Pokémon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon review

It's ya boy, Sun and Moon.

The definitive edition of Pokémon Sun and MoonUltra Sun and Ultra Moon encapsulate the elements of what made the first set of games great—and also carry forward some of the games’ flaws. Players may be retreading the same island paths as before, but a new selection of Pokémon, shiny new tokens to hunt, additional mini-games, and a brand new story add fun surprises for fans of the originals to find.

Back in ye olden days, Pokémon games had a pattern. Each new generation would launch with a pair of games, each virtually identical except for the distribution of Pokémon and maybe an exclusive legendary. Then, a year or so later, a definitive version of the game would appear, adding tweaks and improvements, maybe a few new systems, perhaps a new legendary and a storyline to go along with it. It was predictable and reliable—Pokémon Red and Blue followed by YellowPokémon Gold and Silver followed by CrystalPokémonRuby and Sapphire followed by Emerald, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl followed by Platinum.

Then Black and White screwed things up by adding two true sequels in the form of Black 2 and White 2, and Pokémon X and were left hanging with no closure and no Pokémon Z. The pattern was broken, and we were left with chaos in the streets, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! Who knew what the future held for the series following Pokémon Sun and Moon?

Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, because Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon—despite their odd names and release as a pair—return to fill that gap and provide the same sense of closure as the YellowCrystalEmerald, and Platinum games of the past.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon place the player back on the sunny, tropical shores of Alola. Set apart from the main continents of other regions, Alola has its own set of customs and traditions. Instead of the formal Gym and Pokémon League systems found in all other mainline games, young Alolan trainers embark on the Island Challenge, traveling to all four island regions to complete in Trials, battle powerful Totem Pokémon, and eventually pass the test of each of the island’s powerful Kahunas.

This time around, though, there’s a twist. As the player discovers, Alolan scientists have been poking at the at the edges of reality, hoping to uncover strange beings and other universes, and science may have gone just a bit too far. Our protagonists’ adventure in tropical paradise is regularly interrupted by not just by creatures but by people from a different universe altogether, and ultimately by a larger threat that aims to engulf all of Alola in darkness.

While players tread much of the same physical ground as they did in the first Sun and Moon games—routes haven’t changed much, with only a few new beaches or valleys added here and there—these circumstances cause events to play out a little differently than they did before. Players trekking around the world might find that the same old mountain trail has new NPCs with new stories on it, whether you’re on a café date with Nurse Joy or acting as a witness for two kids marrying their pet Pikachu.

Each of the Trials, too, have been shaken up a bit, offering a new set of puzzles or a twist on the Trials found in the base games. Instead of merely battling through a Gym system, players will find themselves herding a school of Wishiwashi downstream, gathering ingredients in the forest, or lining up Electric Pokémon to complete a circuit before proving their worth against a powerful Totem Pokémon. It’s a fun change of pace, though some of the twists in these Trials are clearly there more to pull the rug out from under returning players’ expectations than to stand on their own.

A whole host of other minor changes fill some of the gaps in the game. Your Rotom Pokédex now offers a lottery of powers with a variety of effects, from discounts in shops to reduced egg hatching distance—very similar to the O-Powers from and Y. A new minigame lets you surf from island to island, performing sweet flips and tricks on the back of a Mantine, as replacement for travel by boat (though you’ll never need to use it once you’ve unlocked Charizard flying). Shiny new Totem stickers can be found dotted around the landscape, encouraging players to poke into every nook and cranny in order to collect enough to trade in for a powerful Totem Pokémon (with the same movesets and abilities as boss Totem Pokémon you battle in your Trials).

These changes, along with a new selection of Pokémon you’ll find in the wild, are enough to make a second run through Alola interesting for players returning from the first Sun and Moon, though things are still mostly the same—you’re still travelling through the same islands and talking to the same cast of characters, after all. If you’re only in it for the exploration and the gameplay, things are largely the same. If you play for the story, on the other hand, that’s where you’ll find the biggest shakeup and most of the new content, especially once the plot starts picking up near the finale.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon do boast one major piece of entirely original content: the Rainbow Rocket storyline, which unlocks only after the main story has been completed. Hitting all of us long-time Pokémon fans right in the nostalgia, this storyline takes advantage of the game’s cross-universe themes to pull in the big bad bosses from all past Pokémon generations: Team Rocket, Team Aqua, Team Magma, Team Galactic, Team Plasma, Team Flare, and even some bonus time with the leader of Alola’s own Team Skull.

Half evil team dungeon, half boss rush, and all nostalgia, this short extra storyline provides a tantalizing glimpse at what could have happened had these evil organizations succeeded, but only that—a glimpse. While it’s a lot of fun to butt heads with Giovanni, Archie, Maxie, and the lot and challenge them at their full strength, I wish the game had gone further. All of these bosses are constrained to their separate boss rooms and hardly interact. I would have loved to see more of them bantering or struggling with one another, and I would have loved even more to actually get to see the worlds they conquered—an utterly destroyed Kalos or a flooded Hoenn. As it is, this storyline feels more like an extended Easter egg than a true expansion of the storyline. It’s an intriguing and truly nostalgic Easter egg, to be sure, and that’s part of the problem—it left me wanting a lot more than it gave.

Ultimately, though, beneath all of these fancy trappings, new bits of content, and storyline changes, there’s still the same original Pokémon Sun and Moon, and most of the same benefits and downsides of the originals. The adorkable dumb punks of Team Skull continue to be the most hilarious evil team the Pokémon series has seen in a long time, and that hasn’t changed. On the other hand, the game still gets hung up for several seconds whenever a battle has three or more Pokémon on a screen, and that hasn’t changed.  And love it or hate it, there’s still the same system of checkpoints leading you around and telling you where to go, especially towards the beginning of the game.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon serve as the definitive editions of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and that means that if you have strong opinions already about the original games, there’s not much in the new ones that will likely sway your mind either way. Systems are a little more convenient, cutscenes a little more polished. A new selection of available Pokémon can make completing your Pokédex that much easier, while a few fun new minigames, plot changes, and the occasional new area to explore leave fun surprises in store for those who have memorized every inch of Alola. Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon don’t do much to push the series as a whole forward—but given the giant leaps that the original Sun and Moon already took, maybe they don’t need to.


The definitive edition of Pokémon Sun and Moon, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon encapsulate the elements of what made the first set of games great—and also carry forward some of the games’ flaws. Players may be retreading the same island paths as before, but a new selection of Pokémon, shiny new tokens to hunt, additional mini-games, and a brand new story add fun surprises for fans of the originals to find.

Game Freak
The Pokémon Company
E – Everyone
Release Date
Pokémon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon is available on Nintendo 3DS. Primary version played was for 3DS. Product was provided by The Pokémon Company for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.

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