I was excited about Pokémon Sun/Moon’s release last year and was really feeling the itch for a new Pokémon game after spending so much time with X/Y. There are a lot of aspects I liked about Sun/Moon but in the end, the game felt kind of tired. I liked the Alohan variants of old Pokémon and the Hawaiian feel of the game but I don’t know anyone who actually got excited about going through the whole gym routine again. So, when I got Ultra Moon for this review, I found myself wondering who this game was for.
The End of An Era
I feel it’s important to mention that Ultra Sun/Moon are the last handheld titles in the core series of the Pokémon franchise. That’s really something because this is a franchise that spans 31 core games and almost 3 times as many non-core games (although a lot of those are Japan-exclusives). It also means that the last handheld title of the franchise is a rehash of the previous game. Am I the only one who thinks that’s kind of an odd send off? After all, how could this new release feel any different when you’re playing what is essentially Pokémon 18?
Same Thing, Different Game
When I booted up Ultra Moon, my first reaction was the same I’ve had for the last 3 or 4 Pokémon titles that I’ve played: boredom. The beginning of these games is tedious. Going through the dialogue that explains why you have to leaving home to find Pokémon, capturing your first normal-type Pokémon (that will only be on your team long enough for you to catch literally anything else) and dealing with a rival character who’s bad at choosing Pokémon types. Every game starts the same way and it’s dreadful. I enjoy Pokémon games when I’m choosing my team, when I’m assigning moves and leveling them up to make them better but there’s none of that in the beginning of any Pokémon game. The problem is that the developers have to assume that you’ve never played Pokémon before, as to keep the new fans in the loop. If, on the other hand, you’re not a new fan, you just have to accept that you’ll spend 5 hours slowly going over what you already know, while picking up Pokémon that will never be a part of a good team (because normal types are basically garbage).
And so, we come back to my first question. Who is this game for? People who bought Sun/Moon last year probably aren’t chomping at the bit for a new Pokemon game just yet and they’re probably not super excited about buying the same game again, even if it does include story changes and some new Legendaries. Meanwhile, people who didn’t buy Sun/Moon on launch probably wouldn’t be interested in this remake, would they? That leaves people who are new to the series and I really wonder if there’s enough of those to justify, what is essentially a re-release of what is still a relatively new game. The only reason I can see for this game’s release is to have a “fresh” title on the shelves for the holidays.
To Be The Very Best
All of that said, I don’t think we shouldn’t finish this piece on the last 3DS game of this great franchise on a gloomy and cynical note.
For a long while, I held the unoriginal opinion that Nintendo was cruising on its main franchises, giving us these uninspired Mario, Zelda and Pokémon games that still sold well but weren’t the milestones they used to be in the culture. But lo and behold, Nintendo has been swinging for the fences lately and it’s paying off. With the Switch, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and most recently, Super Mario Odyssey… Nintendo is making a splash. They’re digging into their catalogue, finding the good things that fans loved and taking them to another level.
I really hope that Pokémon will be swept up in this new wave of Nintendo originality. If not, I hope that maybe we can get the Stardew Valley treatment for it. An indie developer who approaches the concept of Pokémon with all the love that Stardew’s creator, Concerned Ape, had for Harvest Moon. A franchise that for a long time felt like it was being made by a committee of robots with no budget and no idea of just why people loved weird games about farming. That’s what Pokémon has felt like for a while now, like an attempt to put something passable together, adding a few Pokémon that no one seemed to care about into a format that we have seen half a dozen times before. Maybe it was the limits of the handheld technology, maybe it was the conservative approach Nintendo had to its franchises, maybe it’s both. I just really hope that we get something new for Pokémon on the Switch and that it blows our minds the same way that Breath of the Wild and Odyssey did.
DISCLAIMER: Pokémon Ultra Moon review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.