Review by Magicxgame
Don't believe the hype. There's no heart or soul here.
If you're on the fence, don't buy this game.
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (Pokemon USUM) had several strikes against it before its release. Before the games were officially unveiled, there was an Internet rumor that Pokemon Sun and Moon would be followed up with a game called Pokemon Stars for the Nintendo Switch. There were several reasons this wouldn't be the case (Pokemon games don't switch consoles in the middle of a Pokemon generation, and Game Freak doesn't release Pokemon titles for a console on the year the console comes out), but people let their imaginations run wild, and were outraged when an unsubstantiated Internet rumor turned out to be false. Shortly after the games' reveal, an untitled Pokemon game was announced for the Nintendo Switch, so people naturally looked forward to that rather than Pokemon USUM.
Pokemon USUM are superficially similar to Pokemon Black 2 and White 2: both are follow-ups to a pair of Pokemon games, and both of their mascots are legendary Pokemon fused with previous Pokemon mascots. However, make no mistake; the games are completely different. Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 had their flaws, but were solid follow-ups that fleshed out the Unova region and brought a plethora of post-game content. Pokemon USUM are two soulless cash grabs rushed out for the Christmas holidays. I've seen reviewers gush that Pokemon USUM are the best games since Pokemon Red and Blue, and that their added amount of content rivals Pokemon Emerald or Platinum's. This is false. If you want a puff piece, then look elsewhere; I'm here to give you an in-depth, honest review of the final Pokemon games for the Nintendo 3DS.
Pokemon Sun and Moon had a decent story marred by terrible pacing. The first pair of Alola games focused on the player trying to complete Alola's island challenge and become the first Pokemon League Champion of the Alola region, while also covering the mysterious lifeforms called Ultra Beasts and their effects on Lusamine and her children. Pokemon USUM tries to put its own spin on this, but the story has largely changed for the worse.
First, Pokemon USUM are "sister" versions to Pokemon Sun and Moon, akin to Pokemon Crystal and Emerald, rather than sequels like Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 were. That's already a step back from five years ago, but I'll judge Pokemon USUM on its own merits. As expected, the plot is largely the same as Pokemon Sun and Moon's plot at first, but with some minor alterations to include the legendary Pokemon Necrozma. This works decently at first, but the plot falls apart once the player returns to Aether Paradise. In short, the old and the new stories are awkwardly meshed together, so characters such as Lusamine, her children, and Guzma are actually less developed than their original counterparts. Furthermore, Pokemon Sun and Moon's post-game episode involving the Ultra Beasts has been removed, which removes a lot of the Ultra Beasts' backstory and leaves even more characters underdeveloped.
There is a new team called the Ultra Recon Squad which appear periodically throughout the storyline. The actual members differ based on the version, but Pokemon Ultra Sun's duo aren't compelling at all. They're just two typical henchmen on a mission: the serious one that's committed to his mission, and the younger, childish one that just wants to explore their new world. You've seen these tropes a million times before, and the duo brings nothing new to the table. They also battle the player a few times, but the battles are so insultingly easy that they're just a waste of time. They're largely inconsequential at the end of the plot.
Pokemon USUM also introduces a new post-game episode akin to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire's post-game Delta Episode. This episode focuses on Team Rainbow Rocket, a revival of the old Team Rocket that brings together all of the villainous team leaders from past Pokemon titles. Overall, the new episode is a mixed bag. On one hand, the episode's a nostalgic blast from the past, as it's a great feeling to battle against the original villainous team again, and the episode brings back some old-fashioned puzzles from the Generation I and II games. The Team Rocket Grunts are a lot funnier than the Team Skull Grunts, and the episode doesn't involve as much backtracking as the Delta Episode. On the other hand, it feels like there's little at stake during the Team Rainbow Rocket plot, which is surprising since the team leaders are implied to be more competent than their original counterparts. (This is especially bad in Lysandre's portion of the episode.) The leaders' teams are also filled with missed potential. Archie and Maxie get it the worst; not only are their teams painfully lacking, but their in-battle splash screens are a lot worse than the gorgeous ones from Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Finally, the Team Rainbow Rocket episode takes the place of Sun and Moon's Ultra Beast episode, so Pokemon USUM have about the same amount of story as their counterparts.
Finally, Pokemon USUM's pacing is just as poor as Pokemon Sun and Moon's. Enjoy playing through the game for an hour before you can use a Pokemon Center, and have fun clicking through inconsequential dialogue branches that go nowhere. Game Freak could have fixed it, but they just didn't care.
