Pokemon Sun and Moon full review

Pokémon is one of very few brands whose fan base spreads across generations. Sure, Pokémon is mainly aimed at kids, but it’s also aimed at those who grew up playing the likes of Pokémon Red, Blue or Yellow sat beneath a lamp in their front room (kids today won’t understand the struggle of non-backlit screens).

While this means that Pokémon trainers young and old can come together and discuss stories about their favourite Pokémon, it also means that developers Game Freak had a huge challenge on their hands - how do you make a game appealing to both kids and adults? While Pokémon X and Y showed huge improvements in terms of storyline and gameplay, it’s down to Pokémon Sun and Moon to take the baton and finish the race. Has Game Freak succeeded? Well…

See also: The most anticipated games of 2016 and 2017 | Pokémon GO review | Pokémon GO troubleshooting

Plus: Best Black Friday Gaming Deals

Pokémon Sun review: UK release date

Pokémon Sun & Moon release date (UK): 23 November 2016

Nintendo has confirmed the seventh generation in the series, Pokémon Sun and Moon, was to launch in the UK on 23 November as a 3DS exclusive, five days after it was released in the US. The game is now on-sale, and can be bought from a number of UK retailers like Amazon (£32) or GAME (£34.99). The two games - Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon - are essentially the same game, but have different Pokemon available in each. This means that to really catch 'em all, you'll have to buy both - or have a friend with the other version willing to help you out! 

Pokémon Sun review: Gameplay

Looking back at the early games, it’s fascinating to see how much Pokémon, as a brand and a game, had developed. Gone are the flat, 2D images of early games, with Pokémon battles in recent games being energetic, dramatic and most importantly, three-dimensional. Bringing 3D models into Pokémon gave it a new lease of life, and helped bring the Pokémon to life too. 3DS owners could take that one step further, and enable the enhanced 3D mode of the console to bring even more depth to the display.

However, while 3D support was featured in Pokémon X and Y, Game Freak has decided to not offer any kind of 3D capabilities in Pokémon Sun and Moon.  We’re not quite sure why, but this is sure to disappoint those with a 3DS, especially the newer version with enhanced 3D viewing capabilities. Although with that being said, we find the enhanced 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS somewhat gimmicky, and the lack of 3D shouldn’t make the game any less impressive - it’s just worth noting for those that do appreciate the functionality.

Read next: Final Fantasy 15 review

Pokémon Sun review: Island Trials

Pokémon X and Y was praised for its fast paced nature and interesting storyline, and this is a theme that has continued on with Pokémon Sun and Moon. Gone are the days of sluggish, slow gameplay with extended periods wandering around in long grass battling Caterpies. Within the first hour of playing Pokémon Sun and Moon, you’re introduced to a plethora of Pokémon - both in battles and in the wild - and depending on your skill, you may have conquered your first Island Trial. The change in pace keeps users engaged, and the constant introduction of activities and side quests provides users with lots to do in Alola, even once the main storyline has been completed. Click here for more games news and reviews

Island Trials are new to the Alolan world of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and replace the hugely popular Gym mechanic of past Pokémon games. Why? In Alola, you must take on the trial captains dotted across the islands, each with their own trials. The trials usually involve a myriad of Pokémon battles, but can also involve observation and recognition skills (we were prompted at one challenge to identify the jingle of the Pokémon Centre, and more). Think of the Island Trials as being like the puzzle at the entrance of gyms in older Pokémon games, but much more intricate and well-developed. Each trial is unique and tests a different skill, and may also tie in with the ‘type’ of Pokémon that the trial captain prefers.

However unlike with traditional Gyms, it’s not the trial captain that you battle. Once you’ve passed the trial, you must then take on the Totem Pokémon. The Totem Pokémon introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moon are much stronger than average Pokémon and are blanketed in an aura that gives them an edge in battle – they can have heightened defence, attack and more, but the specific characteristics depend on the Totem Pokémon you’re battling.

A new feature of the game is the ability for wild Pokémon to call for backup, or an ‘ally’ Pokémon. While this can happen in standard wild battles, you can bet your Rare Candy that it’ll happen in every Totem battle (unless you 1-hit KO them), which poses an additional threat. When an ally appears, the battle becomes a 2v1, making the challenge that much greater – and that much more rewarding when you defeat your enemies and are awarded with a Z-Crystal.

