Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon review: Total eclipse of the fun

Credit: The Pokemon Company
Credit: The Pokemon Company /

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon mark the first time an “enhanced edition” of a Pokemon game isn’t better than its predecessor title.

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: The Pokemon Company
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 17, 2017

Pokemon’s long history of selling the same game to its audience three times over always draws questions when the time comes for another “enhanced edition,” but it never amounts to anything. Still, I had high hopes for Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. The promise of an alternate story that followed a path similar to Sun and Moon’s excellent adventure enticed me into excitement, especially as I saw new features like Mantine Surfing and Ultra Wormholes. But Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are far from a Black 2 and White 2, and their treatment of what was established in Sun and Moon leaves me wondering once again why we continue to buy into this dumb model.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon spend a decent chunk of time rehashing the same trails that Sun and Moon did, which is to be expected. The same Pokemon, same places, same characters, and much of the same dialogue present themselves in proper order, though someone with a sharp eye might notice subtle tweaks, such as in the moment you acquire your starter Pokemon. There are a few delightful additions that you’ll run across as you play, such as a moderately fun Mantine Surfing minigame, an additional trial, and a new battle mode, Battle Agency, where you don sunglasses and rent powerful Pokemon to improve your rankings.

pokemon ultra sun and ultra moon
Credit: The Pokemon Company /

There’s also far more endgame content in Pokemon USUM, which is where the real meat of the game’s positive changes lie. Even though the motion controls on the Ultra Wormhole minigame aggravated me to no end, I still found myself sinking hours into it, hoping for a new legendary at the end of the tunnel. The ability to battle and capture so many legendaries in one title is unprecedented for the series and will help those gunning for a full Pokedex on their 3DS reach the finish line at last.

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But speaking of the Pokedex, as easy as it is to complete, it’s also by far the worst and, unfortunately, most noticeable new feature. In Sun and Moon, your RotomDex (a Pokedex possessed by the Pokemon Rotom) would very occasionally pipe up for certain, necessary functions. He was utterly unobtrusive. In Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, however, he performs the simultaneous functions of unstoppable gameplay tips screen, gambling mechanism, and obnoxious Tamagotchi. He invites you to pet him via the touchscreen every few minutes, and responds every other time or so by inviting you to play “Roto Lotto,” which means he pauses your game to spin an unnecessary wheel and give you a random, free item. These items can do anything from boosting your catch rate to healing your Pokemon and are insanely useful in tackling USUM’s challenging (yes, challenging!) campaign, but at a terrible cost.

pokemon ultra sun and ultra moon
Credit: The Pokemon Company /

USUM will revel in its endgame for months, perhaps even years while we gear up for Pokemon Switch…

The more you pet Rotom, the friendlier he gets, and by about midway through the game, he’s a non-stop chatterbox. He constantly spits repetitive dialogue about game mechanics you already know, asks you if you want to use items to heal your Pokemon (I’m literally standing in the Pokemon Center lobby, you cacophonous moppet) or if you want to save. He’s impossible to turn off, and difficult to ignore, especially if you’re the sort easily distracted by the constantly scrolling text. Furthermore, any time he talks, your minimap (on the bottom screen) is disabled, and you can’t tap him to quick access anything. Since he talks about 50% of the time you’re doing anything, this makes your minimap about 50% useless. I’ve never been so incensed by such a small feature.

But the real issue with Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon isn’t the prattling robot companion. It’s the weird, jarring changes to the story. At first, USUM seems to elaborate further on the more ambiguous points of Sun and Moon, which I won’t specify so as not to spoil it here. However, toward the climax of the plot, USUM opts to drop entire chunks of character development in order to advance the narrative around Necrozma and the Wormholes. Two characters essentially do a 180 on their old personality and goals, but the reasons why are entirely off-camera, even though they didn’t need to be. The Wormhole story that replaces this important moment includes an epic battle, but a shallow explanation. The urgency of the moment leaves as quickly as it arrives.

pokemon ultra sun and ultra moon
Credit: The Pokemon Company /

Paired with Sun and Moon, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon kind of makes sense, sort of. There are some elements of the latter that enhance the former. But the replacement storyline surrounding Necrozma leaves much to be desired, and not just in the plot department. Those areas we saw in the trailers beyond the Ultra Wormholes? Yeah, they’re one map wide, with one Pokemon in each, no one to talk to and nothing to explore. They’re little more than staging grounds for battles like the mysterious islands of OmegaRuby and AlphaSapphire, and that includes the dark city of Ultra Megaopolis. I don’t think this set-up is inherently bad, but it’s also a huge let-down if you were hoping for even a moderate content addition.

I’ve been mostly negative thus far, but I do want to emphasize that Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are still pretty good games at their core, simply by virtue of being mostly like Sun and Moon. The combat is still great, the online features are still fun, the unchanged bits of story are still joyful, Lillie and Hau are still fantastic characters, and Alola is still a gorgeous world to explore. USUM will revel in its endgame for months, perhaps even years while we gear up for Pokemon Switch. We know for certain Game Freak and The Pokemon Company will continue rare Pokemon distributions, Global Challenges, and competitive tournaments during that time. There’s a lot of good here still. It’s just not the culmination of dedicated-handheld Pokemon that I, or probably anyone else, expected.

pokemon ultra sun and ultra moon
Credit: The Pokemon Company /

If you always get the next installment of Pokemon, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are just fine, and you’ll still mostly enjoy it. If you’re thinking of entering Generation VII for the first time, I have to, unfortunately, recommend USUM simply because its content will be supported for much longer than Sun and Moon’s will, even if Sun and Moon have a tighter story and a quieter Pokedex. But if you already played Sun and Moon for the story and are a casual or on-and-off Pokemon fan, you’re okay skipping this. Which is sad to say. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are, effectively, the swan song of dedicated-handheld Pokemon. I hoped to see the series leave the platform with more of a supernova finish.

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6.5. <em>Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon</em> are fine games by virtue of being Pokemon games. They have the same fun battling and collecting mechanics you’d expect and offer an opportunity to re-explore the gorgeous and lore-rich Alola region. But their butchered retelling of <em>Sun and Moon’s</em> story and the addition of the obnoxious RotomDex should once again have you questioning why you would pay full price for almost the same game a year later.. Game Freak. . Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.