This year, Pokémon fever swept across the globe as the franchise celebrated its 20th year with the mobile release of Pokémon GO, followed by the 8th generation of Pokémon with Pokémon Sun and Moon on 3DS and 2DS. It’s quite clear that Pokémon’s objective is two-fold: making sure their loyal fanbase renews their love for the game all while enticing a new generation of trainers. Nintendo even discounted a limited edition New 3DS on Black Friday to further convince new players to take the plunge.

Everybody and Their Mom Played Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO is what we’ve always wanted ever since we first played Red, Green or Blue as it was the closest thing to catching Pokémon in real life. The augmented reality game also captured the curiosity of non trainers who watched in awe as everyone gathered around Pokéstops. For many, this was their first contact with Pokémon. I’ve played Pokémon for 20 years and no joke, I’ve never had to explain what was Pokémon and why it was so popular as I did during the Pokémon GO craze.

Although the app lost most of its appeal as Niantic made unwelcome changes to Pokémon GO, I can safely say that the augmented reality game gave Pokémon the biggest marketing boost in decades.

From GO to Sun and Moon

Hot off the Pokémon GO mass hysteria, Pokémon Sun and Moon is released for the 3DS and 2DS, ringing in the 8th generation of “pocket monsters”. The core of the gameplay remains true to form: a young trainer leaves home to undertake the journey to becoming a Pokémon master, overcoming challenges and making new friends along the way. It surprises me how Pokémon Sun and Moon brought in a refreshing wave of changes all while staying true to the IP’s core.

1. Focusing on Fan Favourites and New Pokémon

Over the past 20 years, we went from 150 Pokémon to about 801. That’s quite the imposing number of creatures to familiarize ourselves with. As with any other new release, we’re introduced to a brand new line-up of Pokémons. There’s however a big focus on Generation I Pokémon in Sun and Moon, something that’s shared with Pokémon GO. An expert move as featuring similar Pokémons will easily help fans bridge over from GO to this game. Yet, we’re met with the Alola versions of some of our favourites, just to keep us fans our toes.

2. A Very Effective Battle Menu

Pokémon Sun and Moon sports a revamped and more user friendly battle menu with two noticeable upgrades: a shortcut to your pokéballs and a move list that marks the effectiveness of your moves once you’ve used them against a certain type of Pokémon. We started off with 15 different types of Pokémon, we now have 18. As a kid playing Pokémon Green, I had made my own effectiveness chart on graph paper, I later transferred it on excel and printed it out. When the internet came along, I printed charts I found online. Nowadays, I’d download an image and save it on my phone… But not anymore! It’s all right here in the battle menu.

Pokémon Sun Battle Menu

The Battle Menu in Pokémon Sun marking the effectiveness of moves.

This feature is definitely to make battles more newb friendly but it’s also quite welcomed by veteran players as well. I can never remember what is effective against Dark, Fighting or Ghost type Pokémons…

3. From Gyms to Trials

I think it was a bold move to change up the Gym system, but it was also a good time to do so. The Trials offer slightly more variety in the game play and make it easier to include the game’s narrative in the challenges. As these take place outside and are part of the games’ environment, players will find themselves more inclined to explore every corner of Alola. It also makes for a very natural player progression. Again, this is the type of change that will not only ensure that fans will renew their love for Pokémon but also make the game more accessible to new players.

4. Good Riddance to HMs

Ah HMs, how they threw a wrench in the cog wheel of your team’s progression by having to sacrifice a move slot so you could fly, swim, cut down trees and break down rocks. Some designated a Pokémon to be an HM slave, others spread the abilities across their team. Pokémon Sun and Moon removed HMs entirely and instead introduced rideable Pokémons. The best part: they don’t take up slots in your main team! They have their own sub menu and can be called at any time. Tauros is the first one you’ll unlock and you do so quite early in the game so you also spend less time on foot than in previous titles.

Ride Pokémons in Pokémon Sun and Moon

Ride Pokémons in Pokémon Sun and Moon

Taurus Charge in Pokémon Sun

Taurus Charge in Pokémon Sun.

This is honestly the best change introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moon. HMs were a necessary evil and a nightmare to manage, I’m happy to see them go.

5. From Mega Evolutions to Z-Moves

Pokémon X and Y introduced Mega Evolutions which empowered specific Pokémons for an encounter. Finally, we had a new mechanic when it came to battles. However, Mega Evolutions were limited to a short list of specific Pokémons. For Sun and Moon, Game Freak simplified that system in a way that gives players bit more liberty and is easier for newcomers to learn and master. Enter: Z-moves.

Although some Pokémon have their exclusive moves, the main Z-moves are type-specific and can be given to any Pokémon of said type. Once you obtain your Waterzium Z, you can give it to any water type Pokémon. While Mega Evolutions boosted your Pokémon, Z-moves are power moves you can only use once per battle. Thus this system is more about strategy, using your move at the right time, instead of hitting a proverbial “I Win” button.

6. Hau, the Friendly Competitor

The original Pokémon narrative pinned you against a rival, one who would challenge you every step of the way. In Sun and Moon, you are introduced to Hau. Like you, he is undertaking his journey to overcome the Island Trials and defeat the four Kahunas. Instead of trying to beat you to the end game, he’s taking this journey with you and actually supports you by either sharing his knowledge of the Alola region or giving you items. Pokémon Sun and Moon’s narrative really is about the journey and not the destination.

7. 3D Disabled

This may seem like a detail, but I think this point speaks volume as to future Nintendo consoles: the 3D is completely disabled in Sun and Moon. I put the 3D slider on maximum and yet the game remained flat on the top screen. From this, I draw 2 conclusions: the Switch and mobile phones and tablets may replace the 3DS as Nintendo’s main handheld devices and Pokémon will most likely be on the new console. As hacker data mine the game, my hunches are confirmed.

The Pokémon Game to Play

Pokémon Sun and Moon rejuvenated the 20 year-old franchise. If you’ve always been curious about Pokémon or just got bored with the previous games, you should definitely try Sun and Moon. Download the demo on the eStore, watch some let’s play, listen to our review during episode 89 of the GoGcast or take the plunge and grab the full game. Welcome, trainer.

Photos taken by author.

DISCLAIMER: Pokémon Sun review copy was provided by Nintendo. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.