Earlier last week, Nintendo released a special free demo of Pokemon Sun and Moon for the Nintendo 3DS. Nearly a month before the game’s official launch, player’s have received their first taste of an all-new Pokemon generation since Pokemon X and Y’s release over three years ago. Does the demo build upon anticipation for the next installment, or does it fizzle out the hype?
The first thing to note about Sun and Moon are its visual changes. The big-headed chibi character models used in previous entries are now replaced with more realistically proportioned bodies. Although not a monumental step forward, it is a welcome change and most certainly an improvement. Alola, the region’s name in Sun and Moon, is delightful and full of color. That’s not to say Pokemon isn’t showing signs of its age on the current 3DS hardware though.
Blurry resolution and small dips in frame rate appear and hold the game back from being a stunning handheld title. That said, similar to the character models, the scope of almost everything else, such as the interior and exterior of buildings, towns and terrain, have all been increased. The design and layout of locations don’t feel cramped or confined anymore. Also, NPCs noticeably have more variation and are now often attached with a Pokemon around them. Long-time fans and newcomers may benefit from such details that allow them to buy into a world filled with these creature companions.
It’s the little things shown in the demo that bolster our excitement about the game. NPCs will turn their heads as you walk past them, your character will physically pull out Pokeballs for the Pokecenter’s nurse to heal, and trainers will react to defeat in a quirky shocked manner. Despite the attention to detail in some aspects, the town displayed in the demo feels slightly barren. It’s not expected to be a bustling city like Lumiose, but, for what seemed to be intended as a tourist town, it lacks life. Hopefully the game’s different islands will breathe variety into this region’s culture, if not fulfilled by the sheer atmosphere of its towns.
On the combat side of things, not much has been altered significantly. The classic rock-paper-scissors hasn’t been turned on its head, but its interface is slightly streamlined. During battles, the options for fighting, switching Pokemon and running away have all been pushed against certain sides of the touchscreen, assumably for easier and quicker access.
Outside of combat, the touchscreen is barely utilized. It either remains blank or is used for menu options. Different apps and other interface options are traditionally used with the touchscreen, so it would be disheartening to see such a missed opportunity in the full version. The move from sprites to 3D models that X and Y made caused some confusion when navigating through cerain towns with its switching camera perspectives. If Sun and Moon implemented a mini-map on the touchscreen, it’d be appreciated.
Also, players can now see the effectiveness of their attacks next to their moves. In addition, extra information such as damage and accuracy can be accessed by pressing an icon next to the move. It’s a bittersweet change, but seems like an overall smart decision. On one hand, veteran players may feel that some of the charm in having to remember type-effectiveness has been tarnished, but on the other hand, it’s a highly convenient feature for old and new players. Perhaps an option to turn off these hints will appear in the final game. Also, coming to Sun and Moon, and introduced in the demo, are Z-Moves. Pokemon holding a Z-Crystal can use Z-Moves to perform a powerful attack that can only be used once per battle. Necessary? Perhaps not, but it adds a little more flare to an attack.
After 20 years, Pokemon has most certainly shown that it is still more than relevant with the craze that was Pokemon GO. The recent demo for Sun and Moon satisfies our needs, but doesn’t impress on too many grounds. For a 20-year-old franchise, it hypocritically hasn’t evolved too drastically over the decades. The biggest changes is that HMs, utility moves used outside of combat, are being replaced with riding different Pokemon partners separate from your party. In the demo, after unlocking Tauros, you can ride it while rock-smashing boulders that block your path. As I’m sure was the case for many others, I was never a fan of HM “slaves” or having to constantly switch out party members, so this new functionality seems like it’d be interesting if used creatively.
I was caught off guard, and slightly disappointed, to find that the stereoscopic 3D functionality is practically non-existent in the game. It is never used heavily among players, myself included, so the decision seems justified. However, I’ll still be upset when coming across an appealing location in which I want to see how it looks with the 3D slider pushed up.
For those clamoring to get your hands on some Pokemon, we highly encourage downloading the free demo. Not only does it provide a small tease of what’s to come, but also has other small incentives to play. To avoid spoilers, secrets and timed-events are sprinkled throughout the adventure. Some are just interesting in-game events, while others reward players with items that can be transferred into the full game when it releases. After about an hour or two with the game, it felt like I was leaving on a high note. Thankfully, it left out enough for players to wonder about what surprises are still in store for them. However, after leaving the demo, our expectations for a compelling story, interesting new Pokemon and intriguing scenarios, aren’t as high they could be.
Pokemon Sun and Moon releases November 18 for the Nintendo 3DS. Stay tuned for more updates on the game and our upcoming review when it launches.