‘Pokemon Sun & Moon‘ were a breath of fresh air to a series that had started to repeat itself. Set in a beautiful tropical paradise, it did away with age-old series bugbears and traditions to great effect. Ultra Sun & Moon are, strangely, one of those old traditions – the ‘ultimate’ iteration of a game we’ve played through before. It’s the same Alola we know but plumped up with some additional quests, activities and a chunky post-game, and if you’re a Pokémaniac there’s no reason not to rush out and pick this one up.
Sun and Moon’s story was a point of contention for me last time around, with the series’ most chatty narrative to date. It’s really good stuff, introducing you to a cast of very likeable characters we get to watch grow and evolve alongside our Pokémon. Lillie is arguably the main star here, a young girl trying to protect an endangered Pokémon whilst coming to terms with her place in the world. Her story takes centre stage and for the most part it’s a compelling watch.
What I struggle with however is the story’s execution. Gameplay is stopped and player control is wrestled away ever five minutes for very lengthy cutscenes and scrawls of text. This is a shame, because at its best Pokemon allows for a zen-sense of progression, but we’re never able to really enter that state here thanks to these constant holdups.
It’s really one of the only problems I have with Ultra Sun, who’s story suffers from the same pacing issues (except with extra bloat thanks to new scenes). Admittedly early game stuff is cut down somewhat, but it doesn’t follow through on this promise of brevity. All that being said, I loved the new story and the extra characters and post-game events were cool. Team Skull, Alola’s Team Rocket variant, are my absolute favourite group of villains too. They’re bumbling and goofy in all the best ways and come across as a loveable squad of mislead goofballs. Their song and dance crack me up every time.
If you’re new to the seventh generation of Pokemon games, you’ll find a very generous package in Ultra Sun & Moon. The original titles were bursting with content and a fairly meaty endgame, and this evolution packs even more in. If you’re a returning player, however, you might find it tricky to spot exactly where this stuff has been squeezed in until you get through the lengthy main game.
There are several new quests and distractions from the main trials-focused storyline. One of my favourites was tracking down a bunch of meddling shapeshifters known as the Ditto Five, who were impersonating locals and ruining their relationships. It’s in these bitesize beats that the games find a good rhythm, whilst in the maingame the balance is shifted frustratingly towards exposition over gameplay. Mantine Surfing is another new addition, which allows you to skip the boats that take you from isle to isle and instead climb atop a Mantine and ride the waves. Scoring high points and unlocking new moves is initially simple, but to get the ultimate prize from topping every leaderboard will take some skill. (I can say, however, that it is a very cool reward)
There’s also a sticker collecting hunt that takes place throughout the entire game and, I’ll be honest, this was my absolute favourite part of the game. Hunting the shiny stickers down to get mega-sized Totem Pokémon of my own was a strangely compelling quest that kept me playing way too late, with some of them hidden in gleefully devious places. Your mileage may vary, but the golden gleam of a sticker in the distance made me unreasonably happy.
Most of the new content is crammed in near the tail end of the game. There’s a new ending that works in the Ultra Wormholes of the first game in a more natural way, instead of relegating them to purely post-game mumbo jumbo. It gives the Isles of Alola a distinctly unnatural feel, which works against their otherwise lush and vibrant aesthetic in an interesting way. The Wormhole mechanic is easily the best reason for returning players to… well, return, as they’re packed full of legendary ‘mons and a very interesting twist on Shiny hunting.
Ultra Sun & Moon are still the best looking Pokémon games on the market. The original titles were the first to properly create a 3D space for us to play in and it’s an absolute knock out in terms of looks. The 3DS hardware is pushed here, and the game sings because of it. Areas are big and beautiful, character models and the Pokémon themselves look fantastic and really pop to life with some excellent animation, and the tropical setting means that everything is drenched in a wonderful Hawaiian vibe.
The music is similarly brilliant, with a mix of upbeat original tunes and returning classics remixed. Hau’s battle music is still my favourite piece, a track that perfectly encapsulates his never-say-die approach to positivity. If you don’t love it you’re a monster. The weird bleeps and bloops of some of the new, otherworldly locations and people are strange, and feel off next to the more naturalistic score, but aren’t entirely unpleasant once you get used to them.
If you’ve already travelled the isles once Ultra Sun & Moon can be a slightly daunting prospect, even if it’s only because of all the text boxes you’ll have to mash through. Despite this, there’s plenty of reasons to do so if you can look past this. New quests, mechanics, tweaks and upgrades – along with some all new Pokémon – mean that this is the definitive version of these games, and a strong send off to the series on the 3DS. If you’ve never dipped your toe in the Alola surf before, however, this an absolute no brainer.