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Pokémon Moon (3DS) artwork

Pokémon Moon (3DS) review


"A few of the new features feel like a waste of time, but this is still an experience well worth having."


A guest speaker's impromptu lecture at church one week about the evils of Pokemon meant that I missed out on the series when it was new and I was in my early teens. I had to content myself with playing the less popular role-playing games that preachers didn't know about. I still managed to develop a fascination for the overall genre, but Pokemon fever itself passed me by until much more recently, when I finally played through a fair portion of Pokemon Pearl and then cleared Pokemon White. In case you wondered, that's my background.

So anyway, along comes Pokemon Moon (and also Sun, which I haven't touched), and it's the first proper Pokemon game that I've played since my DS adventures. I bought editions of the other titles that have released in the interim. I just... didn't find time to play them. But I did find time for Pokemon Moon, and I'm glad for that and I think that you should try to do the same. It's a very good game, in spite of a few regrettable issues that are for the most part easily ignored.

Pokemon Moon takes players to a new setting called the Alola Region, which is spread across a series of four main islands with a floating research facility between them. That might strike some fans as entirely too much water, but I thought that the island theme worked very well. Locals have a laid back attitude, the music is cheerful and "island-ish" at basically all times, and there are lots of sandy beeches and igneous rocks and such. I absolutely love the vibe, which manages to remain fairly constant for most of the adventure without growing tiresome.

As the game begins, you have just moved to the region with your mother. The two of you live in a nice hut near the edge of a village, and there you are greeted by a man named Professor Kakui who welcomes you to the region. He's an interesting fellow, and you'll run into him at several key points as you take your tour of the islands. Fairly early in the proceedings, you also meet a strange girl who is carrying a Pokemon in her purse. When you save her and her pal from a terrifying situation, you manage to make an important friend while also kicking off a delightful adventure.

In the past, Pokemon campaigns have focused on a tour of the region's local gyms. This time, you instead must complete a series of seven trials. You do this by meeting with "kahunas," who are basically just gym leaders that don't spend all their time in stuffy old gyms. They often want you to do more than simply prove your strength in combat, as well. For instance, you might have to gather the ingredients for an important recipe, or check in with ghosts in a haunted house. Those alternate tasks still mean you have to win some tough battles, but context matters and the variety is welcome. I can understand some hypothetical players feeling disappointed that a long-running tradition isn't upheld, but since I lacked that particular attachment, I was happy as a clam.

Battles and Pokemon capturing are still the primary reason to even play the game, and both of those aspects remain familiar. As usual, you'll find Pokemon almost exclusively in wild patches of grass, or in caves. Otherwise, you're typically free to explore, unless a flying Pokemon attacks from above (but you can see the shadows, so that's never a surprise) or you are swimming and a fish comes after you. This classic set-up makes it easy to decide when you will explore and advance the story, and when you will work to fill out your "Pokedex," a digital listing resource which includes 200+ critters.

The Pokedex warrants a special mention at this point, because it's a bit more helpful and interactive than usual. Naturally, you can consult it to see which Pokemon you have caught in the nearby area. Icons display to represent distinct varieties of Pokemon, and they fill out with additional data and imagery as you meet with an increasing number of the local beasts. Once you encounter a critter, you can check the Pokedex to see a map indicating where it can be discovered in the future, which is very useful. The Pokedex also points you to places you should visit next while you are working to clear the story campaign, and you can tap the screen if you get stuck and want useful hints. This feels like a feature that is likely to return in the future, because it's optional but offers helpful assistance to less experienced gamers who might need it (provided they can read).

Combat plays out much as it has for years. A Pokemon attacks and your lead Pokemon is tossed into battle to meet the charge. You can have six Pokemon in your active party at once, including any egg you might be working to hatch, and you can swap between them if you don't mind devoting a turn to that action. However, wild Pokemon will call allies into battle in some cases. I don't remember that being the case in the past, and the chatter I see around the Internet tells me that the mechanic is indeed a change from the norm. How do I feel about it? Well, that depends on my mood. When I want to level up, it's nice to have a seemingly endless supply of Pokemon that I can fight without having to do a bunch of wandering. Sometimes, though, I ran into a monster that I couldn't typically defeat in a single turn. Each turn, it would summon an additional helper to keep the battle going, so that eventually I had to fight 10 or 12 Pokemon just to finally win what began as a simple battle against a seemingly weak adversary. That was almost more than my resources could take. It's not a common scenario, but it hurts when it happens.

Another change is the game's approach to 3D. When I started playing, I slid the slider up to enjoy the illusion of depth, but there wasn't any. None of the cutscenes featured multiple dimensions, even though they looked like they must have been designed with 3D in mind (like when soaring seagulls follow a boat across a bay). Combat doesn't seem to have it, either. At first I thought my system might be busted somehow, but actually it seems that the game just doesn't support 3D. I play most 3DS games with the effect disabled, anyway, so I didn't mind in the end. But it was a surprise.

Along those lines, the variety of mini-games was also unexpected. I spent a few hours becoming acquainted with the lot of them. There's a plaza where you can meet with friends to battle and trade, or to accomplish simple objectives and work toward common goals online. There are islands that you can slowly develop, using beans as a sort of currency. And you can send messages in a bottle, hoping for a reward in return. I could easily waste a few paragraphs describing the various systems in greater depth, but they doesn't really add enough to the experience to warrant the effort.

One other surprise that I frankly could have done without is the Pokemon Refresh feature, which follows a lot of battles. You can feed your Pokemon beans to keep their stomachs full, and brush them (by repeatedly swiping at the screen with the stylus) to win their affections. This is cute at first, but quickly begins to feel like a persistent waste of time. Pokemon fight slightly better in battle if you keep them happy, but I got sick of accessing the menu every other time I won a battle. I just wanted to get back to the usual exploration and combat.

In spite of some questionable filler, the lack of 3D visuals and the occasional odd design choice, though, I really enjoyed the dozens of hours that I spent getting to know Pokemon Moon. This might well be the most relaxing environment yet featured in the series, and the characters and vibe and new objectives really come together as a package that works for me. I'm not sure how it'll suit long-time veterans, but for this Pokemon noob, the game was pretty much everything I might have hoped for. And no, it didn't inspire me to go worship the devil.

4/5

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 09, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for nearly 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he also writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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