Pokémon Sun and Moon
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