Video Game Review: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

ESRB Rating: E

My Rating: *****/5

“Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” are the latest games in the long-running “Pokémon” franchise. As the final installments on the Nintendo 3DS (and to a greater extent, handheld consoles in general), the games provide a satisfying experience for both newcomers and those who enjoyed the original “Pokémon Sun and Moon” games last year.

Rather than direct sequels or enhanced versions like many expected, the games are set in the same fictional universe as the previous installments of Generation VII; but tell a new story and greatly expand upon the concepts introduced in the previous games. While the core concept of journeying across the Alola region as a young man or woman and collecting Pokémon to do battle hasn’t changed, these games have many surprising details that help shakeup the status quo and build upon the changes to the series in the original “Pokémon Sun and Moon.”

In addition to the return of factions such as Team Skull and the Aether Foundation, the game features new story elements centered around a mysterious group known as the “Ultra Recon Squad.” Dressed in outfits that would not be out of place for enemies in “Power Rangers,” they come from a dark, cyberpunk-infused world known as “Ultra Megalopolis.” The area is where the legendary Pokémon Necrozma has stolen the sunlight, causing the land to resemble the cult classic film “Dark City.” The story revolves around not only trying to uncover the mysteries of Necrozma, but also delves deeper into the “Ultra Beasts” introduced in the original “Sun and Moon.”

The game also features adversaries known as “Team Rainbow Rocket.” Led by Giovanni from the original “Pokémon Red and Blue,” you will face off against the villains of previous games as a sort of “Legion of Doom” in a new area known as the “Battle Agency.”

The gameplay brings further shakeups to the long-running formula. The “Z-Moves” have been upgraded into “Z-Power Moves” that grant your Pokémon new special moves in battle. The Rotom Pokédex has also been upgraded with an assortment of bonus features with a new minigame known as the “Roto-Lottery.” Even trials that were in the previous games in Generation VII contain many tweaks to surprise you.

The graphics have a glorious visual style for the games’ final 3DS installments before they make way for the Nintendo Switch. The environments are even larger than they were in the original “Pokémon Sun and Moon,” and the game is full of lands and characters rendered in colors that bathe in the lush visual style of the Alola region. The character customization has even more options than in the previous games. The player characters have a wide array of options for clothes, hats and running shoes that add a 1990s “beach bum” style to their outfits.

As the final installments of the series on handheld consoles, the games are an ideal experience for both old and new fans. New Pokémon such as the mysterious Ultra Beast “Poipole” join the likes of series mascot Pikachu in an expanded array of monsters to collect and do battle with. Between the two games, more than 400 Pokémon from the entire history of the series can be encountered. Even those who have been fans from the beginning will be thrown for a loop in their second trip through the Alola region.

With the next installment of the series in development for the Nintendo Switch as of this writing, “Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” mark an ideal end to the series’ run on the 3DS and handheld devices as a whole. It’s an experience that’s great for fans and 3DS owners looking for a great pair of games for their collection. Whatever lies ahead for the Nintendo Switch entry, it’s clear the series has earned its place alongside other Nintendo series such as “Super Mario Bros.,” “Metroid” and “The Legend of Zelda.” They’re the perfect way to say “Alola” to the series on handheld systems.

Review by Steven Pryor

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