The Ultra versions pump Sun and Moon full of smart improvements.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Yes, when compared to last year’s Pokemon Sun and Moon, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon more closely resemble “enhanced” third versions like Platinum and Crystal than they do full-on sequels like Black 2 and White 2. However, numerous appreciable changes like more Pokemon and a whole new dimension to explore combine to make the new Ultra versions a bigger, better, more fun and fuller experience than Sun and Moon.
Immediately, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon pleased me with small changes, like a more brightly colored UI with a quick way to save, and also gratefully took away some of the slow dialogue that Sun and Moon suffered from in the first few sequences. I met and battled with starter Pokemon noticeably faster than I had in Sun and Moon, and was on my way to explore the markedly more colorful Melemele Island in no time at all.
Of course, there’s still plenty of tutorial. It’s a reoccurring shame there’s no way to indicate to a Pokemon game that you know what you’re doing and don’t need to learn how to throw a Poke Ball for the fifteenth time. That said, there are a lot of new things to learn about in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon even for long-time Pokemon players, and these tutorials never felt too long or overbearing. Learning how to surf and perform tricks on a Mantine was a cinch, and the new Battle Agency at the Festival Plaza (yes, the somewhat controversial online interaction tool is back) took no time to learn and get into.
Mantine Surf lets you earn Beach Points (BP), also known as and entirely interchangeable with Battle Points, which can be traded in for rare held items and other desirables. Usually, you earn about 1 BP from each battle won, but I was reliably earning 10 BP every time I played a five-minute mini-game with Mantine Surf. It’s a much easier and guaranteed way to earn these items, which are mostly important to competitors and those who want to clear difficult endgame content like the Battle Tree, so I welcome it wholeheartedly. I always found it a bit annoying I couldn’t tackle the Battle Tree with a fully realized team until after I had already conquered some of it, and in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon I won’t have to.
The Battle Agency, a new counter in the Festival Plaza, is a more traditional Pokemon side-activity which allowed me to play with battle-ready Pokemon I would have never raised and used on my own in a short-form tournament setting. My first win afforded me a whopping 200 Festival Points (FP). This currency isn’t as important as the BP Mantine Surf grants, but still allowed me to purchase healing items cheaply at any time I wanted in the Festival Plaza.
Both offer delightfully enhanced and simplified ways to earn certain currencies.
These are two of the first new features introduced to you in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, and both offer delightfully enhanced and simplified ways to earn certain currencies, along with being pretty fun little distractions. I fought to become the best surfer on each beach before I even knew of the super-cool reward for doing so, and regularly visited the Battle Agency to see which Pokemon were available to rent.
There’s an even bigger and cooler addition to Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, though: the ability to explore different pocket dimensions through Ultra Wormholes. You can ride a Legendary Pokemon through Ultra Space in search of rare Ultra Wormholes to enter in the hopes of discovering new Pokemon in the Alola Region, like Yanmega or Quagsire, or even better, super-rare Legendary Pokemon. You never really know what you’ll encounter on the other side of a wormhole, but it’s always exciting to find out.
In addition to these new gameplay mechanics, a few of the trials have been upgraded as well. For example, Mallow’s trial required me to think about where to harvest ingredients from, whereas the original challenge relied on aimless wandering to locate the foodstuffs. They still aren’t difficult by any means, but are definitely more inspired, as is the change in the story.
Early on we meet the Ultra Recon Squad, a duo from a different dimension, and running into them throughout my playthrough was always a highlight of the story. The world they come from is entirely unknown to us, so I always wanted to hear what they had to say.
I don’t want to overstate how much is changed.
I don’t want to overstate how much is changed, however – I’d expected the story to be, well, more different from Sun and Moon than it actually was. The progression, both story and gameplay-wise, is pretty indistinguishable from Sun and Moon (aside from the occasional interjection from the Ultra Recon Squad) up until the plot climax about 25 hours in. As a returning player, it was a bit disappointing to experience so much sameness for so long, but once it finally happened the change in the story was worth it. And, despite how ridiculous it is, this version is still better told and more cohesive than the original story in Sun and Moon.
The change in plotline at that point also culminated with a huge increase in challenge. On one hand, challenge in Pokemon is great, but somewhat rare since the addition in X and Y of the easy-to-use Exp. Share. On the other, I ended up leveling up a few of my Pokemon beyond the point where they’d listen to me, just so they could avoid getting disabled in one shot by a crazy boss more powerful than any of the Pokemon encountered during the last trial, or even during the Elite Four. Super-cool boss aside, it made the rest of Pokemon Ultra comparably easy, since my Pokemon were all overleveled afterward.
More Variety, Different Experience
More Pokemon made my playthrough feel different even when the story hadn’t changed much.
The larger variety of Pokemon – there are more than a hundred new to the Alola region – contributed along with the new features to making my playthrough feel different even when the story hadn’t changed much. The version exclusives are the same, so Pokemon only available in Sun are also only available in Ultra Sun. That meant that I got to capture the Pokemon I didn’t get to on my first playthrough on Moon. (I chose Ultra Sun, as I played Moon last year.)
Plus, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon allow trading directly from Sun and Moon as soon as the first Pokemon Center is found. Because of this, you can get very creative with your main story team, breeding Pokemon in Sun and Moon in preparation for the new version. I immediately traded over only a perfectly bred newborn Gible into Ultra Sun, and am very glad some of my time in the story was actually well spent leveling up a competitively viable Pokemon (once I reset its EVs, of course). It is, however, worth mentioning no actual new Pokemon are obtainable until just before the Elite Four, but that was to be expected considering what we know about the new Pokemon (which I won’t spoil here).
All The Small Things
After all of that, I haven’t even discussed the endgame, which enables rare Ultra Beasts and every Legendary Pokemon (not Mythical) to be captured. There is much more postgame in Ultra, even compared to the already generous portion we got with Sun and Moon. All of these “highlighted” new features along with the neat, somewhat nostalgic story we get post credits are only a small part of what I loved about Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
Alola feels more lived-in and lifelike: Many NPCs had little stories of their own, which compelled me to return to them at later times to discover more about them. Would showing this bellhop a certain Pokemon actually cheer him up? What can I say to raise this young one’s confidence? Can I actually help rehabilitate this poor Pokemon? Some of these turn out very funny, others heartwarming, but I never felt like I was forced to participate or that I was wasting my time.
There is more to the Pokemon you’ll find in the overworld as well. Many still just respond with their cry, but some become curious and allow you to interact with them in new ways, a totally separate mechanic from playing with your own Pokemon in Pokemon Refresh. About the fifth time I played Peek-A-Boo with a random Pokemon, an onlooker asked me if I actually got anything from spending time with these cuties. I didn’t know at the time, but you actually do get something from it: the immense satisfaction of having entertained all of the adorable Pokemon in the land.
There really are so many small things to do in the Alola of Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon that breathe life into it. Those help to round out a game so that it feels like more than just a challenge, and more like a full and satisfying experience I was happy to get lost in.