From the off it's clear that here's been a tremendous level of effort from Game Freak to make Pokémon Sun and Moon another notable evolution of the Pokémon series; whilst the jump from Black and White to X and Y was like a Bulbasaur becoming an Ivysaur, the jump to this generation is more like a Magikarp becoming a Gyarados.
As soon as you're thrown into the game everything immediately feels much more dynamic than before; gone are the typical high, fixed camera perspectives that plagued Pokémon for decades and instead the first shot you see of your character from the front is low down and personal... but not in that way. Ahem. Whilst this may seem insignificant, it made us feel as though we as a player were part of the story and the events that were about to unfold, rather than an observing puppet-master merely ushering the plot along.
This theme continues throughout the rest of the small portion we were able to play, and although it was very clear we were indeed playing a Pokémon game, the dynamic camera and naturally flowing environments - the original grid system has been almost entirely overhauled, for example - is a modernisation the series has been gagging for.
Breaking free from the grid does mean that certain things have had to change, most obviously the way in which fellow Trainers make the old-fashioned I'm-going-to-battle-you-with-my-underpowered-Pidgey-eyes at you that initiates a battle. Now it's more to do with the speed of your movement and your proximity to said Trainer. Think of it as a little like adding an element of stealth, but one with rules so simple it's almost contradictory to refer to it by that name. You can walk behind these guys and gals if you want to avoid them, but running too close to them can still trigger a fight even if you're not in their direct line of sight, so watch out.
Another overhaul that's largely unrelated is the removal of conventional Gym Leaders (at least that we've seen) and their eponymous domiciles. Instead you'll be thrust directly into challenges that require you to fulfil a task before taking on a Totem Pokémon that is not only much larger and more colourful than a normal monster of its genus, but it's also able to call upon support Pokémon to help it in battle. For example we had to fight through a cave with various Yungoos hiding in specific holes, a sudden appearance of the delightfully ridiculous Team Skull, and then take on a giant Gumshoos. It wasn't any kind of strain on our skills or even really our Pokémon, but it's a welcome change of pace from the long-established Gym Battle system of yesteryear.
Speaking of battles, you're also going to have to get used to a slightly different battle menu, but it's all for the better. Now you can view a move's description without having to go all the way to a Pokémon's summary, which is perfect if you're a forgetful type. Furthermore, once you've landed an attack on a particular Pokémon you'll be able to see next to each one of your moves whether it's effective, not very effective, super effective, or has no effect. These new features aren't going to make much difference to any hardcore Pokémon Trainer, but for those for whom the myriad of types and moves are too vast to keep track of it's an extremely helpful addition.
All these changes shouldn't leave you feeling overwhelmed though, as for the first time in a Pokémon title you have a helper character in the form of your Rotom-possessed Pokédex. Most of the time this handy little device/creature will show you a mini-map of your surrounding area as well as your current location, in true Pokémon GO style. Tap on its face and it'll remind you where you're supposed to be going, or whatever it is you're supposed to be doing but totally forgot about. This is easily one of the most welcome additions we used, as so many times when Pokémon games have gone unplayed for a week we've jumped back in with no idea of what to do. It may seem basic and dull, but it's long been overdue.
If you've been following the news you'll know that a select handful of Pokémon from the first generation have also been gifted with swanky new forms specific to the Alola region. What's interesting about this is that the game doesn't repeatedly acknowledge that these are different to the standard affair, instead an Alolan Meowth, for example, will just be referred to as 'Meowth'. This decision really helps to make Alola feel like a properly established region with its own history and culture, rather than just a tropical skin on an older locale. To the residents that shuffle around the towns all day an Alolan Exeggutor really is just an Exeggutor, despite its comically long neck. It's currently unknown how original forms will be available in the final game or even if they will at all, but we'd be surprised if there wasn't a way for us to get our hands on an honest, traditional stumpy palm tree with faces.
In short, Pokémon Sun & Moon is rapidly presenting itself as the biggest leap forward for the series; everything feels much more organic and immersive compared to previous titles, and we're champing at the bit to be able to get our hands on the final product. Right now this is shaping up to be yet another essential purchase for Pokémon fans new and old everywhere.
Another exciting detail relates to a part of the game we'll all get to play. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon Special Demo Version arrives on the eShop on 18th October, which has its own self-contained adventure separate from the main game. Nevertheless it'll also introduce you to the Alola region and some characters, while Ash-Greninja will join you for the adventure; this'll be transferrable into the main games.
The following QR code will allow you to pick up this exciting demo from 18th October onwards.
Pokémon Sun and Moon is available to buy on the 3DS on 18th November (North America) and 23rd November (Europe). Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links - if you use these and make a purchase we'll receive a small percentage.