Pokémon Sun review | Sun & Moon review: Is the new Pokemon game any good?

Pokémon is one of very few brands whose fan base spreads across generations. Sure, Pokémon is mainly aimed at kids, but it’s also aimed at those who grew up playing the likes of Pokémon Red, Blue or Yellow sat beneath a lamp in their front room (kids today won’t understand the struggle of non-backlit screens).

While this means that Pokémon trainers young and old can come together and discuss stories about their favourite Pokémon, it also means that developers Game Freak had a huge challenge on their hands - how do you make a game appealing to both kids and adults? While Pokémon X and Y showed huge improvements in terms of storyline and gameplay, it’s down to Pokémon Sun and Moon to take the baton and finish the race. Has Game Freak succeeded? Well…

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Pokémon Sun review: UK release date

Pokémon Sun & Moon release date (UK): 23 November 2016

Nintendo has confirmed the seventh generation in the series, Pokémon Sun and Moon, was to launch in the UK on 23 November as a 3DS exclusive, five days after it was released in the US. The game is now on-sale, and can be bought from a number of UK retailers like Amazon (£32) or GAME (£34.99). The two games - Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon - are essentially the same game, but have different Pokemon available in each. This means that to really catch 'em all, you'll have to buy both - or have a friend with the other version willing to help you out! 

Pokémon Sun review: Gameplay

Looking back at the early games, it’s fascinating to see how much Pokémon, as a brand and a game, had developed. Gone are the flat, 2D images of early games, with Pokémon battles in recent games being energetic, dramatic and most importantly, three-dimensional. Bringing 3D models into Pokémon gave it a new lease of life, and helped bring the Pokémon to life too. 3DS owners could take that one step further, and enable the enhanced 3D mode of the console to bring even more depth to the display.

However, while 3D support was featured in Pokémon X and Y, Game Freak has decided to not offer any kind of 3D capabilities in Pokémon Sun and Moon.  We’re not quite sure why, but this is sure to disappoint those with a 3DS, especially the newer version with enhanced 3D viewing capabilities. Although with that being said, we find the enhanced 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS somewhat gimmicky, and the lack of 3D shouldn’t make the game any less impressive - it’s just worth noting for those that do appreciate the functionality.

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Pokémon Sun review: Island Trials

Pokémon X and Y was praised for its fast paced nature and interesting storyline, and this is a theme that has continued on with Pokémon Sun and Moon. Gone are the days of sluggish, slow gameplay with extended periods wandering around in long grass battling Caterpies. Within the first hour of playing Pokémon Sun and Moon, you’re introduced to a plethora of Pokémon - both in battles and in the wild - and depending on your skill, you may have conquered your first Island Trial. The change in pace keeps users engaged, and the constant introduction of activities and side quests provides users with lots to do in Alola, even once the main storyline has been completed. Click here for more games news and reviews

Island Trials are new to the Alolan world of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and replace the hugely popular Gym mechanic of past Pokémon games. Why? In Alola, you must take on the trial captains dotted across the islands, each with their own trials. The trials usually involve a myriad of Pokémon battles, but can also involve observation and recognition skills (we were prompted at one challenge to identify the jingle of the Pokémon Centre, and more). Think of the Island Trials as being like the puzzle at the entrance of gyms in older Pokémon games, but much more intricate and well-developed. Each trial is unique and tests a different skill, and may also tie in with the ‘type’ of Pokémon that the trial captain prefers.

However unlike with traditional Gyms, it’s not the trial captain that you battle. Once you’ve passed the trial, you must then take on the Totem Pokémon. The Totem Pokémon introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moon are much stronger than average Pokémon and are blanketed in an aura that gives them an edge in battle – they can have heightened defence, attack and more, but the specific characteristics depend on the Totem Pokémon you’re battling.

A new feature of the game is the ability for wild Pokémon to call for backup, or an ‘ally’ Pokémon. While this can happen in standard wild battles, you can bet your Rare Candy that it’ll happen in every Totem battle (unless you 1-hit KO them), which poses an additional threat. When an ally appears, the battle becomes a 2v1, making the challenge that much greater – and that much more rewarding when you defeat your enemies and are awarded with a Z-Crystal.

What is a Z-Crystal? Z-Crystals help Pokémon of a specific type unleash incredibly powerful attacks that bond trainer and Pokémon, although these are limited to one per match and the power/move itself depends on which Pokémon is performing it. As you progress through the game you’ll find a number of different Z-Crystals, both from Island Trials and by randomly interacting with NPCs, providing your Pokémon with a trick up their sleeves for those extra-tough opponents.  It’s not ridiculously overpowered though, meaning you’ll still have to think strategically about timing and possible effects it can have on the enemy.

Pokémon Sun review: Battle dynamics, tactics and improvements

So as you may have guessed, the dynamic of battles can change quickly in Pokémon Sun and Moon - and we like it. Yes, the majority of battles will still be in the standard 1v1 style, but the wild Pokémon’s ability to call for backup can change the tide of any battle. While logic dictates that the trainer should then summon a second Pokémon themselves, you’re forced to take on two foes with a single Pokémon. There’s also a 2v2 mode, but this is only the case when facing two enemies - you won’t find this to be the case when wandering through tall grass or exploring caves.

This change in the battle dynamic forces the player to think more tactically than in previous games, where some gamers would spam one move to KO the competition. Should you take out the Pokémon with lower health first? Or should you focus your efforts on the newly summoned Pokémon that just happens to be one of your weaknesses? It’s little features like this that make Pokémon Sun and Moon much more exciting and engaging than previous releases. 

The introduction of different battle modes is only a part of the overhaul in Pokémon Sun and Moon though, as Game Freak has also added a number of smaller, well-needed features. If you’re up against a Pokémon you’ve previously battled, you’ll find little notes next to each of your attacks that let you know whether it’ll be effective, super effective or not very effective. This is great as it means you don’t need to memorise the strengths and weaknesses of the vast library of Pokémon in Sun and Moon, and makes battling a little bit easier for casual players.

That’s not all though, as the Pokémon can physically change during a match to reflect what’s happening. If you’re up against a Pokémon with a shell, there’s every possibility that the shell will break off once you’ve damaged them enough. You’ll also be able to add a newly caught Pokémon straight to your party, instead of them being automatically sent to a box. Again, these are only small changes to the battle system, but are welcomed by long-time fans of the series.