Pokémon has always been a fairly big deal, but with the recent arrival of the Pokémon Go app with free download and little emphasis on in-app purchases it’s become a huge international phenomenon. Back in its more traditional home on a Nintendo console there’s soon to be even more Gotta Catch Them All action with the twin release of Pokémon Moon and Pokémon Sun on the 3DS family of hand-held consoles.
The game adds to the arrival of Pokémon Tournament earlier in 2016 on the Wii U, but the game came out before Pokémon Go went nuts, so it didn’t really get a chance to capitalise on the newfound popularity of the app. Luckily for Moon and Sun they will have the full cresting wave of it all to ride in on, so it could be a big release for the duo as we head towards Christmas.
Both games will be hitting the shelves and online store at the same time with a UK release date of the 23rd November 2016 for the Nintendo 3DS. It’ll arrive in the US and Japan a little earlier on the 18th November, so we should have a whole raft of reviews to trawl through in the UK by the time the release rolls around. The games are also compatible with the 2DS for anyone still on the previous iteration of the mini box of magic.
The setting for the game is the Alola Region, an archipelago (AKA a series of islands in a chain or cluster) out in the tropics, and it’ll be your job to track down, train and battle the native Pokémon. A lot of which you should be fairly familiar with in principle, because a lot of the old characters thrive in Alola, but a number of them have adapted to the special conditions, so you’ll recognise them, but they have slightly different features – for example Exeggutor has got a very long neck, making it look like a cross between a coconut tree and a dragon, and Raichu can surf through the air on its own tail.
In addition to the Alola Forms, the game will also feature a few new Pokémon created specially for the island-based paradise, including the epic legendary Pokémon. The first is Solgaleo, a white armoured sun lion, and the second is Lunala, a flying emissary of the moon that uses its night-sky wings to absorb energy from the light around it.
On the archipelago, which includes one man-made island, you’ll meet Professor Kukui, the region’s Pokémon expert. He’ll be your guide to the creatures that are spread across Alola, so he’s going to be a big part of the story for Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, along with his assistant Lillie and the friendly local kid, Hau.
Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the game you’ll get to personalise your own playable characters. You’ll start by picking between a male and female trainer to begin your Alola adventure and then you’ll be able to give them a name and customise their appearance to make it all feel a bit more like your own personal experience with the games.
The next step in the quest will be to choose one of three new cute special Pokémon to be your first partner in the game. The three in Sun and Moon are Rowlet, Litten and Popplio and they’re all around the 1-foot mark, so their among the smallest in the franchise. Rowlet is a grass and flying type owl-like creature that can kick up a storm of razor sharp leaves as part of its attack; Litten is a fire-type small cat that fires flaming fur balls at its opponents; and Popplio is a water-type performing sea lion with a big pink nose and uses water balloons as part of its arsenal.
Your Pokédex in the games is a little different as it’s inhibited by a special type of Pokémon called a Rotom that can live inside electronic devices. It will act as your personal guide to the island, showing you your location and where you might need to go to next, as well as of your Pokémon data and information to help you keep track of everything you’ve got and, more importantly, what you might want to search for.
As well as being able to track down Pokémon in the wilds of Alola, you’ll also be able to scan special QR codes into your 2DS or 3DS to help you narrow down the search a little. They’re a bit like clues to the location for Pokémon you’ve already found, which is useful if you’re looking for more than one of any particular species, but you can also use them to track previously undiscovered Pokémon by giving you details about its habitat, allowing you to search a little better for the islands’ rarer creatures.
Once you’ve arrived and picked your starter Pokémon you’ll begin to explore the island chain, and as in the previous games, you’ll be thrown into battle any time you stumble across another Pokémon. This is obviously quite a lot different to Pokémon Go, which required you to hurl a Pokéball at them to add them to your collection. This is a classic RPG turn-based battle, but there’s a dynamic element to the delivery of the in the game.
Sun and Moon will also introduce a new move into the battle mix, which you can only use once during combat, but thy’re power and impact make them a key part of winning in the game. Called Z-Moves and powered by Z-Crystals, which you use through your character’s wrist strap Z-Ring, and activate by a special Z-like arm pose – it’s ZZZs crazy – they unleash both the power of your Pokémon and your trainer at once, which can be a clincher in a tight battle. You’ll also be able to buy a Z-Ring to wear on your own arm created by Tomy, which lights up and vibrates when you do a Z-Move.
While standard 1-vs-1 battles will still be a part of the games, there’s now a Battle Royal battle format to get to grips with where you’ll duke it out with three other trainers in an every-trainer-for-himself, 4 player combat. It adds a bit more strategic thinking into the gameplay, as you’ll need to decide who to attack, who to help out and what your strengths and weaknesses are to coordinate the win.
Getting around the islands is made a little easier with the introduction of Pokémon Rides, which is a unique feature of Alola, where you can ride certain Pokémon to reach specific locations within the game. This might entail riding a friendly Charizard to read the top of a high mountain, or a Sharpedo to go to the more hard-to-reach aquatic locations in the adventure.
Finally, there’s the genius element of the Global Link, which allows you to set up your own online competitions, as well as competing in official match-ups. It allows you to go up against Pokémon trainers from around the world, helping you to hone your skills and test how good you’ve become.
The visuals in the trailer below don’t really sell the game all that well with a fair amount of pixelation and a lack of fancy rendering to drool over. However, 3DS games have always struggled to convey their true potential in a standard trailer, which lacks the 3D impact of the hand-held console. There have been a fair few titles for the 3DS that have struggled to impress visually in the trailer, but go on to be great looking games to play, including Luigi’s Mansion 2 and The Legend Of Zelda A Link Between Worlds.
What we do like instantly is the style of the map of Alola, which looks like a throwback to the wonder of the Super Mario World and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past maps. Equally, the artwork for some of the new Pokémon is pretty cool with both the Sun and Moon legendary front cover beasts looking epic. There’s also some promising signs from the gameplay footage, but it’s pretty clear that it’s been adapted to show the potential of the gaem, so we’ll have to wait until the release date to see how it really looks.
As relative newcomers to the Pokémon franchise, we’re still a little out of the loop, but the Pokémon Go bug has got us completely entranced. With a fair amount of new pocket monsters to track down and add to your team, there’s going to be enough in the game instantly to keep fans hooked, but for gamers thinking about making the app to hand-held game transition it’ll all come down to how quickly Pokémon Sun and Moon can get people up-to-speed with the in-game concept. If the battle engine updates delivers on their promises then it could be yet another big hit for the series.