Just like games such as Pokémon Emerald was to Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, or Pokémon Crystal was to Pokémon Gold and Silver, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are intended to be the definitive versions of the series’ 7th generation, building upon everything that Pokémon Sun and Moon produced by adding a bunch of new features, new story elements and more. Sun and Moon felt like a wonderfully fresh take on the Pokémon universe which, due to its immense history, can sometimes find itself on the verge of becoming a bit too familiar. We therefore had high hopes for these new, enhanced versions and, luckily, ‘Ultra’ seems to be just the right word to describe them.
It is perhaps unsurprising that an awful lot of the content here is exactly the same as in the original titles; you are tasked with travelling around Alola to complete your Island Challenge, taking on trials across the game’s four islands and meeting new Pokémon along the way. The whole cast returns, too – Professor Kukui, Lillie and Nebby, Hau and other familiar prominent characters will be supporting you on your journey just like before (although there are a couple of changes later in the game that we won’t spoil here). Team Skull are also just as present and mischievous as they were in the originals, doing everything they can to hinder you with their blend of comically poor evilness and ‘interesting’ dance moves.
Our initial impressions were full of concern that these games were going to be almost identical to their predecessors but, thankfully, we turned out to be completely wrong. Where Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon shine the most is in the new content that has been introduced – almost all of the new ideas that we saw had us thinking ‘oh, now that’s cool’ in just the same way that the original titles had done before.
One of the first new additions you’ll notice is the inclusion of Totem Stickers. These golden stickers are placed all over the Alola region and can be cashed in with Samson Oak to receive giant, Totem-sized Pokémon of your own. Whilst the prize of a supersized Pokémon may appeal to many, we’d argue that there is more fun in simply finding the stickers themselves – they are usually tucked away on the side of buildings or, in some cases, can be placed completely randomly on a table in someone’s bedroom on the third floor of an inconspicuous building. It gives the player more of a reason to explore every single nook and cranny of Alola, and that can’t be a bad thing.
Next up is Mantine, the water/flying Pokémon from the series’ second generation. Mantine has been added as a Ride Pokémon (Sun and Moon’s new mechanic that replaced HMs with Pokémon that could be called upon to help at any time) but it works a little differently. Rather than using them wherever you like, Mantine are stationed at particular spots in Alola and allow you to take part in a mini-game as you travel between islands – taking the place of the standard boat ride cutscene from the original games. Using the control stick, you guide Mantine over waves to perform tricks and aim for a high score, which is definitely a much more fun way to travel.
Perhaps the most interesting addition, however, is the Ultra Recon Squad - a new organisation that has arrived in Alola. At first you’ll only have very brief encounters with the characters in the squad (who change depending on which version you decide to play) but they instantly become one of the most intriguing groups that the series has ever produced. Their weird way of moving, their slightly out-of-place ways in conversation, and the musical theme that plays whenever they are encountered all tell you that there is something very different – and therefore compelling – about them.
The Ultra Recon Squad are also responsible for changes in the plot and storyline. Some scenes that play out in the original games have been recreated with new, or different, information coming to light from the new characters. Whilst you’ll already know many of the answers to Ultra Sun and Moon’s mysteries if you have played the original games, there will be twists and turns that play out differently and you’ll find yourself needing to know the answers behind this weird and wonderful bunch of people.
Beyond the new additions to the main story, Ultra Sun and Moon seem to want to throw everything that they possibly can in your direction in every other area, too. The Festival Plaza (which can now allow communication between Sun and Moon, and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon) adds a new facility called the Battle Agency, allowing you to rent powerful Pokémon and take on opponents – similar in a way to how the Battle Factory worked in generations three and four.
You’ll also find yourself able to challenge a whole plethora of villainous teams from games gone by – Team Rocket, Team Aqua and Magma, Team Galactic, Team Plasma, and more – as well as catch a crazy amount legendary Pokémon from every single generation (barring the mythical few such as Mew and Arceus) from directly within the game. In a way, these games feel like a ‘greatest hits’ – you wouldn’t want every release in the series to feel like such a fan-service behemoth, but having one every now and then and, especially having it in such an interesting region like Alola, is definitely something to be celebrated.
Taking the original games and bombarding them with a whole host of crazy ideas, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have easily achieved their goal of becoming the definitive versions of the series’ final generation on the 3DS. Combining all of this with the fact that a small handful of new, non-mythical Pokémon have been added mid-generation for the first time in the series, and that the Pokédex has been expanded to natively include over 400 Pokémon catchable in the games without trading, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have managed to make the region of Alola feel even more alive that it did before – and that’s quite the achievement.
In some ways, it feels like these games have come too soon; Pokémon Sun and Moon are still so fresh in our minds and we can’t help but feel that the Ultra versions would have felt more special – and therefore easier to justify purchasing – if a little more time has passed. You’d be forgiven for not wanting to jump back into the same world again so soon but, in their own right, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are truly incredible entries to the series that deserve to be sitting amongst the elite Pokémon titles. If you’re ready for another trip around Alola’s beautiful islands, this is the way to do it.