Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Shiny happy monsters
Platform: Nintendo 2DS XL
Released: November 17, 2017
This is the game that made me want to buy a Nintendo handheld console in the first place. As soon as I saw the trailers and artwork, displaying the Hawaiian-themed locales and creatures, I was immediately sold. Much like the previous game in the series, I had a number of false starts as I was trying to find my feet with a team that I wanted to use, and of course to try out the different starters before making my “final” decision on which one to use. Of course, this didn’t help and my indecision once again reigned supreme, wahey! After completing Pokémon Y however, I found my passion to play this series has returned. Now as I have a little more time on my hands, there was no time like the present to jump into this colourful, upbeat world. At times like this, I feel it’s important to remember that injecting a little positivity into our lives is all important, and this was my attempt to do so.
A very expected journey
As I anticipated, those familiar elements from the franchise were immediately apparent. You’re a young kid living with your mother, who sets out on a questionable and dangerous journey - For an 11 year old at least. You have a friendly rival and you choose between three different monsters who will become your companion throughout your adventure. I chose the Grass-type starter, Rowlet, a cute owl creature whose final evolutionary form has become one of my favourite modern designs (seriously, check it out). All of these elements were expected, but swiftly I started to see that there were indeed some changes to the usual formula.
In place of collecting 8 badges from gym leaders, you instead participate in the Alolan Island Trials. In the Alolan region where this game is set, there are four islands, and on each you participate in trials. They’re different to the gyms in that they’re not strictly trainer battle after trainer battle. They mostly involve some puzzle solving, trainer battles, traversing different terrain and defeating the Totem Pokémon - Huge monsters who can call for help in the middle of battle. This was a refreshing change and challenged my expectations, and throughout the game I found these trials to be consistently engaging.
What’s old is new again, again!
I couldn’t go the length of this article without mentioning the Alolan Pokémon variants. These variants are existing creatures, who have evolved differently due to being in a different region, and I absolutely adore some of them. On my final team, I had the Alolan forms of Raichu and NInetales. Outside of Decidueye, these guys were the MVPs of my team. Raichi is an Electric and Psychic dual type, who has some lighter colours and all around softer edges to make it even more friendly looking than it already was. The coolest part? It’s tail. It stands on its tail and floats around through the use of it’s psychic powers. As soon as I saw it’s design, I knew it was going to be on my team. The same can be said for Ninetales, who is now an Ice and Fairy dual type. It’s design isn’t overly different though it is snow white now, making it look more elegant even when compared with its original form. There’s a number of these Alolan forms to use, and the aforementioned ones are simply my favourites that I used. Cubone now evolves into a Fire/Ghost type Marowak, and while I didn’t end up using it, I absolutely will be in my next playthrough - it’s simply too badass to skip over again.
This has perhaps become a mainstay in the franchise now, as regional forms can be found in the new Sword and Shield games on Nintendo Switch. This is a welcome change, as it helps to breathe new life into older Pokémon who are less used and possibly forgotten about, as the years and generations have passed us by. Personally, I would welcome some more of these styles of changes - Change something enough so that it’s a bit different, but remains recognisable.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Z-Moves. These moves are essentially finishing moves that do massive amounts of damage, In the beginning of the game I couldn’t foresee how useful they are, and oh how wrong I was. The game overall has some difficult battles and these moves are invaluable in getting you out of some of these sticky spots. It’s a shame how these moves seemingly haven’t been carried forward, but hopefully there is a future for them down the line.
Here comes the sun
The story, as with most other elements of Ultra Sun, is not quite what it seems. It does have the basic components of any main entry game - There is an evil team, legendary Pokémon, characters whose alliances are not all to clear, etc. One major difference I absolutely loved are the Ultra Beasts and wormhole travel. Without mentioning spoilers, the Ultra Beasts are (kinda?) Pokémon who are integral to the plot. Their designs are far more monstrous than what we can usually expect and they’re all the better for it. The wormhole travelling which comes later in the game is directly tied to the beasts, and suffice to say it is certainly something different when it comes to these games. While I have not played Sword and Shield, I can only hope that this strive to create something off the beaten track (by their own standards at least) is still present, as it made the whole experience that bit more enjoyable, knowing that this isn’t exactly the same as previous main entries in the venerable series.
The only negative that really stood out to me in relation to the story is that it dragged on a bit too long. As you draw closer to the endgame, some of the battles you face seem thrown in for the sake of it. On a number of occasions it feels like you battle the same bad guy characters repeatedly, with little to no story progression in between. This in itself isn’t too frustrating, but in addition there are conversations you have with NPCs which feel never-ending. Normally I have no issue with the evil team’s rambling rhetoric or witticisms from the region’s professor, but in Ultra Sun this proves to be a tad too much due to the frequency of these occurrences. This is purely me being nitpicky however and didn’t impact my overall enjoyment in any meaningful way.
I found myself breaking bad habits with Ultra Sun. Usually, I get extremely fixated with the idea of having my team planned out before I even start the game, and if the team doesn’t live up to my expectations in any way, I restart. Silly, isn’t it? Fortunately in playing this I embraced a more carefree approach in team building and went with the flow. I replaced certain members, used some Pokémon temporarily and changed nearly the whole team by the time the Pokémon League rolled around. When it comes to exploration in this series, I’m traditionally very careful and look ahead online to see what I can expect to find in optional areas. For once I threw this out and once again adopted a more nonchalant approach. This was certainly a more enjoyable way to experience what Alola had to offer. Through this earnest exploration I found myself to be, well, incredibly wealthy by the end of the game and positively swimming in TMs, healing items, and dozens of usable held items for Pokémon that I will never use. In the next game from this franchise I play (oh great another Pokémon article, I hear you say) I’m certainly going to try and be a bit more loose in how I play, and see where the wind takes me. Well. Or as far as my compulsions will allow me to.
All told this is certainly one of the more standout offerings from the main series of games. This is in no small part due to Game Freak taking a risk and changing up some classic creatures for their regional forms, a very strong aesthetic and some excellent monster designs. These small risks and satisfying design pay off and helped deliver one of the most memorable generations in all of this media giant’s history. I have no doubt that Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon will be looked upon favourably for years to come and I look forward to jumping back into the world of Alola once more.
What’s next? Well, after playing these more recent games, I find myself compelled to take even more of a nostalgia trip, to once again visit where it all began. Stay tuned for more Pokémon articles - At this stage, I simply have to play them all.
Play this game if…
You’re feeling the need for some positivity
You’re looking for a different take on the usual formula
You’re a fan and want to see what the newer games are like
You want to go to Hawaii
You want to immerse yourself in a well-realised world
All images taken from pokemon.gamepress.com here
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