Alola isn’t your everyday walk in the Pokepark. This new region is nothing a trainer like you has ever seen before. With brand new Pokemon and reimagined classics, island trials instead of gyms and destructive new Z-Moves, Pokemon Moon is sure to take its place as a unique entry in the franchise. This time around, a regular ten-year-old just isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need to be at least 11 if you hope to be the champion of this new island region.
Pokemon Moon is a refreshing step in the right direction when it comes to the Pokemon franchise. While Pokemon X and Y succeeded in bringing the aging series into the realm of modern gaming with full 3-D models for the 700 plus roster of virtual critters, the past two iterations of the series were colossal steps backward in terms of the gameplay and storytelling. Pokemon Moon might not stand up to pinnacles of the series like Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, but it does work toward innovating on the two-decade-old formula.
In terms of mechanics and gameplay, the game features the tried and true Pokemon formula with a few interesting novelties. The biggest is the new Z-Move system, which allows Pokemon to use ludicrously flashy and overpowered moves once per battle if they are holding a special stone. These stones replace gym badges and are type specific, or in some cases, move and Pokemon specific.
The difficulty has been noticeably ramped up compared to the two previous games in terms of AI and Pokemon stats. You’ll often face trainers who use rare and unexpected moves. Pokemon several levels lower than yours can still pose a threat. An experienced player likely won’t reach any major roadblocks, but expect more than a few curveballs.
Instead of gym leaders, you face Island Trials that generally involve running through a gauntlet of wild Pokemon and trainers before facing a powered up Totem Pokemon, which is usually gigantic or otherwise special. What’s more, these boss Pokemon will call for help in battle, a tactic also seen from most other wild Pokemon. For example, picking on a poor little Magikarp might have you facing down a Gyarados as well. Each of the four islands also has a Grand Trial, which is closer to the typical gym leader encounters of previous titles.
The Pokemon Amie feature has been cut down to the new Pokemon Refresh system, which strips some of the more interactive elements, but allows players to cure status effects and otherwise groom Pokemon after battles. Using this feature raises a Pokemon’s affection, which when at higher level causes them to perform better in battle. This can be incredibly beneficial at times, almost to the point of being overpowered.
The game itself suffers graphically on the 3DS with occasional sharp and pixelated edges but is passable with help from its excellent sound design, which contributes greatly to the strong Hawaiian-esque theme. The world feels as alive as it can and the vibrant tropical landscape is pleasant to experience at day or night. This is worth noting because Pokemon Moon advances the clock by about 12 hours, meaning day will be night and vice versa. To add to the immersion, Pokemon will often jump out from nearby trees or burrows unexpectedly to battle, so it’s best to stay on your toes.
There are Alola versions of many classic Pokemon, like Raichu or Sandshrew, that often have different types than their classic counterparts. For example, the Alola version of Vulpix is a white ice type as opposed to a red fire type as it has been in previous games.
A word of warning, the game starts almost unbearably slow, but as soon as the training wheels come off it really picks up and reaches a pretty comfortable pace. The story is pretty entertaining (for a Pokemon game at least), if a little too self-aware at times.
The postgame doesn’t have a whole lot new to offer, but the Alola version of the Battle Tower does have some pretty entertaining cameos from characters like Red and Blue, the protagonists of the original Pokemon games. Another new post-game area is the Battle Royale, which features a four player free-for-all format. It’s introduced early but can really only be played much later in the game. There’s also the Ultra Beasts, a set of powerful not-quite-legendary Pokemon you can battle and capture in a miniature post-game storyline.
You can pick up Pokemon Moon or its sister-game Pokemon Sun for $39.99. It is also important to note the Pokemon Bank feature will not be available for either game until January 2017.
Check out the Emerald’s pre-release Pokemon discussion podcast here and watch the trailer below: