Poké­mon Sun and Moon

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Hang on, this isn’t Pikachu. As the cam­era plunges into the long grass, the blades part to re­veal a fa­mil­iar yel­low face. But its mouth is wonky and its eyes are the slap­dash scrib­bles of a tod­dler. This, it turns out, is Mimikyu – a lonely Poké­mon so des­per­ate for hu­man com­pan­ion­ship that it has taken to hid­ing its true form by cos­play­ing as its vastly more pop­u­lar coun­ter­part. It’s a mo­ment of self-aware­ness that nods to the phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess of the orig­i­nal games, but it’s also in­dica­tive of broader change. This is Poké­mon, but not quite as you re­mem­ber it, with ev­ery­thing shifted a few de­grees away from nor­mal.

In pre­sen­ta­tional terms, the series has been play­ing catch-up for a while. No longer. If Poké­mon X and Y was a com­pro­mise, with one foot in the series’ dig­i­tal past, Sun and Moon have shaken off al­most all resid­ual rigid­ity. You mightn’t have man­ual cam­era con­trol, but it’s never re­ally needed, and while the hard­ware’s 3D func­tion­al­ity is ig­nored, Game Freak can in­dulge in more elab­o­rate bat­tle an­i­ma­tions with­out wor­ry­ing about the fram­er­ate tank­ing. And the new Z-moves – pow­er­ful spe­cial at­tacks pow­ered by collectable crys­tals that can be used once per bat­tle – have a vis­ual dy­namism that is pure anime.

The series seems en­er­gised by its new set­ting, the Hawai­ian-in­spired Alola, such that it’s con­fi­dent to play fast and loose with tra­di­tion. Star­tlingly, there are no gym bat­tles. In­stead, you’ll face tri­als against pow­er­ful Totem mon­sters be­fore tack­ling each is­land’s Kahuna. HM moves, too, are gone, which means you no longer need to bur­den one team mem­ber with Rock Smash or Strength. D-pad short­cuts let you call upon a va­ri­ety of ride­able Poké­mon – a Stout­land to dowse for hid­den items, for ex­am­ple, or a Charizard who’ll fly you to places you’ve al­ready vis­ited. Cap­tured Poké­mon, mean­while, can now be added to your team im­me­di­ately, with the mon­ster they’re re­plac­ing spir­ited away. At times, you’ll worry Game Freak has thrown the Bayleef out with the Mag­mor­tar: some will feel the ab­sence of the gyms’ en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zles, while re­veal­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of moves against Poké­mon you’ve al­ready fought di­min­ishes the sat­is­fac­tion of mem­o­ris­ing the type charts. But oth­er­wise your jour­ney through Alola is a de­light. The re­gion boasts some of the series’ most in­spired de­signs, which are en­livened by some bril­liant flavour text that fully em­braces the un­der­ly­ing dark­ness of the Poké­mon ecosys­tem. And in en­cour­ag­ing the player to re­spect new cus­toms and cul­tures and to em­brace the joy of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­ers, it pro­motes a mes­sage of kind­ness and un­der­stand­ing that’s never felt more vi­tal.

Poké­mon still doesn’t quite cater well enough to play­ers who’d like to un­ravel the nu­ances of the bat­tle sys­tem with­out plung­ing head­long into the ar­cane depths of the com­pet­i­tive metagame

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