New ‘Pokémon’ games fail to entice second visit to Alola

'Ultra Sun' and 'Ultra Moon'

Courtesy of Nintendo
Like previous director’s cuts, ‘Ultra Sun’ and ‘Ultra Moon’ add new versions of past Pokémon to collect and battle.

Zachary Landau | A&E Editor

12/07/17

To be frank, I honestly don’t know what this is even going to be about. Never have I felt so apathetic about reviewing a game in my life, such is the depths of mediocrity and disappointment that Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon instills in the player throughout its miserable 30 hour run time.

I guess the best place to start is to address those who may have not played last year’s entries in the series: Don’t bother. USu/UMo are rather bland entries in the Pokémon franchise made only marginally exciting after the 20 hour mark. And a game that doesn’t really get good until after almost a day’s worth of play really isn’t that good of a game, is it? More interesting RPGs are out there, especially on the 3DS, so play those instead.

For long-time series fans: If you’ve played Sun and Moon, definitely skip these games. They are 90 percent the same as last year’s entries. Unless you are into the competitive battling scene, just look up this games’ cutscenes on YouTube and save yourself $40.

There. That’s basically this review done. Since I have more space, however, I just want to express how disappointed I am in this entry in a franchise that I love quite sincerely.

USu/UMo are the last Pokémon games native to Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The next entry in the series will be making the long-anticipated jump to the big screen on the Nintendo Switch. As boring, nerdy and semi-impenetrable that statement is, the sentiment is actually rather monumental.

See, Pokémon arguably made Nintendo what it is today. Without the franchise, the video game juggernaut’s handheld efforts — which carried Nintendo through some of their darkest times — may have only been a passing fad. Sure, the original Game Boy had Tetris, but Pokémon  Red and Blue proved that handheld gaming had more to offer than what meets the eye. Here was an entire world full of mystery and wonder, all in your pocket, all on a tiny screen that wasn’t even 2 inches squared.

That excitement carried into the next millennia, with Pokémon supporting the Game Boy Advance’s modest and the Nintendo DS’ spectacular success. Even X and Y virtually saved the maligned 3DS from almost certain failure. That’s quite a legacy for one franchise, particularly one that many wrote off in the 90s as, funnily enough, just another fad.

But in comes Sun and Moon in 2016. Not necessarily bad games, Su/Mo are definitely divisive in their praise. Explore fan boards and reviews, and you will find a mixture of mild disappointment to tepid admiration for games that only nominally pushed the boundaries of what Pokémon  could be while also laying out a roadmap for the series’ future. Our own Grant Stoner admired the games upon release, but in consulting with him leading up to this review, I learned that his opinions — as well as mine — had soured into a general apathy for games that merely were, in retrospect, OK.

None of that banality changes in USu/UMo. These games follow the mold of past entries — such as Emerald and Platinum — and are director’s cuts of the “main” Pokémon iterations of a generation. In essence, they are the same games remixed slightly to add content to entice players who already bought the previous ones while being similar enough to offer the authentic experience of the games they update.

In the past, these “third entries” (as fans often call them) were typically admired for ironing out kinks in previous games that could be credited to the team at Game Freak adjusting to new hardware. Plus, with all the main assets and story already completed, more meaty content could be added to pad out end games and offer more mature players tougher challenges to work through.

This practice was abandoned a decade ago, with Platinum being the last third entry after the fifth generation decided to opt for direct sequels and the sixth skipped the malarky all together. Its absence was not missed by yours truly; I remember being a kid and resenting the idea that if I just waited a year or two, a better version of the game that I bought would be released. I honestly felt cheated as a child, as I was left in the dust as my friends enjoyed their more-complete version, the version with the cool new forms and the new game modes and the better, more thrilling story.

When Game Freak announced that there was no third entry for X and Y, and the new forms that would have gone into that game were announced to be in Su/Mo, I was pleasantly surprised and very, very happy. I felt valued as a customer, that I didn’t waste $40 on a game that I liked quite a lot and Game Freak respected the time and money that all of its customers put into its games.

And USu/UMo ruins all of that.

Any updates that these games bring to the table could have easily been in Su/Mo. Move tutors, egg moves, the Battle Agency, all types of content that was inexcusably absent last year and almost insultingly boring now should not have cost a company with as much money and manpower as Game Freak much pause. The new post game involving the revival of Team Rocket is nothing but shameless nostalgia pandering, the touching and surprisingly dark story of Su/Mo is perverted to render most character motivations senseless, little, charming details are actually taken out, and the awful soundtrack.

Why do the common battle themes need chugging electric guitars so irritating that I turned the sound off after hearing them once? Why are the darker, Wagner-like elements of one villain’s theme removed for steel-drums and techno? Why did Game Freak make more work for itself and make 3D models of the ugliest character designs in the series’ history when it has perfectly usable remakes? Why is there still nothing to do after beating the 2-hour post-game content besides play the same asinine minigames over and over again?

Point is, as far as third versions go, USu/UMo are by far the worst, and their mere existence offends the sensibilities of any player who knows that things could have been better. Absolutely meaningless, the only things that the latest Pokémon games offer are what you already paid for last year and any new content belonged in those games as well. Don’t waste your money on this farce of consumerism, as they insult not only their players but their own legacies.

So this is it. The end of a more-than-20 year phenomenon, ending not with a bang or a whisper, but the loud, obvious sigh of resignation.

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