Special Pyukumuku Edition.
Let me make one thing clear: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are not Black 2 and White 2. They are not sequels. They’re marketed as a kind of alternate storyline from last year’s Sun and Moon, but as far as I can tell, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are “third-version” games.
Like GBA’s Pokémon Emerald and Game Boy Color’s Pokémon Crystal, most of the game is generally unchanged, but story and overall content are expanded. Think “definitive” more than “brand-new.” The main difference here is that there are two third-version games this time around, with all of the typical version differences to boot.
Being an expanded rerelease is not inherently a bad thing. After over 35 hours spent beating the game and engaging with the post-game, I'm still having fun. I’m evolving Pokémon, exploring Alola, and seeing quite a few new things. But the story, barring a couple new characters and beats, feels mostly unchanged until late game. I don’t mind this too much, as these are new versions of an old game, but this makes unchanged problems feel exacerbated.
For instance, in the original game, the introductory hours are very hand-holdy, and offer very little freedom to the player. However, I didn’t mind this too much, as it was a whole new world in a very different kind of Pokémon game. In Ultra Sun (the version I’m playing), the barely-changed (but oh-so-slightly improved) tutorial feels like a slog to get through. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, tutorial, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, tutorial, tutorial – all with very little user input beyond walking 10 steps and hitting A to continue a conversation.
It felt grating to me, especially because it takes around 5 hours for the linearity to get any better, but I recognize that I don’t represent a majority of Pokémon players. I just wish that Game Freak could have included a “quicker story” or “fewer tutorials” mode that will get returning players like me back to exploring Alola as quickly as possible. The late game is awesome, however, as it changes the story significantly – mostly for the better (I still think Pokémon Sun's ending is the best ending since Silver and Gold).
All of this said, I like pretty much everything else so far. I thought Sun and Moon were the best Pokémon games since the original Black and White, and Ultra Sun is reminding me why.
As I said in my review last year, the gameplay is fresh, the riding mechanic is brilliant, and the overall experience feels like a true step forward for the franchise. The replacement and removal of gyms and HMs stand tall as two of the best decisions the series has ever made, and more than that, Sun and Moon felt like true console JRPGs – or at least really close.
With this reminder comes a good bit of freshness along the way. This includes new Pokémon, newly capturable old Pokémon, new forms, new Z-Moves, some slightly different island challenges (in some cases), new plot points that flesh out the original story, new locations (I’ve only seen small ones so far), new activities, and a heavily-expanded post-game.
As for the post-game, it adds a number of significant features. There are a few new Ultra Beasts to collect, which, while very minor, still makes for the first time that a third-version game added Pokémon to the Pokédex. There's also a new story episode that focuses on Team Rainbow Rocket – a rebirth of the classic, villainous Team Rocket from the first game – in ways that hit all the right nostalgia notes.
My favorite new feature is the ability to travel through Ultra Wormholes. In this new minigame, you ride on the back of Solgaleo or Lunala to travel to worlds in Ultra Space. You can find Ultra Beasts, legendary Pokémon, and even shiny Pokémon. The minigame is a case of "travel through the good rings to speed up and avoid the bad rings that slow you down," but the one downside to this is that its control method defaults to poorly-implemented motion controls. They are kind of a pain to use, and while they can be turned off, doing so is considered a hard-to-find "secret" in-game.
There are two other major activities of note:
Alola Photo Club is a feature that allows you to take fun pictures with your team. You can select environments and poses (including Z-Poses), while also raising your Pokémon’s affection – Pokémon Refresh-style. It’s a neat little thing.
Mantine Surf is another new activity – one that lets you ride a Mantine between the islands of Alola. You earn points by doing tricks (all via the Circle Pad, as far as I’ve experienced), and these points earn you a currency you can use to get valuable items. Like other action-y Pokémon minigames in the past, it’s quite basic and inoffensive.
And as far as I know, all of the other minigames from Sun and Moon, like Battle Royal (AKA PikachuUnknown’s Battlegrounds), are fully intact.
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon are very good third-version games. They expand the story alongside as well as the post-game, and barring some not-ideal motion controls and a slow intro, there's very little to complain about. It may be the same game as last year with a bunch of new stuff on top, but considering this is one of Pokémon's finest generations yet, I have zero problem with more of a good thing.