Several years ago, another GameLuster writer remarked that Nintendo is like the Disney of video game publishers. I think that is a very apt comparison, particularly with regards to Pokémon releases. There’s few series as well-loved by gamers as Pokémon, many of whom buy entire consoles just to play these games, selling them back after they’ve finished. While this is not the most economically efficient practice, it does demonstrate how much people love Pokémon games. These games evoke a powerful feeling of nostalgia, and for many, that’s something you can’t put a price on. However, I have a feeling these latest Pokémon releases will be selling far less consoles that past ones. Pokémon Gold was the first video game I ever played and I’ve played through every core release since. Obviously I'm a fan, but I have a few gripes about Nintendo's practice of selling enhanced editions of these games so quickly.
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are enhanced versions of last year’s Sun and Moon releases. They feature the same core experience, but with a sizable chunk of extra content added on. We’ve seen these sorts of Pokémon releases before, dating all the way back to Pokémon Yellow in 1998, but these are the first we’ve seen since Pokémon Platinum in 2008, almost a decade ago. When they were announced, I had hoped that Ultra Sun and Moon would be quasi-sequels, like 2012’s Black II and White II, however, Nintendo appears to be giving the enhanced releases another go. I’ve got no issues with remakes of legacy titles - I loved Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. However, at one year of age, Pokémon Sun and Moon are hardly legacies, and this sort of release is a very different thing.
For those unfamiliar with the original Pokémon Sun and Moon, the games takes place in Alola, which is essentially the Pokémon universe’s Hawaii. The Alolan region has a lot of forests, beaches, and water, and the graphics are well-done. I consider this tropical paradise to be the most beautiful Pokémon game to date. Players travel from island to island participating in something called “island trials” rather than gyms. It’s an attempt by Nintendo to innovate within the series, and as a veteran player, I can take it or leave it. These trials don’t improve on gyms, but they do offer a unique experience; some will probably be grateful for this, while others might miss traditional gym battles. I enjoyed the change of pace, but I would prefer the return of Pokémon gyms in future releases.
Another interesting new feature is the addition of Alolan forms. These are unique variants of a particular Pokémon species, like Meowth, that can only be found in Alola. Such variants typically belong to different types; for example, the Alolan Vulpix is ice-type instead of the normal fire. This is an addition I very much enjoy, as it offers a new spin on familiar Pokémon, and opens the future to all sorts of cool possibilities. Then there’s the Z-moves feature, which allows pokémon to use greatly empowered type-specific moves once per battle. On the one hand, this is a cool idea, as it allows pokémon without mega evolutions an ace-in-the-hole, comparable in utility to a mega form. On the other hand, I found these Z-moves much less exciting than mega-evolutions, and personally would have preferred more mega pokémon.
If you haven’t played last year’s Pokémon Sun and Moon already, then you should absolutely consider these newer Ultra versions. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon stand entirely on their own, and they offer the superior experience. These newest versions have more legendary pokémon, postgame content, and a substantial number of little extras sprinkled throughout the world. I found that catching additional legendary pokémon and fighting Team Rainbow Rocket were marvelous additions to the postgame. Unfortunately, as someone who has already played through a very similar game, I found that reaching this point again felt repetitive.
This brings me to a rather unfortunate recommendation: if you’ve already played Pokémon Sun and Moon, you may want hold off on the Ultra versions, at least for a while. Most of the Ultra versions' extra content could have been added to the base Sun and Moon releases as DLC rather than as a $40 standalone game. I’m not convinced that this was the best release Nintendo could have come up with. Why not make an enhanced version of Pokémon X and Y instead? It’s been four years since those games released, and they were current-gen releases, so technologically they wouldn’t be an issue. I have several friends who passed on Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon because they just played the originals, but I’m sure most would have felt differently about an enhanced version of X or Y.
I went in not expecting much from these Ultra versions, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. For what they are, an enhanced game released one year after the original, they’re quite fun, and the additional content did substantially improve the experience. That said, if I wasn't planning on writing a story about them, I would have probably waited a year or two before playing them, and, in hindsight, I consider that the smarter choice.
I’d rate Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon at eight out of ten, as these are genuinely excellent games, though they feel somewhat unnecessary at present. Again, if you haven’t played the previous versions of Pokémon Sun and Moon, absolutely pick these up, as this has been another excellent stage in a phenomenal series.