What is a Z-Crystal? Z-Crystals help Pokémon of a specific type unleash incredibly powerful attacks that bond trainer and Pokémon, although these are limited to one per match and the power/move itself depends on which Pokémon is performing it. As you progress through the game you’ll find a number of different Z-Crystals, both from Island Trials and by randomly interacting with NPCs, providing your Pokémon with a trick up their sleeves for those extra-tough opponents.  It’s not ridiculously overpowered though, meaning you’ll still have to think strategically about timing and possible effects it can have on the enemy.

Pokémon Sun review: Battle dynamics, tactics and improvements

So as you may have guessed, the dynamic of battles can change quickly in Pokémon Sun and Moon - and we like it. Yes, the majority of battles will still be in the standard 1v1 style, but the wild Pokémon’s ability to call for backup can change the tide of any battle. While logic dictates that the trainer should then summon a second Pokémon themselves, you’re forced to take on two foes with a single Pokémon. There’s also a 2v2 mode, but this is only the case when facing two enemies - you won’t find this to be the case when wandering through tall grass or exploring caves.

This change in the battle dynamic forces the player to think more tactically than in previous games, where some gamers would spam one move to KO the competition. Should you take out the Pokémon with lower health first? Or should you focus your efforts on the newly summoned Pokémon that just happens to be one of your weaknesses? It’s little features like this that make Pokémon Sun and Moon much more exciting and engaging than previous releases. 

The introduction of different battle modes is only a part of the overhaul in Pokémon Sun and Moon though, as Game Freak has also added a number of smaller, well-needed features. If you’re up against a Pokémon you’ve previously battled, you’ll find little notes next to each of your attacks that let you know whether it’ll be effective, super effective or not very effective. This is great as it means you don’t need to memorise the strengths and weaknesses of the vast library of Pokémon in Sun and Moon, and makes battling a little bit easier for casual players.

That’s not all though, as the Pokémon can physically change during a match to reflect what’s happening. If you’re up against a Pokémon with a shell, there’s every possibility that the shell will break off once you’ve damaged them enough. You’ll also be able to add a newly caught Pokémon straight to your party, instead of them being automatically sent to a box. Again, these are only small changes to the battle system, but are welcomed by long-time fans of the series.

Pokémon Sun review: Battle Royale

While 2v1 battles are an exciting part of Pokémon Sun and Moon, they are child’s play compared to Battle Royale matches. The Battle Royale is a new feature in the game, and enables a dynamic never explored in Pokémon games before - 1v1v1v1. Yes, you read that right, four trainers against one-another with no set teams. The rules of the game are somewhat simple - each trainer gets to battle with three Pokémon, and the aim of the game is to get the most points possible. You can earn points by KO’ing another Pokémon and keeping your Pokémon alive, with the game carrying on until one trainer has no Pokémon left. At this point, the points are tallied up and the winner is revealed. Seems simple enough, right?

Wrong. There’s so much to consider, just like with a 2v1 battle - will your attack wipe out your opponent, or will it weaken them only for an opponent to steal the point? Should you focus on dealing damage to all Pokémon, or should you focus on one? Which Pokémon will the other trainers attack? It’s an incredibly strategic part of the game and can be played with 3x AI or, if you’ve got other friends with the game, three of your friends. Who’s the most skilled out of your friends? Now you can find out, once and for all.

Pokémon Sun review: Pokémon Refresh

Pokémon Sun and Moon tries to introduce more of a bond between player and Pokémon, thanks to Pokémon Refresh. This can be accessed via the quick menu, but you’ll find that most of the time, the Pokémon will let you know whether it wants to be praised.

As you can imagine, throughout a Pokémon battle your little buddy will become dirty, scratched and maybe even poisoned. Now you can remove all status effects, clean them up and even give them a little stroke to say well done following a battle. This boosts the relationship between trainer and Pokémon, adding more depth to the story – but that isn’t all. Pokémon that are friendly towards their trainer will go above and beyond in battle, sticking it out at 1hp when hit with a move that should’ve KO’d them, as well as dodging more attacks and landing more critical hits. It does feel a bit laborious at first, but it’s now one of our favourite features of the game.

