfolds the franchise lore builds with the introduction of the Ultra Beasts, and the dopey gang-banging Team Skull are inevitably revealed to be the stalking horse for a more sinister threat. In one extremely charming feature, you have a Trainer Passport that gets marked with new stamps as you progress through the campaign and unlock more in the world of Pokémon.
Pokémon has always tried to appeal to every audience, and with that there are the inevitable balance issues. I have all of my overpowered Pokémon from Pokémon X, and can easily smash the game wide open by transferring over my legion of monsters.
This is great for younger players: it is virtually impossible to get stuck in a Pokémon game, all problems can be solved either trading or grinding or getting pokemon from special events. The real challenge in the game is from post-quest content for advanced players and of course in battles with other players. But for the older and genre-savvy player, the game demands that you manage your own fun by deciding how you will play it. I am deliberately only using Pokémon I find on my travels because otherwise an already easy game will become deathly dull.
The flashiest new feature of this game are the Z-moves, devastating once-per-battle special moves similar to the Overdrives in Final Fantasy. These are compatible with the peripheral Z-ring, toy bling that flashes and lights up special stones (stones sold separately, of course). The Z-ring fortunately provides no in-game benefit, so players can grab them or ignore them as they desire. Nintendo deserves some praise for their restraint: these could Amiibo-like have been used to provide in-game benefits, but fortunately they are only just a bit of optional flavour for the die-hard fan.
On a deeper level, the most fascinating addition to the formula is the introduction of Hyper Training. Hyper Training has the potential to end the laborious, time-intensive practice of Pokémon breeding as we know it. Hyper Training is hard to access – it is only for Level 100 Pokemon and depends on locating scarce bottle caps as entry tokens – but allows the player to change the IVs of Pokémon. For those who have no idea what IVs are, what this means in practice is that Hyper Training makes it dramatically easier to raise statistically perfect Pokémon, a massive development for the competitive Pokémon scene.
|Pokémon Sun and Moon are worthy entries in the long-running Pokémon series, pairing a classic formula with a fresh setting in a game that has something for all ages. The script is a bit bland, flavour being trimmed as the price of accessibility, but the vivid setting and rocking luau-inspired music makes up for that. Sun and Moon is another tiny step forward for a behemoth franchise, a familiar and soothing home for long-type players to spend a few weeks in and a great ride for new players, especially for children who want an accessible and fun RPG. But most importantly: you can make friends with an owl that has a bow-tie. I have dubbed mine "Galli" (for Gallifrey!). We are partners: he protects me on my adventure, I comb his fur and brush dust off after he fights. The ultimate achievement of a Pokémon game is that it mysteriously makes every player 10 again, and captures the magic of caring for your first pet.||4.2 4.2 ( on 5 rating)|