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‘Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon,’ sun-drenched shores and moonlit paths

BY KEVIN TUCKER | SHACKNEWS.COM (TNS)

Platforms: Nintendo 3ds
Genre: Role-playing, action  
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
Rating: E, for everyone

“Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” have descended upon players, providing a fresh take on all of the Alola region action that 3DS owners first sampled when the original “Sun and Moon” titles released in November of last year. And though one year isn’t much time in the grand scheme of things, “Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon” promise a few specific changes to plot, features, and available creatures that not only make them an interesting purchase for those who played and enjoyed the original titles, but also an especially attractive option for those who haven’t yet jumped in on the action.

By far the most notable feature about “Pokemon Ultra Sun” is its presentation. This is a second take on what was already a very modern release from a very high-profile development team, and as such, the polish on display is considerable. The realm of Alola is bright, colorful, and cheery, with a graphical style that’s reminiscent of classic PS2-era RPG titles; and, like with many games from that time, the game’s camera sways around the 3D environments dynamically depending on where players move, providing a sort of cinematic feel that we’ve largely forgotten about in an era where camera control is typically put into the hands of the player.

All of the environments, from grassy fields to populated island cities, feel alive thanks to loads of available NPCs and unmarked areas that allow for brief glimpses of scenic vistas. This is a very pretty game, and that visual allure is present in everything from glowing distant skylines to the in-game menu, which has been revamped to provide even more style and flair when compared to the base games. This level of polish is even noticeable during casual conversations with other characters, events that are typically a banal affair, largely thanks to the game’s fluid camera work and crisp art style.

The “Pokemon” series has been met with critical acclaim not just for presentation, since constantly-evolving technology provides for ever-increasing audiovisual fidelity, but also for the series’ immaculately-tuned gameplay. Like in just about every other “Pokemon” game, “Ultra Sun and Moon” drop players into the shoes of a nameless trainer-to-be with the overt goal of capturing, battling, and caring for adorable little pocket monsters. And though that recipe has remained largely unchanged since around 1996, Game Freak has once again managed to capture the magic that made the Pokemon series such a hit to begin with.

From the outset, players will be tasked with exploring their new home, only to stumble directly into the Alola region’s deeply-entrenched fascination with Pokemon. After choosing from one of three available starter Pokemon, the world begins to open up with seemingly-countless opportunities to battle against trainers and rummage through the foliage in an effort to seek out rare and powerful new creatures to add to the Pokedex.

As for actual Pokemon, “Ultra Sun and Moon” feature the same available roster of creatures from the base versions of the games, including the then-new additions of creatures like Lurantis, Bewear, Comfey, and others, as well as Alolan forms of previous-generation creatures like Rattata, Diglett, Meowth, and Golem, among others. The “Ultra” versions of the games also toss in a few new exclusive Legendary creatures the likes of which we won’t spoil here, but suffice to say there’s plenty of content for dedicated players that never quite manage to shake their catch-’em-all mindset.

Even for those who haven’t experienced Pokemon fever first-hand, “Ultra Sun and Moon” still manage to convey the sense that they was lovingly-crafted for a highly-dedicated demographic. Everything from the availability of Z-Moves to the Pokemon Snap-esque photo function serves as a reminder that Ultra Sun is just as much for experienced players as it is for series newcomers, and additions like the ability to groom and heal Pokemon after battles presents a subtle touch that provides both utility to the player as well as a way to feel a deeper connection to the game’s numerous pocket-sized companions.

It’s really hard not to love “Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.” While I can’t rightly say they’re everything that a die-hard Pokemon fan wants, they’re very clearly games that rank among the most-polished and most-appealing titles available on the Nintendo 3DS hardware. The attention to detail is so thorough that it’s easy to forget these are products designed by a team; oftentimes in my journey through “Ultra Sun,” the form of the game itself seemed to fade away, leaving me willfully drawn into a living, breathing world filled to the brim with creatures, battles, and pleasant surprises. That’s a rare feeling even in the hyper-realistic world of modern console and PC gaming; to find such an experience for handheld hardware is nothing short of astonishing.