Video Game Review: Pokémon Sun and Moon

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

ESRB Rating: E

My Rating: 5/5

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the “Pokémon” video games, and the series has delivered another stellar entry for this milestone with “Pokémon Sun and Moon.” While there are many shake-ups to the long-running role-playing game (RPG) series, the games are ideal to celebrate 20 years of “Pokémon” for newcomers and true believers alike.

The games take place in the Alola region, which is based on the real-life Hawaiian Islands. As a young man or woman, you are given the task of capturing Pokémon for the

laid-back Professor Kukui and the eccentric Professor Samson Oak; the latter being the cousin of Professor Oak from the original “Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow.” The result is not only a massive labor of love to longtime fans, but also boasts considerable appeal to those who want to get into the main series for the first time after the massive success of the “Pokémon Go” mobile game.

The four islands that make up the Alola region contain not only a host of new Pokémon to train and battle with, but an assortment of redesigned “Alola forms” of Pokémon from previous games. Notably, the Alolan Exeggutor resembles a towering palm tree, and the Alolan Meowth has a darker color of fur and more condescending demeanor than its original namesake. One new Pokémon that stands out is Mimikyu, a ghost Pokémon contained in an old toy that wants to be as beloved as the series mascot Pikachu.

The gameplay has also been given many new additions that expand on the successes of “Pokémon X and Y” and “Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.” The new “Pokémon Refresh” feature is a great way to heal and bond with your Pokémon with an assortment of items to groom them after battle. The gyms have also made way for a new set of challenges known as “trials,” each with unique “captains” to complete tasks for. While it may seem simpler on the surface, make no mistake: the series has built its legacy on being easy to pick up and play, but tough to truly master. Even seasoned veterans will have a learning curve in this new kind of Pokémon battle.

The biggest shake-up to the established gameplay would have to be the addition of special abilities known as “Z-moves.” Once per battle, a special crystal in a device called a “Z-ring” can be triggered to unleash powerful moves that are unique to each Pokémon type. While it may seem similar to rival RPG series “Yo-Kai Watch,” the potential these techniques have in battle is endless.

The graphics, sound and design are also bursting with appeal to longtime fans and the growing trend of nostalgia for the 1990s. The character customization function has been expanded greatly with a new array of colorful clothes, hats and running shoes. Villain faction Team Skull also has the aura of violent thugs that would not be out of place in a rap music video from that time, covered in black clothes and possibly-stolen Air Jordans; complete with an incredibly catchy music cue every time they show up. Their leader, Guzma, also has a vendetta against Kukui and his students after a past falling-out that prevented the two of them from being trial captains.

Even though there have been many competitors over the years since “Pokémon” first was released (including the recent stateside release of “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls”), few have been able to capture the same feelings of Game Freak’s venerable RPG series. With a large amount of new monsters and features at its heart, “Pokémon Sun and Moon” are easily the best “Pokémon” titles yet and some of the best games on the 3DS. With talk of a possible third entry on the upcoming Nintendo Switch, it’s clear there’s never been a better time to embrace the wonder and fun of “Pokémon.” They are highly recommended for fans of the series and anyone who owns a 3DS.

Here’s to 20 years of catching ‘em all.

Review By Steven Pryor

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