Pokémon Ultra Moon (Nintendo 3DS) Second Opinion Review

Review for Pokémon Ultra Moon on Nintendo 3DS

Remakes, third versions and other variants of Pokémon games are nothing new, but in the case of Pokémon Ultra Moon (or Ultra Sun), these have very rarely come so soon after their basic outing. Not being a proper sequel and not being the long time rumoured, but never confirmed, complementary version Pokémon Stars, either, it makes one wonder what exactly it is, and what potential buyers should expect from it. Pokémon Ultra Moon, in terms of content and story, sits midway through being a third version, due to how similar it is to its predecessor, and a full on remake, although it offers no visual upgrade and comes out barely 12 months after its predecessor.

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Pokémon Sun and Moon arguably hinted at an upcoming remake. From the empty spots with buildings seemingly under construction but never being seen as finished over the course of the story, to other more empty places, and the plot itself seemingly hinting at upcoming events taking place at a later time, the initial expectation was that full of sequels, like Black and White 2 on the original DS. Whether that was going to happen on the, at the time, newly announced Switch, or yet again on 3DS, sparked many theories and speculation, but now that Pokémon Ultra Moon has landed, speculation is no more, and the choice of method is rather perplexing indeed. Wherever things seemed incomplete before, buildings have now appeared, making the in-game world feel like some time has passed since Sun and Moon, but that is not the case at all. The story is, for all intents and purposes, practically the same, and plays out identically – save for some few new additions in the main adventure – while the truly big additions only come very late in the story. Over the course of the main adventure itself, a few new events are thrown in to vary things a bit and tidy up the flow of the narrative some more, but these do not make the bulk of the experience vastly different… just slightly more meaty.

Having to replay through mostly the same game as before, still very fresh in the back of players’ memories, is not the most pleasant thing to experience after paying up full price for the newer version. Pokémon Bank compatibility wasted no time coming to the game, just a measly three days after release, meaning that rushing through events already experienced before should be easy if creatures of the right level were transferred over, to alleviate the need for grinding. Having to rush a second time through events that are already well known is normally not what someone pays a game full price for. Why these games, being built on the foundation of the previous ones, are not true sequels instead, when that would have made so much more sense, is a bit puzzling. Having said that, though, first-timers, please don’t misunderstand: this is still very much a great title and everything great about the original is still just as great here.

Screenshot for Pokémon Ultra Moon on Nintendo 3DS

However, replaying through it so soon after the first one to finally get to the more interesting parts that truly make this upgraded release worthwhile is not the most pleasant experience in the world, even if it’s a great one. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t any new elements in the main story, of course. There are indeed a few surprises along the way; some will raise eyebrows as to what the point of the addition was, like the ability to take pictures with Pokémon, which is fun for a few minutes, sure, but not a much needed change… while other additions will sometimes call for a genuine growl of appreciation when it’s done in an inventive way. Soliera and Phyco of the Ultra Recon Squad, for example, are weird people who make a first appearance here at wide intervals throughout the player’s island challenges trip and should keep second time players interested long enough through the “replay” part until things start getting truly awesome.

Again, however, the story of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and now Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, is probably the most interesting to date in the whole franchise, made more interesting by how cinematic it is in its presentation, much more so than any other episode before. At times, the only thing lacking is voice acting to give the impression that one is actually playing the anime itself, which is something that with some luck the upcoming Switch games will finally bring to the table. It is not a boring story at all – on the contrary; its impact is lessened, though, by repetition for people who already experienced it. Far from wanting to rub it in, but this being essentially the same game released last year, it has to be clarified.

Of course, that also means that, since Pokémon Sun and Moon before it already brought lots of improvements to the overall Pokémon formula, all of these are still very much present. The ride pager brought a much welcomed change to how Pokémon abilities are used to interact with the environment, for instance, and other features, like Festival Plaza and the ability to visualise the “IV” values of each Pokémon owned at a quick glance through the PC, are still in place.

Screenshot for Pokémon Ultra Moon on Nintendo 3DS

Most importantly, and this is perhaps best for reminding those who did not play Sun and Moon, the Gym Battles and the quest for badges are still replaced by island challenges, and the badge collection quest replaced by the collection of Z-Crystals that unlock the flashy and powerful new Z-moves introduced in the previous pair of titles. All of these great elements were already outlined in the previous reviews of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, and more recently again in the first impression reviews of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. There are, however, certain things that, even bearing in mind that this is just an upgrade of the previous games, should have been added in, such as the National Pokédex. The in-game Pokédex still only lists up to 400 Pokémon, versus 300 in Sun and Moon, plus a couple more Legendaries, if they happen to be in the player’s possession, which severely limits management of a full collection of monsters since the National Pokédex is relegated to being a function of Pokémon Bank, which itself is still not accessible from within the game itself, but still requires a separate app on the 3DS. On that topic, four new Pokémon and a few more new alternative forms of already existing monsters enter the fray with this release, but that’s about it. If Game Freak was going to make it a new game, and not a DLC to Sun and Moon, more content might as well have been added in. Granted, massive DLCs were never really a thing on the Nintendo 3DS, but with a difference in size of just a little under 4000 blocks between the older and newer versions, would it really have been impossible?

Now, for all this talk of a feel of repetition that is indeed very much present and impossible to miss, the more the game progresses, the more the new content becomes prevalent, which means that those who are buying a second time and who persevere until these elements reveal themselves, are in for a truly great time. It takes an effort, a time investment so hard to muster in this day and age when free time is so precious and sparingly distributed… but the reward is worth it in the end.

Screenshot for Pokémon Ultra Moon on Nintendo 3DS

A good thing, too, because otherwise the overall impression left on returning players would have been far more negative, although still without taking any merit off the intrinsic quality of the titles, of course. Among other novelties not tied to the exclusive story elements towards the end, which will not be spoiled here, the hero will every now and then come across Pokémon in the wild belonging to another in-game trainer, with whom it is possible to play. This serves no big purpose but it’s there, at least. Stickers can now also be collected, found lying around everywhere, and collecting these will reward the player with various “Totem” sized Pokémon, depending on which version is being played, which is among the more interesting additions to these newer versions, as this encourages exploration even more.

Overall, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that this should not have been sold at full price to people who already own the previous releases. In fact, even if not built as a DLC to the previous entries, a discount could have been awarded to those who already downloaded the previous ones from the eShop. At the same time, though, Ultra Moon is, taken on its own merits, still an extremely fine adventure and arguably the best released in the series so far, and there are probably people out there who skipped the previous duo and these people should be made aware of what they risk missing out on if they don’t seize this opportunity now to finally sample this great outing. Another definitive argument in its favour that will definitely appeal to fans of the previous games, and which is not really a spoiler since it’s been in the news already: every legendary Pokémon from previous games can be caught in this one. Every single one! This is a BIG deal. This means that should anyone pick any of these two games, and store these in Pokémon Bank for when the Switch release comes out, they will be able to transfer them all over and then play with those in glorious HD. The power of that inclusion alone shifts the balance enough that even those who already played Sun and Moon to no end may well want to consider double dipping, at least to avid collectors, that is.

Screenshot for Pokémon Ultra Moon on Nintendo 3DS