The graphics are largely the same as Pokemon Sun and Moon's, though some menus have been redesigned. There's still some lag during cutscenes and double battles if you're playing on an old 3DS, which is annoying; if the game doesn't have 3D effects, then it should at least run smoothly. Other than that, the graphics are fine.
Pokemon USUM includes several remixes of Pokemon Sun and Moon's themes. However, they're largely inferior to the originals, as most of them sound hollow and incomplete. Fortunately, the music can still be changed at multiplayer battles and the Battle Tree.
But you didn't come here for any of that; you came here to see how the gameplay is. Pokemon USUM adds new features, but most of the features are recycled or just plain annoying.
Challenge: Pokemon USUM slightly change some of the old trials (Alola's version of Pokemon Gyms), and add a new trial at the beginning of the game. The Totem Pokemon are notably tougher this time, and there's a late-game boss battle that actually caught me off guard (though I still won on my first try).
Totem battles aside, the game is still ridiculously easy. Most trainers only use one Pokemon, and the game constantly heals your Pokemon for free. The harder Totem battles do not make up for the lack of difficulty levels, which players have been requesting for years. Game Freak knows that players have been requesting multiple difficulty levels (as revealed in an interview around the time of Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire's release), but they just don't care.
New Pokemon: For the first time, Game Freak has added in new Pokemon in the middle of a generation. The game includes several new Ultra Beasts, two of which are version-exclusive (Blacephalon in Pokemon Ultra Sun and Stakataka in Pokemon Ultra Moon). This is a pleasant surprise, and a step from the new Pokemon formes that have been added in the middle of a generation since Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen. It also means that dataminers can't spoil all of the surprises at a start of a Pokemon generation, which is a nice touch. While the new Ultra Beasts' designs leave something to be desired, they're still powerful and unique Pokemon that should cater to casual and competitive players alike.
There are also a few new Pokemon forms, but they're a lot less impressive. Necrozma receives three new forms - two of which are accessed by fusing with Solgaleo and Lunala - but the fusions are simply rip-offs of Black Kyurem and White Kyurem from Pokemon Black 2 and White 2. There's also a Partner Cap Pikachu, which is based on Ash Ketchum's Pikachu from the 20th Pokemon movie, but it's nearly identical to the Original Cap Pikachu that was distributed to Pokemon Sun and Moon. Finally, there's Lycanroc-Dusk, an underwhelming new Lycanroc form meant to capitalize on Ash-Greninja's popularity. Like Zoroark, Lycarnoc-Dusk is merely an uninspired clone that will quickly be forgotten.
Of course, none of the new Pokemon or Pokemon forms can be transferred to Pokemon Sun and Moon. Gotta pay $40 if you want to catch 'em all!
"New" Pokemon: The Alola Pokedex has been expanded to include some older Pokemon, such as Hawlucha and Houndoom. However, the Alola Pokedex wasn't in need of an upgrade like the Sinnoh and Unova Pokedexes, so the addition is largely superfluous.
Like Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Pokemon USUM add all of the non-event legendary Pokemon from past generations, meaning that every single non-event legendary Pokemon can be obtained throughout the two new games. Unfortunately, like Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Once again, the old legendary Pokemon appear through portals that spawn in uninspired, generic locations. Remember when Pokemon games actually added in new locations to accommodate older legendaries, such as the Embedded Tower, the Sinjoh Ruins, and Faraway Island? Apparently that's too much effort for the modern generation of Pokemon games. That aside, you've probably caught most of these legendaries before, and you'll only need to catch them again if you're playing in the Pokemon Video Game Championships due to its arbitrary regional marking rule (which prevents players from using legendary Pokemon transferred from older Pokemon games).
Finally, it should be noted that Pokemon USUM do not include a National Pokedex, which includes all of the Pokemon currently available. It's especially bad since the companion software Pokemon Bank was updated to include a National Pokedex about a year before Pokemon USUM's release. It just feels so lazy to include all of the older legendaries, and not bother to include Pokedex entries for them. Is it because Pokemon USUM are still missing 246 Pokemon, around 30% of all available Pokemon? Or is it that they just didn't care?
New Z-Moves: Certain Pokemon, such as Necrozma, Kommo-o, and Mimikyu, receive new Z-Moves. Like regular Z-Moves, they're flashy, one-time nukes that should be used in the heat of battle. They're slightly stronger than regular Z-Moves, but nothing to write home about.
