Pokemon Sun & Moon review: Hands on with the best Pokemon games yet

It seems like an age since the last new Pokemon game, but you’ll be pleased to hear the planets have almost aligned for the next instalment in the series, Pokemon Sun and Moon. It’s not due to launch until 23 November, but I’ve been hands-on with the first two hours of the game to see how it’s shaping up.  

Regardless of whether you’re a recent convert or you’ve stuck with the series from the beginning, Sun and Moon will be like a sweet Meloetta to your ears. It not only looks fantastic, utilising full 3D environments that are a significant step up from the slightly budget-looking locales of X and Y, but the game also finally breaks free of its rigid eight-axis movement system, allowing players to run around in whatever direction they please.

Admittedly, it’s a bit ridiculous this is only being incorporated into the series now, but this newfound sense of momentum is a perfect fit for Sun and Moon’s dynamic camera angles, which swoop around you on each and every route. We saw a bit of this in X and Y, but any fancy camerawork here was only limited to certain city areas, making it a bit of a token upgrade. Sun and Moon, on the other hand, finally feel like thoroughly modern handheld adventures, bringing us the closest we’ve ever been to a proper console-style 3D Pokemon game.

Set in the Hawaii-inspired region of Alola, the opening hour of Sun and Moon will be familiar territory for anyone who’s played Pokemon in the past. After arriving in your new island paradise, you’ll be given a choice of three starter Pokemon: the grass-type owl, Rowlet; the fire cat, Litten; or the water seal, Popplio.

As a staunch fire-type fan, Litten was the obvious choice for me during my playthrough, but it wasn’t long before I was rooting around in the long grass to find more monsters to add to my team. As per usual, each encounter plays out as a turn-based battle, but Sun and Moon introduce a number of tiny changes that had me cooing with joy.

For instance, in addition to seeing your Pokemon appear on the top screen, you’ll also find small sprite versions of them on the lower touchscreen in between the Attack, Item and Flee buttons. Tap them with the stylus and you’ll see each ‘mon’s HP, type, ability and stats, the latter of which have five small triangles next to them that show whether any buffs or debuffs have been applied. This is a brilliant bit of streamlining, as before you always had to guess how many status effects had been applied. Now you have a much clearer idea of where you stand and whether you need to alter your strategy.

There’s also an information button attached to each individual attack option in Sun and Moon, giving you instant access to information about its power, accuracy, remaining PP points and whether it falls into the physical or elemental category. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but when you’ve spent countless hours over the years going through dozens of menu screens to get to exactly the same information in previous games, this tiny concession comes as a huge relief.

Admittedly, it’s a little disappointing to see that none of Sun and Moon is playable in full stereoscopic 3D, but after the frame-rate issues in X and Y, it’s probably for the best. After all, even X and Y only used the 3DS’s glasses-free 3D in battles, and when you did have the 3D slider turned on, the frame rate nearly always took quite a drastic tumble. Without 3D support, Sun and Moon feel much smoother, and battles in particular are much better for it, as it means each monster’s beautiful animations can really come to the fore.

Rival trainers also play a more prominent role in Sun and Moon, as many now appear onscreen behind their respective Pokemon, adding an extra visual flourish to its lively combat. Likewise, encountering one in the field is now more thrilling than ever. As you get closer to their line of sight, the music dims and the edge of screen darkens to highlight the trainer in question, making each meeting much more of an event than previous titles. This might wear thin once you get further into the game, of course, but at least you can still use its warning signs as a way to help avoid battling if all you want to do is skip ahead to the next town.   

Post-battle, Sun and Moon introduces a new grooming mechanic to help you forge a closer bond with your respective team members. Unlike X and Y’s Pokemon Amie, which was accessible at any time, Sun and Moon‘s grooming mini-games only appear at the end of battle when you level up. Here, you can pet your monsters to make them more affectionate toward you, feed them Poke-Beans to buff their stats (Sun and Moon‘s equivalent of X and Y’s Poke-Puffs) and spruce them up with a variety of grooming tools. Some grooming tools can even remove status conditions such as Poison and Paralyse, which will no doubt come in handy if you’re running low on healing items.

Sadly, my time with Sun and Moon came to close a lot sooner than I would have liked, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s clear both games have the potential to be the best entries yet. They not only look fantastic, but the streamlined battle system also makes for a more informed kind of turn-based combat, giving you all the tools you need to instantly take command of your team. You can try it out for yourself soon, too, as there will be a free demo available to download from the 3DS eShop from 18 October. The demo also includes the special Pokemon Ash-Greninja, the very monster that accompanies Ash in the animated TV show, which demo players will be able to transfer to the full game when it launches next month. With just over a month to go until launch, Sun and Moon could be the 3DS’s shining lights this Christmas, but I’ll be sure to bring you my final verdict as soon as I can.  

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