Last year’s smash hit Pokémon game (no, not that one!) gets a special edition, but what exactly does it add to the experience?
If you were worried that Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon had the whiff of exploitation about them, then you were right to be suspicious. Their announcement came out of the blue and for a long while it wasn’t really clear what they were. They seemed to be a variation on the director’s cut editions that used to follow from a mainline sequel, but games like Pokémon Yellow, Emerald, and Platinum never appeared until two years after the originals.
It’s only been one year since Pokémon Sun and Moon, so considering how little is usually changed in these special editions, you’d be right to worry that this would end up as more of a re-release. But it’s not. Splitting the games into two separate editions (the director’s cuts usually combine the contents of both original games and add a bit more on top) is very cynical, but otherwise this is pretty much what you’d expect from the series.
And if you don’t know what to expect then think of this as a sort of remix, changing and expanding elements of the original’s plot; adding in a small number of new pokémon; and introducing a few new areas, characters, items, and moves. The differences are all minor, but in each case they are an improvement – no matter how slight.
We already described Sun and Moon as the best Pokémon game ever when they were released this time last year, and we stand by that. But for those that have only ever played Pokémon GO, the ‘real’ Pokémon games may not be quite what you imagined. The basic idea is still to catch ‘em all, but the core Pokémon titles are essentially open-ended Japanese style role-playing games.
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (and all other mainline entries) are sold separately, but they’re more or less the same game and you’re not expected to buy both. There’s only a few minor differences between the two releases – primarily a few unique pokémon in each – which is meant to encourage trading between players. And capturing your pokémon is only the beginning, as you train and evolve your critters to battle through the game’s story and eventually other human players.
Each pokémon you capture has an elemental type (anything from grass to ghost) and can learn four moves at a time to use in battle. These have the same kind of alignments and often various side effects, such as paralysing an enemy or lowering their accuracy. This all creates a highly complex web of vulnerabilities, defences, and bonuses, where even pokémon that are several experience levels lower than their opponent have a chance if they have the right abilities.
Due in part to their open-ended nature the story in Pokémon games is never very important, so having things play out slightly different in Ultra Sun (the version we played for this review, because we played Sun last time) doesn’t really make much difference. Not that there is any real difference for the first dozen or so hours though, with the only significant changes occurring towards the end of the main plot. Like Destiny (really!) the endgame in Pokémon is just as important as the story campaign and it’s now even more expansive… and difficult.
Although there are only a very small number of brand new pokémon, there are dozens of creatures from previous games that weren’t in the original versions. Many of these can be found by travelling through new ultra wormholes, to alternate dimensions similar to Pokemon Platinum’s Distortion Zone. This is where the robotic Ultra Recon Squad hail from, who become a new recurring presence throughout the game.
But while the endgame is longer than ever the pacing at the beginning of the game, which we originally criticised for being too linear, is now much quicker and lets you get down to business with a minimum of time-wasting. And while the story might not really have changed much the game is now filled with a lot more side quests, which helps make the game world seem a little more organic and lived in.
There are lots of other cute little touches that do the same, such as playing peekaboo with pokémon you meet in the wild. While other minor changes include a revamped interface, including a quicker save option, and slight tweaks to some of the trials and totem fights. There’s also some new mini-games that make it easier to farm various in-game resources like battle points. The game still doesn’t address our one major complaint about the series though, in the lack of any proper artificial intelligence, but we can’t say we’re surprised at that.
Scoring these director’s cuts is always difficult because they’re essentially the same game as before, and it seems almost like cheating to gift them the same score. It’s the only option that makes sense though, and while you’d have to be an ultra-obsessed Pokémon fan to want this if you already own the original this is definitely the superior version of an already classic game. Even if it’s only by the smallest of margins.
Pokémon Ultra Sun
In Short: The best Pokémon game ever just got slightly better, with an even more expansive endgame and some welcome, if trivial, new tweaks and additions.
Pros: Combat and customisation that’s incredibly deep, but also surprisingly accessible. Huge game world filled with secrets and near endless longevity. Expansive multiplayer options.
Cons: The lack of artificial intelligence can ruin the illusion in some battles. Story is still largely the same as before, and not terribly interesting.
Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: 17th November 2017
Age Rating: 7