Totem Stickers: A new sidequest is the Totem Sticker sidequest, which replaces the tedious Zygarde Cell sidequest from Pokemon Sun and Moon. There are 100 Totem Stickers spread throughout the Alola region, which can be traded in to Professor Samson Oak for large, totem-sized Pokemon. The totem-sized Pokemon that appeared in Pokemon Sun and Moon, such as Totem Gumshoos, can even be transferred back to those games. The sidequest is better than the Zygarde Cell quest: the stickers are all placed near towns or major buildings, and none of them are time-exclusive like the Zygarde Cells. However, Game Freak was really lazy with placing the stickers near the end of the game; at one point, you can even find three stickers plastered on top of one another. If you're not going to put in the effort, then don't include 100 stickers.
Pokemon Photo Club: You can take pictures with your Pokemon. Pokemon Snap did something similar in the 90s. Enough said.
Mantine Surfing: There are several beaches scattered throughout the region where the player can participate in the Mantine Surfing mini-game, akin to the Pikachu's Beach mini-game from Pokemon Yellow. As expected, the player can perform various tricks in order to earn Battle Points (BP), which can be exchanged for various items or be used to teach Pokemon special attacks. It doesn't have the depth of Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver's Pokeathlon, but it's a decent time-waster nonetheless.
Battle Agency: The much-maligned Festival Plaza includes a new feature called the Battle Agency, a facility akin to the Battle Factory from the old Battle Frontiers. Players may rent a Pokemon from an attendant, then join up with two other players that are in the Festival Plaza. The player then battles through three opponents in a row using their selected Pokemon. If the player wins all three battles, they receive a decent amount of Festival Coins, a useful item such as a Rare Candy, and may go up a grade. There are 50 grades in total; each time a player goes up a grade, the level of the Pokemon they rent also goes up a level. For instance, the player gets level 50 Pokemon at grade 0, level 51 Pokemon at grade 1, and so forth. Occasionally, there are certain battle conditions (such as weather), forcing the player to change their strategies to adapt.
The Battle Agency is a decent diversion, and actually lets players rack up Festival Coins without having to play Type Matchup tests with others over and over again; however, it still has some issues. The grade system is completely pointless, and punishes people that can't team up with their friends; all Pokemon should have just been set to level 50, like standard battle facilities. As your grade increases, the number of battles you have to win also increases, which seems rather pointless since there are already 50 grades to go through. Finally, the Battle Agency should have been part of a Battle Frontier rather than a standalone facility. If this is the best that Game Freak can do after four years of Pokemon games on the 3DS, then this is pathetic. They just don't care.
Ultra Wormholes: In Pokemon Sun and Moon, the player could briefly visit Ultra Space in order to rescue Lusamine and Guzma. In Pokemon USUM, the player is free to explore Ultra Space. By riding on Solgaleo or Lunala, the player can participate in an on-rails minigame to visit various planets. The further the player goes, the higher their chances of meeting shiny or legendary Pokemon. In a neat twist, if a regular Pokemon spawns a shiny Pokemon, it will continue to spawn as a shiny even if the player soft-resets, allowing players to reset for a competitively viable shiny. (Legendary Pokemon do not adhere to these rules.) The player can also capture infinite numbers of the old Ultra Beasts, such as Nihilego, which is another nice twist.
Once again, though, the Ultra Wormhole feature is an enticing feature with several noticeable flaws. When the player first goes into Ultra Space, they are required to use motion controls. Yes, there are shoehorned motion controls in Pokemon USUM, like it's a 2000s-era Wii game. Fortunately, you can use the Circle Stick instead - but you have to speak to a specific NPC in a building two islands away. It's completely baffling; it's like if the game only allowed you to use the touch screen in battle at first, then allow you to use the D-Pad once you've reached a certain point in the game. If Game Freak is going to insert endless dialogue branches that go nowhere, why not allow the player to pick their controls at first? Why not put it in the Options menu?
Secondly, the legendary Pokemon that appear spawn randomly. If you're hunting for a certain legendary, then good luck - have fun playing the Ultra Space mini-game over and over again for that Mewtwo or Dialga. It's especially bad since there are so many older legendary Pokemon in the game. To add insult to injury, the older legendary Pokemon don't even get special worlds; they use the same few worlds as every other common Pokemon.
Finally, some of the new worlds look nice, but they're completely linear. I'd love to explore the various new worlds, but nope - follow the yellow brick road, catch your Pokemon, then leave. Some people will argue that Game Freak didn't have time to implement fully detailed worlds. I'd argue that they shouldn't have rushed these games out in a year.
Rotom Dex: And finally, I've saved the worst for last. In Pokemon Sun and Moon, the Rotom Dex was a mildly annoying replacement for the excellent Player Search System in Pokemon X, Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire. However, in Pokemon USUM, it becomes far worse.
