|Dev: GAME FREAK Inc.|
|Pub: The Pokemon Company|
|Release: November 18, 2016|
|Players: 1-4 Players|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Sean Engemann
With a twenty year tenure under its belt, the fact that the core gameplay of Pokemon has gone relatively unchanged and has retained a broad appeal through multiple generations is a testament to the quality of the series. Content additions and tweaks have graced each new entry, but Pokemon Sun and Moon have easily used the broadest brush stroke of feature alterations. The purest Pokemon diehard fans may cling to nitpicky criticisms, but the fresh perspective and simple improvements provide relief to some of the series' redundant foundations. And yet for all the uproar of change, there are still many familiar and comforting elements that should assure lifelong fans they have not been cast aside.
The game starts you off in traditional fashion, as a young boy or girl recently relocated to a new region, with an eager spirit, a flair for adventure, and an innate proficiency at handling Pokemon that catches the eye of the local Professor. After a short introduction to some key characters, you are given the arduous task of choosing your Grass, Fire, or Water type starting Pokemon, and with your mother's blessing are set free to uncover the mysteries of the gorgeous Alola region.
This Hawaiian inspired paradise consists of four main islands. Each contains specks of terrain that match the various Pokemon types, though you are never too far from perky palm trees, golden sandy beaches, and translucent blue ocean waters. The laid back atmosphere permeates into the personalities of the region's inhabitants, with most of the people you encounter infused with vigor and a lust for life. The antagonizing Team Skull could have brought a severe contrast that befits their moniker, but most of the goons who attempt to impede your progress are full of bumbling bluster, with more bark than bite.
You'll find more of a challenge in the Island Trials, the game's major replacement of the Pokemon Gyms of old. Each of the four islands presents a selection of activities that culminates into a marquis battle against the Kahuna of the island as well as Totem Pokemon (essentially regular Pokemon stuffed with steroids). Trials consist of chores such as foraging for ingredients, following clues to solve mysteries, and taking snapshots of Pokemon. It lacks the gladiatorial spectacle of taking on a gym leader to taunt your prowess to the audience, but the varied tasks provide a multifaceted approach which breaks up the linear structure veterans have grown accustomed to.
It becomes apparent early on that Pokemon Sun and Moon pays heavy attention to the narrative, with cutscenes and conversations at nearly every turn. For the most part it is a predictable plot, with a few moments that will surprise and confuse only those who have been spamming the A button through all the text. Despite the vanilla storyline, it still provides some exciting showdowns and introduces a few characters with enough style and personality that I hope to see them in future Pokemon adventures.
Another thing I would like to see going forward in the series is the wonderfully laid out user interface. The breakdown of menu screens is still categorized into familiar headings such as the item screen, Pokédex, and summary pages, but the ease of access in navigating these screens, especially during combat, is a smooth process rather than a time consuming chore. For example, a Poké Ball icon located right on the main touch screen allows you to quickly choose and toss a Poké Ball at a weakened wild Pokemon rather than fumbling through menu screens to grab one. But perhaps the simplest and most welcome addition, especially for newcomers, is the move effectiveness indicators. No longer do you need the encyclopedic memorization of what element types are vulnerable to others. After a single battle against a new Pokemon, your entire move list will indicate which moves are "super effective" and which are not effective at all. This glorious sight persists even when swapping Pokemon mid-battle, allowing you to choose the most valuable Pokemon in your party to tackle the opponent across the field.