Pokémon has lengthy gotten away with one thing inconceivable with different franchises: encouraging followers to choose up a number of variations of what’s, on a elementary degree, the identical actual recreation.
There are quite a few defenses for this apply, and so they’ve advanced solely barely since Pokémon Red and Green launched in 1996: Each model of a Pokémon recreation has unique monsters, a number of distinctive characters and a few refined aesthetic variations. But on the finish of the day, the tales and gameplay are nearly similar. This is commonly hammered dwelling with the the ritual “third version” launch, which serves as each Pokémon technology’s definitive, upgraded version, typically tweaking issues in a number of key methods whereas leaving every little thing else once more untouched.
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the newest video games to fill that function. While they’re completely serviceable each as the latest Pokémon RPGs and as superior variations of final yr’s Sun and Moon, they’re additionally … completely serviceable. In different phrases: The video games are neither terribly thrilling, nor important for anybody who performed their predecessors right through.
The adjustments are good, however the great things hasn’t modified
Much like Sun and Moon, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon take gamers to the tropical Alola area. And very similar to Sun and Moon, each video games characteristic a quartet of islands the place trainers should show their Pokémon mastery via a gauntlet of particular trials. These have some slight tweaks, however for essentially the most half, the trials and their bosses are the identical.
One main distinction with this mission-based a part of the video games is the island trials really feel much more like padding in comparison with the larger story. Sun and Moon advised essentially the most linear and authentic narrative so far within the Pokémon collection, and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon refine it. Bopping round Alola to finish challenges is only one a part of the storyline; the true star is Lillie, a shy, aspiring Pokémon coach who ropes the participant into some severe and supernatural enterprise.
Lillie’s coming-of-age story stays the strongest a part of the video games, and this yr’s improve refines it. The latter a part of Ultra Sun and Moon permits us to see Lillie actually come into her personal, staying by the participant as they be taught extra about, and enterprise into, Alola’s weird reference to parallel universes. It’s a satisfying change from the unique telling of this story, the place issues stopped quick earlier than we acquired to see Lillie actually bloom.
As for these parallel universes: They might have been oversold by the video games’ advertising. It’s sort of thrilling to leap via wormholes populated by random legendary Pokémon, however they’re in any other case barren. A brand new space accessible on the opposite aspect of those wormholes additionally feels missing, largely serving the aim of giving the large climactic boss battle an applicable stage.
I’ll concede that the brand new place to find and wacky methodology of getting there do make the video games really feel grander — and stranger — than the preliminary Alolan adventures, serving to to arrange a pleasant, mbadive finale applicable for the story Ultra Sun and Moon inform. These set items additionally work to introduce new Pokémon kinds in a manner that feels natural and thrilling. It’s all the time an excellent time discovering one thing new in a Pokémon recreation, whether or not that’s a location or a Pokémon.
Too little, too late
But the issue is that these deviations happen on the very finish of the video games. Until the final handful of hours, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon aren’t all that totally different from Sun and Moon. There are some noticeable tweaks past Lillie’s expanded function and the extra cohesive narrative, like collectible stickers, extra Pokédex options and a few stunning additional problem. (Seriously: This recreation will get exhausting.) There’s additionally a brand new enemy squad that hints at larger issues to return. But hardly ever did these quantity to a lot that made my second journey to Alola really feel worthwhile. For the majority of the journey, it’s nonetheless the identical islands with the identical folks and the identical Pokémon to defeat.
None of that is to say that the video games aren’t enjoyable. Sun and Moon had been a welcome refresh of the traditional Pokémon components, feeling extra like meaty RPGs than nearly any earlier entry within the franchise. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are actually the editions of the seventh-gen video games I’d advocate to a newcomer. But I’d have bother convincing a returning participant to cease again into Alola to take a look at this yr’s upgrades. None of them present for a novel expertise that can erase our recollections of Sun and Moon. The expanded story is a pleasant deal with, however its size and late-breaking adjustments aren’t sufficient to make the Ultra pair straightforward sells.
As Pokémon followers, we’ve come to just accept that iteration and reiteration is the collection’ commonplace components. These seventh-gen do-overs are a unbelievable final act for the Nintendo 3DS as Pokémon preps for its Nintendo Switch debut, in addition to profitable revisions of two video games that didn’t want a variety of fixing. But there’s nothing fairly so thrilling about Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon as to warrant the return journey.