Set in the Alola region, Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon (USUM) is a retelling of the original Alolan story from last year’s Sun & Moon. Like any Pokemon game, it pretends to be aimed for children, but is actually mostly played by college students who want to feel young underneath piles of school work (Who can remember all these type-relationships as children? Hello?).
The Pokemon series has a pattern. There are the ‘core’ games that are released to debut a new generation (a generation, in terms of the series, refers to a new period of time in which a new region, new species, and new gameplay factors are introduced) like Pokemon Red & Blue, Silver & Gold, Sapphire & Ruby, Diamond & Pearl, Black & White, X&Y, and Sun & Moon. Then there are ‘remakes’ of these games introduced ten or so years after the core game’s debut -- Fire Red & Leaf Green, HeartGold & SoulSilver, and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. Finally, there are ‘enhanced’ versions of core titles, released shortly after, with new features, but relatively the same story and gameplay -- Crystal, Emerald, Platinum, and arguably, Black 2 & White 2 (I say that because the last duo are ‘sequels’). Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon are ‘enhanced’ versions of last year’s Sun & Moon. The story is set in a 'parallel' Alola region with a similar story and gameplay, save for a few ‘enhancements’. Here’s what’s new in USUM:
Mantine Surf, a new minigame lets you surf on Mantine across Alola to earn BP.
The Battle Agency is introduced, similar to Pokemon Stadium’s rent-a-mon feature where players are able to rent Pokemon and fight players at the Festival Plaza with new teams.
Mina, a character with a small cameo in Sun & Moon, has a larger purpose and has her own Fairy-type trial. The Elite Four and Champion Challengers roster gets shaken up as well.
There is an actual gym in Alola. This lil’ nugget for everyone who complained about the lack of gyms is based on the Kanto region’s Vermilion City Gym. You can even earn a Surge Badge! It doesn’t do anything though.
You can collect golden ‘Totem Stickers’ to get giant, Totem-sized Pokemon from Samson Oak.
Every freakin’ legendary (NOT MYTHICAL, LEARN THE DIFFERENCE) Pokemon makes an appearance and is catchable. That includes Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Mewtwo, Raikou, Entei, Suicune, Ho-Oh, Lugia, Regirock, Regice, Registeel, Latias, Latios, Kyogre, Groudon, Rayquaza, Uxie, Mesprit, Azelf, Dialga, Palkia, Giratina, Heatran, Regigigas, Cresselia, Cobalion, Terrakion, Virizion, Tornadus, Thundurus, Landorus, Reshiram, Zekrom, Kyurem, Xerneas, Yveltal, Zygarde, and the Alola legendaries Solageo, Lunala, Necrozma (with three new forms), Tapu Koko, Tapu Lele, Tapu Fini, and Tapu Bulu.
The legendary Pokemon not found naturally in Alola can be battled through the Ultra Wormhole, which is a minigame in itself. It is also a spawn point for many shiny Pokemon.
New Pokemon also appear in forms of Ultra Beasts- Poipole and its evolution, Naganadel, Stakataka, and Blacephalon.
A cute, new way to take pics - the Alola Photo Club.
New places to explore such as new beaches and the Ultra Megalopolis.
Giovanni and Team Rocket return as Team Rainbow Rocket (cue chuckles), but he didn’t come alone - villains from twenty years of Pokemon villainy have come to support his conquestl. Maxie, Archie, Cyrus, Ghetsis, and Lysander have come to Alola from parallel dimensions where they succeeded in their scheme.Will you be able to stop them?
Move tutors are back. You can use BP earned from the Battle Tree, Mantine Surf, and more to teach Pokemon unique movies they won’t learn on their own.
Those are the main chunks of what’s new in USUM. The story and the game is bigger and better than its predecessor. It’s almost like the developers saw what they released and upped the ‘fun factor’ across the board. The UI and dialogue has improved significantly. The plot feels longer but also meatier than the original. Many Pokemon from other regions appear throughout Alola, making the metagame more interesting. As you explore the region and watch the story unfold, you take part in many side quests that give you lots of rewards, making the game feel almost Skyrim-esque in that category.
Let’s be real with Pokemon, though. As fun as USUM is, it feels more like a giant DLC than a completely, brand new game. I found myself very annoyed by the amount of tutorials and cutscenes I had to go through for the second time. A re-release a year later feels “kinda like a slap to the face” from the developers. It feels as though I wasted the last year playing Sun & Moon when I really should have waited for USUM to come out as a more polished, but relatively similar version one year later. Where were these ideas at least year’s release?
Regardless of the problems above, the game does a great job of delving into the Alolan mythos and story with what feels like a larger focus. There is definitely a bigger emphasis on making the game more enjoyable than the previous release. I just wish we had one solid, good Alola game rather than two. After all, I’m still waiting for my Diamond & Pearl remakes. Are you there, Game Freak? It’s me, Sinnoh.