Editor’s Note: I’m not exactly Goomba Stomp’s Pokémon expert. In fact, I’m still a newbie to the franchise, so keep in mind this review comes from someone who isn’t yet familiar with every installment in the series. Our Nintendo Editor, James Baker will be publishing his full review later next week.
Since it’s only been a year since Pokémon Sun and Moon was released, my initial impression of Ultra Sun and Moon was met with skepticism. How much could Game Freak change or add in such a short span of time? The answer is a lot actually, making Ultra Sun and Moon the definitive versions of the series’ final generation on the Nintendo 3DS.
It’s not exactly a huge surprise that Game Freak decided to release a special edition of Sun and Moon. The Japanese developer has been revisiting its core Pokémon games for decades, tweaking the original releases in subtle but fun ways – and given that Sun and Moon became one of the most commercially successful entries in the franchise, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
Ultra Sun and Moon isn’t your ordinary special edition; it’s faster and more expansive than the original and fixes some minor problems. The story once again takes place in the tropical island region of Alola, and once again it focuses on the Island Challenge. As a newcomer to Alola, you quickly get your first Pokémon and are initiated into the Island Challenge, a series of trials that Alolan Pokémon trainers undergo to prove themselves. Some key story details have changed and more side quests have been added this time around, and even if you already know the answers to the secrets in the original games, some scenes have been recreated, leaving plenty of scenarios that play out differently than you would expect. Needless to say, even if this is your basic RPG fare, the game keeps things surprising for returning players with several twists and turns along the way. More importantly, Ultra Sun and Moon eliminates the originals’ tedious slow start. Despite the obligatory Pokémon-catching tutorial, this time around you choose a starter right off the bat before going through the introductory story beats. The result is an opening that doesn’t waste time and allows players to wander more freely. In short, the pacing which was originally criticised for being too linear is an all-around major improvement.
One of the few new additions you’ll immediately notice is the inclusion of Totem Stickers. These golden stickers are scattered across the Alola region and can be cashed in with Samson Oak to receive a Totem-sized Pokémon of your own. If anything, looking for these stickers gives players more of a reason to explore every corner of the island. The best addition, however, is the Ultra Recon Squad – a robotic duo from a different dimension who accompany you on your journey. The Ultra Recon Squad are by far the highlight of the game and represent the biggest change to the plot without ever diminishing the story in any way. Meanwhile, the Festival Plaza not only allows communication between Sun and Moon, and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, but it also adds a new facility called the Battle Agency, allowing you to rent powerful Pokémon to battle opponents. Other minor changes include a revamped interface and a better save option.
This being a Pokémon game, the best part of the game is obviously the large ensemble cast, and there’s a way bigger roster this time around. Not only does the entire cast return but Sun and Moon feature a plethora of brand new Pokémon and dozens of creatures from previous games that weren’t in the original versions. Legendary Pokémon give players the ability to travel through new ultra wormholes to alternate dimensions, and as you might have already guessed, that is the reason why we are introduced to the Ultra Recon Squad. You’ll also find yourself able to challenge a whole plethora of competing teams from previous, including Team Skull, Team Rocket, Team Magma, Team Plasma, and so much more! Think of Ultra Sun and Moon as the greatest hits compilation, celebrating over 20 years of the Pokémon franchise and offering more fan service than we deserve. Oh, and did I mention that the endgame enables rare Ultra Beasts and every Legendary Pokémon to be captured, not to mention, the Pokédex has been expanded to natively include over 400 Pokémon catchable in the games without trading! Seriously, there is so much in-game and postgame content that Ultra Sun and Moon will keep you busy for the long winter ahead.
Since the original Sun and Moon were released not long ago, it makes it difficult to recommend these updated versions to those who already played the 2016 titles. However, if you haven’t played the originals, this is a no-brainer.
With the next Pokémon game confirmed for the Nintendo Switch, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is most likely be Pokémon’s final core installment on a dedicated handheld system. There’s something about that sentence that just doesn’t feel right, but if it is to be so, I can’t think of a better way to end it.