POKÉMON: ULTRA SUN | Nintendo 3DS XL Review

Detective Pikachu is in cinemas now, so it’s time to dive back into the Pokémon universe!

RELEASED: November 28th 2014
DEVELOPED BY: Game Freak
PUBLISHED BY: The Pokémon Company

After playing Pokémon: Omega Ruby and Pokémon: X, I moved on to the most recent core series game in the Pokémon franchise, Pokémon: Ultra Sun.

Set in the new region of Alola, Ultra Sun sees a young kid from Kanto move to the Hawaii-esque paradise, where they are given their first Pokémon and sent to test him or herself in the island trials. As the player treks across the four magical islands, meeting various friends, rivals and Pokémon along the way, a sinister beast tries to plunge the world into darkness, while a new species of Pokémon known as ‘Ultra Beasts’ make their presence known from other dimensions.

There is a lot of new stuff going on this game, and as someone who’s now played through six out of the seven (soon to be eight) Pokémon regions, I can say the set-up of Alola is a welcome refresher. Gone are the Pokémon gyms and linear paths, gone are the cumbersome HMs, gone are the various previous generations starter Pokémon’s exclusivity.

Instead, Alola treats you to a whole new area to explore in any way you want, with a horde of different Pokémon from across the seven generations, all presented yet again in fabulous 3D format.

The region of Alola, in particular, is perhaps one of the best seen so far. There’s so much going on there, all based off of Hawaiian culture, and it’s a joy to explore and delve into all the new locales and see what’s going on. When I first played this game, I spent an hour just wandering around on Route 1. An hour. In no other Pokémon game do people spend that long on one route, unless they’re going for one specific goal. 

And as you move from island to island (there are four proper islands and one artificial one in the centre), there are even more varieties of locations to look through and Pokémon to encounter. Each island has its own subsection of the Pokédex, and it makes trying to ‘catch ’em all’ a lot less daunting than it has been in prior generations, even though there is a ridiculous amount of Pokémon available in this game (403, total, which is half of the Pokémon created at the time – the current count stands at 809 with the induction of Meltan and Melmetal in Pokémon GO!).  And on top of that, there’s also the option to catch Pokémon not included in that number using the game’s ‘Island scan’ feature, which allows you to track down older Pokémon such as Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and other starters across the islands and add them to your team with minimum effort.

Similar to how there are lots of Pokémon, new and old, to capture, there are also a wealth of ‘Island challenges’; the Gym substitute for this region. Each challenge involves you being set some sort of task by the local Island Captain, and after passing the challenge (often involving a Pokémon battle alongside whatever challenge is set) you then have to face off against a Giant Totem Pokémon. Do enough of these challenges, and you can face the Island Kahuna – a figure not unlike a Gym Leader from previous games (but with only one per island). The sheer amount of challenges you have to face mean that there’s so much more content present in your adventure, despite the region initially seeming smaller.

On top of all of this, there is obviously the usual story involving the mythology of the region and the legendary Pokémon that inhabit it. In prior games, I feel like some are able to craft an interesting story (like in the Hoenn Region, as seen in Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald and Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire), and others, a rather lacking one (like in X/Y). This story, however, is one of the best of the lot. So much of your journey ties into the story, but not in a way that it feels overwhelmingly focused on just that.

Of course, there are some issues. Some people find the Rotom-possessed Pokédex to be quite annoying (although personally I thought it was quite handy), and eight hundred Pokémon in, a lot of the designs are starting to get quite ridiculous. Furthermore, the Ultra Recon Squad story could be a bit tiring at times. But this is all balanced out by all the overwhelming positives, such as the hilarious new villainous organisation Team Skull.

All-in-all, Pokémon: Ultra Sun is a top-notch Pokémon game, and while I understand why some miss the excluded conventional features, I think it’s a welcome exploration of new things and one of the best games in the series from recent years. I give it:

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