Game Freak isn’t stupid. From the moment you start Ultra Moon you’re met with familiar scenes. Small changes indicate a newer game, like Team Ultra Recon Squad being part of the story as well as Team Aether, or there being a Nintendo Switch on the floor in your bedroom with the flavour text “it’s a console you can even take outside to play”. This is a new game, sure, and it’s perhaps obvious to say, but this is a game for the fans.
Some changes feel like they’re just to make it feel different. Normally, for example, Kahuna-hala will bump into you and that’s how you get your starter, but in Ultra, it’s a Yungoos that attacks you, and the three starter Pokemon come up to help you, scaring it off. And yes, #TeamPopplio for life, even though my son made me pick Rowlet, which is an Owl Pokemon, who doesn’t seem nearly as cool as a half-seal, half-dog, blue thing. And this is why I say Game Freak isn’t stupid, because much of this could remain the same, as the returning hardcore are in it for the post-game content, or the changes to the overall game systems, but these smaller differences combined with the new music and sharpened battle menus and UI make you feel instantly comfortable with what you’re playing.
But there’s a new story about Necrozma, and the journey throughout the adventure is now littered with The Ultra Recon Squad who’ll pop up from time to time, and in long-honoured tradition, annoy you by getting in the way. Largely, this is the same game you loved last year but fully fleshed out with more story; a deeper one, even. The Ultra Recon Squad are an odd bunch, with stilted movement and speech, and that’s because they’re from a different dimension within Ultra Space. They are here to attempt to capture Necrozma in order to make the world entirely dark, which creates their perfect reality. It’s a little odd, as you’re basically playing through the same locations from Sun and Moon, but with this new narrative running through it, almost like a director’s cut.
There’s a laundry list of new features, here. Firstly, Mantine Surfing is a mini-game that lets you do tricks and score points in return for Beach Points, which you can spend on items and moves for your Pokemon. It’s a grind of a mini-game, though, as it’s hugely stingy with the Beach Points. Then there’s the photo mode, which acts as partly as something you can share on social media, showing off you and your Pokemon, but mostly as a way to improve relationships with Rotom (your Pokedex that’s come to life thanks to it being inhabited by, well, Rotom) and also make your Pokemon happier, which in turn makes them stronger.
You can now capture Totem Pokemon if you find enough Totem Stickers, visit Pikachu Valley, and the trials have been tweaked to make for a slightly new experience, too. What else? Well, there are more Pokemon, of course, and there’s now the opportunity to use two Z-moves per battle if you can make Rotom like you enough. There are new Pokemon to catch, like for example, in Diglett’s tunnel you used to only be able to catch Zubat and Diglett, but now you can also catch Larvitar – a Pokemon who evolves into a Psuedo-Legendary in the form of Tyranitar (one of the strongest dark, rock-type Pokemon). On top of that, some Pokemon have new Z-moves, too, which will see you hunting high and low for their Z-crystals, and everything just feels augmented with these additions – this is a very full game.
But the most significant addition is that end-game. Whereas in the original versions of Sun and Moon it was a case of being done when you saw the credits, aside from filling the Pokedex and “catching them all”, now you can face Team Rainbow Rocket, hit up the Battle Agency, or hunt every Legendary Pokemon from the series (apart from Genesect and Arceus), and Ultra Beasts can be caught, which allows you to see their data and personal spaces. It’s a proper end-game that’ll prevent you from wanting to burn your save and start over again. Basically, the Aether Paradise gets taken over by Team Rainbow Rocket and you will have to battle through multiple bosses from other games in the series, such as Team Aqua’s Archie, Team Magma’s Maxie, and there are still surprises beyond that, including some Ultra Beasts being able to evolve.
In that respect, the name “Ultra” feels like a misnomer, as this is more the definitive version of Sun and Moon. An already lengthy game is now longer, with more to do on the way, and plenty to do afterwards. It’s on you to decide if you want to drop the cash on this new version based on what you now know, but for my money, any reason to be playing Pokemon again is a good reason.
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