The Rotom Dex is more interactive with the player, and will ask the players various questions throughout their adventure. Unfortunately, by the time you reach the final island, the Rotom Dex will start giving out advice nonstop. It literally gives you advice after every single battle. It also gives you advice every time you open your Pokemon menu. It's not even helpful advice; the Rotom Dex simply teaches the player about simple concepts such as STAB attacks or status effects. If players are on the final island, then they should know about these concepts already. It's completely ridiculous, and there's no option to turn it off, even though there's an Options Menu. You can't skip it - if you enter a new area, it will start over from the beginning. Want to access your map or access your Pokedex at a glance? Not until the Rotom Dex finishes talking.
Of course, there's a reward for putting up with the Rotom Dex - Roto Powers! These powers give the player special features, such as increased experience or prize money. As you might have guessed, they're neutered O-Powers from Pokemon X, Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire. In order to obtain these powers, you have to participate in a pointless little feature called the Roto-Loto, where you play a roulette and randomly receive two copies of the power. (If you live in Japan, you can get a daily Roto Power from the real-life Pokemon Center stores, but people outside of Japan don't have this luxury.)
Almost every new addition of the Rotom Dex is horrible. It's as if they wanted to make the feature as bad as possible.
Old Issues: There are plenty of older issues from Pokemon Sun and Moon that are still in place if you're a diehard fan.
- Triple, Rotation, and Horde battles are still missing, along with Super Training.
- Getting Pokemon to level 100 for the Hyper Training feature is tedious.
- Grinding in the Battle Tree endlessly to buy competitively viable items is still boring. Some of the items can be found in the main game, but there are a lot of new, expensive Mega Stones to make up for it.
- SOS Battles are a luck-based, tedious way to EV train (train a Pokemon's base stats).
- Having to go to the Festival Plaza to trade or battle online is more tedious than using the Player Search System.
- The QR Code features are still clunky.
- If you can't find an opponent in an online battle, you have to re-select your music or scan a QR Code again.
- Finding other missions in Festival Plaza is still hit-and-miss.
- It's difficult to obtain enough money to buy all of the necessary items and clothes.
- Random Pokemon can ambush you from the grass or trees constantly (even if you're using Repels). This makes traveling through the Poni Plains a nightmare.
- Hau is still an annoying kid that needs to shut up sometimes.
Lack of Polish: Older issues aside, there are plenty of minor issues in the game that shows a lack of polish. For instance, Totem Raticate still uses Gumshoos' cry in Pokemon Ultra Moon; one of the late-game totem Pokemon says "Sooo-ooound!" rather than an actual Pokemon cry; the new move tutor moves are just tacked on to the end of Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire's move tutor list, so the moves aren't sorted by the amount of BP they cost; and there's a photo in Lillie's room that alludes to a scene from Pokemon Sun and Moon's ending that was cut from Pokemon USUM. All of these features show that they just didn't care.
The End of an Era
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the last main Pokemon games for the Nintendo 3DS. While Pokemon Crystal, Emerald, and Black 2 and White 2 ended on a strong note, Pokemon USUM ends with a whimper. Pokemon's 3DS run had a strong start with Pokemon X and Y, but the subsequent installments were simply mediocre. All of the recycling has finally caught up to Game Freak - Pokemon was handily beaten by Yo-Kai Watch in Japan, and the 17th through 19th Pokemon movies had disappointing sales. People like to complain about Game Freak panders to older players with their recent titles, but they're the ones who are playing the games; Pokemon's older fans make up a growing percentage of the playerbase with each new installment. Kids simply aren't into Pokemon anymore, and why would they? The 3DS titles are the same old shallow, recycled adventures.
Just compare Fire Emblem's 3DS run to Pokemon's 3DS run - while Fire Emblem reached new heights and exploded in popularity, Pokemon was content to wallow in mediocrity and lose a lot of its target audience to Yo-Kai Watch in its home country. Comparing Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, or any of Fire Emblem's 3DS titles is a complete joke. Hopefully, Pokemon Switch will redeem the series, but I'm not holding my breath at this point.
I still love this franchise - I really do. Even with all of the criticism, I still had some fun with Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, which is why I rated the games a 5/10. But it's clearly in a slump right now. Even if it continues to sell millions and mainstream reviewers keep praising it, the series is in dire need of a change. And no, Pokemon Sun and Moon's band-aid fixes won't help. I know the series can be more than Nintendo's cash cow - even in Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, there are small features like a Kanto-styled gym that show that there's still some heart left in this series.
But those moments are fleeting. As a whole, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon lack a heart and soul.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Pokemon Ultra Sun (US, 11/17/17)
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