So here we are again, aspiring trainers. Three years since the last original instalment of the Pokémon franchise and we get our first taste of the new Alola region with a Sun and Moon demo.
The first thing that will strike you is how stunning Alola is as a territory. For the first time in the history of the franchise, a region has been built with a distinct biodiversity, a culture with customs that implements region specific salutations and delicacies, all modelled on Hawaiian culture, of course. Pokémon feels alive once more.
But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Pokémon Sun and Moon is the eighth generational entry to the series. Set on the Hawaiian equivalent, Alola, the demo begins with a gorgeous overhead shot of an island that features both a bustling metropolitan town and a stunning seaside biome.
You take control of Sun who has the typical Pokémon origin story of having moved from another region (first generations’ Kanto in this instance). You’re immediately thrown into exploration after being gifted a powerful Greninja from a mysterious benefactor. Despite the blatant tie-in to the Anime series, this Pokémon reveals itself to be a showcase of how Sun/Moon plans to augment already familiar ‘mons with their new branded Alolan forms.
In terms of graphical developments, there’s been a departure from the chibi physicality of Pokémon X and Y into a more realistic and versatile art style. What blew me away was the accurate proportionality Nintendo have introduced. Pokéballs are actually the size of oranges in your character’s hands and larger Pokémon feel daunting, instilling awe back into these magnificent creatures that have been criminally shrunk by graphical limitations.
There are smaller tweaks that make the game feel so much more alive rather than the, frankly, desolate towns we’re used in most Pokémon games. The way that NPCs tilt their heads toward you as you walk by and the distant cries of nearby wild Pokémon creates a wilful immersion. Nintendo obviously spent development on making Alola feel alive, even when you’re stood still. Solidifying the notion of people and nature living harmoniously that the franchise has peddled since day dot. Even the way the team have modified the classic item jingle to feature highly strung ukuleles makes this feel like an entirely new game, not just a reskin.
Now let’s talk characters. Team Skull, presumably the main antagonists, are introduced fairly early in the demo. Their motives are unknown but their rap-rock theme music and ridiculous hip-hop gestations make them a delight to battle. Even the small handful of characters you meet in this hour demo are bursting with personality all fitted with their own personalities, mannerisms and theme music.
The gameplay is very much what you’ve come to expect from Pokémon, and any long-time players will slide comfortably back into their Poké-brand running shoes. Small modifications like being able to view status changes on both sides and visual cues telling you what type moves are best suited for the battle cushion the difficulty. Hopefully the full-version will give players the option to remove these bumpers, though I do think they’re great additions for first time trainers.
The major addition to the series, which this demo sets up for players to experiment with, are the new Z-powers. In short, these are type-specific and specific moves for certain Pokémon. They can be unlocked using Z-stones similar to how Mega-Evolution was possible in Pokémon X/Y.
Trailers have been flaunting these moves for a few months now but getting a hands-on experience with a Pikachu and his ‘Gigavolt Havoc’ is guilty-fun. You’re allowed to use one Z-move per battle but it still feels like a cop-out, even if you have the tactical advantage.
Sceptics will surely be eating their words when a Z-move pulls them out of a clutch situation but until then, I can understand feeling hesitant about what it brings to the series in terms of substance, considering they’ll probably amount to a substantial plot point.
While we didn’t get to see any Pokémon that hadn’t only been released in trailers (or data mining) that was, we suppose, to make space for more stand-out events like the new Trainer Trials which are here to outmode the tried-and-true gym leader system. These won’t always be straightforward battles as far as we can tell. This trial involved us making use of our Rotom Poké-Finder to snap photos of wild Pokémon and then hastily dispatching them.
It’s one of the many fun twists this demo had in store. With new content coming over the next few weeks, I’m unabashedly optimistic with this entry into the Pokémon series.
Abilities like being able to mount your Pokes and three dimensional exploration felt unpolished and experimental in X and Y. It’s reassuring to know that Nintendo have given players the ability to make some fresh prints in the sand once more.
Will Butler | @QuesaWilla