Pokémon Sun review: The Pokédex

The new Pokémon introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moon provide old Pokémon players with a new sense of curiosity and wonder, as there are many new Pokémon to discover across Alola. It also makes battling new Pokémon more interesting, as you need to experiment with the roster of different move types available to you to find their individual strengths and weaknesses. The best part, in our opinion, is the Alolan variants of classic Pokémon – Dugtrio has had a haircut, Muk has had a change in colour and Alolan Raticate is definitely more desirable than in previous games.

These are only a handful of the variants you’ll come across in-game, encouraging users to stray from the main storyline and explore the incredibly detailed and varied environments to find the rarest Pokémon possible. Despite featuring many side quests and activities, the focus of the game is still on catching them all. Splitting the Pokèdex across the various regions makes it much easier to keep track of which Pokémon you’ve caught, and makes catching them all a little less daunting to say the least.

There’s also the all-new “Ultra Beasts” which are unknown Pokémon that are rumoured to be from out of this world – literally, as they apparently travel through worm holes. Not a lot is known about the Ultra Beasts apart from that they’re insanely powerful and shouldn’t be messed with. Think of Ultra Beasts like Mew and Mewtwo from the original series of Pokémon games – powerful, extremely rare and simply fascinating.  

Pokémon Sun review: Other improvements and enhancements

Like in Pokémon X and Y, there’s a huge focus on player customisation – especially with the enhanced online capabilities of Sun and Moon. There are a wide range of stores across the Alola region, with each offering a particular style of clothing and/or hair. Some items of clothing are rarer than others and can cost more than $100,000 in-game, allowing gamers to stand out from the crowd and be represented in-game more than with previous games. You can tailor your player to look just like you, or you can go wild and have a fashionista Pokémon Trainer – much like the rest of the game, it’s up to you what you choose to do.

There’s also the Festival Plaza, a new place for Pokémon trainers far and wide to come together to trade, battle and more, and is essentially a portal for online gameplay. We can’t comment on online gameplay at the moment as the servers are yet to come online, but we’ll update this section once they’re up. The Plaza itself can be upgraded by being courteous to your guests and helping them where possible. In return your Plaza rank will increase and you’ll get a bunch of Festival Coins to spend on the various stalls available. Depending on rank, you’ll be able to dye items of clothing, train your Pokémon and more. It’s a bit of a side thought for us as it’s only accessible via the quick menu in-game, but we’re interested to see how this develops in future.

Much like Festival Plaza, another area that can be accessed by the quick menu is Poké Pelago. While PC boxes are still present in Pokémon Sun and Moon, developers Game Freak decided to let the Pokémon stretch their legs every once in a while, by allowing them to live and play on a little island. As you capture more Pokémon, your Poké Pelago island will become more crowded and must be upgraded to keep your pocket monster friends happy.

Plus, leaving a few beans in the pot can attract wild Pokémon to your island and if they enjoy it enough, they’ll stay and effectively become one of your own Pokémon with no effort required. However, the logic is simpler than the execution as so far we’ve had a few visiting Pokémon but none have liked it enough to stay. Why do this to us, Stufful?

Remember TMs and HMs from previous Pokémon games? The HMs, or Hidden Machines, were rare moves that you could teach your Pokémon, allowing you to access areas previously inaccessible. HMs could be used to swim, fly, smash boulders and more, however the issue was that all trainers would end up with one Pokémon in their party being used solely as a transportation Pokémon with only relatively weak HM moves to offer in battle. This was awkward as you’d end up with five usable Pokémon instead of six, and is something that Game Freak realised when developing the game.

That’s why, in Pokémon Sun and Moon, HMs are a thing of the past. Instead, Alolans and the Pokémon that live there work together, and a Pokémon will appear to help you whenever summoned. Need to get across the sea? Summon Lapras. Want to retreat back to the Pokémon Centre? Summon Charizard. Of course, like HMs in older games, you’ll gain access to these over time as you plough your way through the main storyline and the various Island Trials available. Gone are the days of bikes too, as you can now ride a Taurus instead – it makes sense, is much cooler and really emphasises the bond between people and Pokémon in Alola.

As well as this, Pokémarts are now inside Pokémon Centres dotted throughout Alola, making life a little easier. It’s such a simple thing to do, but saves a lot of time when taking time out from catching them all to heal up your Pokémon and re-supply the various lotions and potions you need to become the very best, like no-one ever was.

Best prices today

Retailer Price Delivery  

Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide