Welcome back to our Games In Progress coverage of Pokémon Sun and Moon! Every week, reviewers William Hughes (Moon) and Nick Wanserski (Sun) trade analysis, points of view, and personal experiences from Nintendo’s latest generation of monster-hunting action. This week, Nick and William delved into Sun and Moon’s third island, Ula’ula, facing off against friendly ghosts, wannabe rappers, and—in a long-anticipated, critic-on-critic throwdown—each other. You can find all of their reports, right here.
I’m starting to feel it, Nick, that inevitable, sinking sensation: Pokémon burnout. Part of it is our pace. I don’t know if Alola can stand up to our island-a-week rigor for long. But would a more relaxed pace take the edge off Sun and Moon’s basic repetition? (At this point, I’ve had so many fights where my Primarina can take down everything it meets with a single Moonblast or Sparkling Aria, my thumb’s starting to go numb.) Or would it lose me entirely, triggering that old, familiar, game-abandoning question: “Where did I leave off last time, huh?”
The irony is that Ula’ula Island can claim some of Sun and Moon’s most engaging locations and trials. The assault on Team Skull’s base is a lovely, rain-drenched pseudo-climax, making it clear that these boneheads are little more than unhappy teens suffering from that most crippling of afflictions: low self-esteem. And I can sincerely say I never expected to have an island trial take place in a haunted supermarket, even if I’m also delighted by it, because Ghost Pokémon are the best. Mimikyu—the new Ghost-type Pokémon that always wears a crude, psychotic-looking Pikachu disguise—is obviously amazing, but have you met my friend Klefki? He’s the Keyring Pokémon, and that’s exactly what he looks like, a simplicity I find very amusing. (Also, unlike so many Ghosts, he doesn’t have any Pokédex flavor text suggesting he eats, steals, or is actually made up of discarded human souls, which is a plus.)
Speaking of amazing designs, how have I lived so long without Trubbish in my life? I know it’s technically been around since the fifth generation of monsters, but that didn’t stop me from squealing the first time one popped up on my screen. (I named her Belcher, because she reminded me of Louise from Bob’s Burgers, what with her little bunny ears.) It was enough to make me compromise my vaunted “team effectiveness” and bring her into the fold. Bonus: When I try to pet her in Pokémon Refresh, I get a “sludgy” animation instead of the usual scratches, which is both hilarious and great.
How about you, Nick? How is your Poké-stamina holding up? Are there any monsters who’ve made it onto your team strictly on the merits of cuteness?
I don’t have an optimized team by any means, but I think that’s more due to lack of strategy on my part than a weakness for any particularly cute Pokémon. More likely the opposite, in fact. When my Wingull evolved into a Pelipper, I sent him to The Box despite not having a solid Water-based fighter in reserve. I just couldn’t stand looking at his torso-sized maw any longer. Thanks to our fellow Gameologerinos, however, I found one solution to an evasive evolution. I retired my male Salandit and slummed around the Wela Volcano Park until I was able to capture a female version and am now the proud trainer to a Salazzle. The Salandit is cuter looking, for certain, but I must admit to a certain amount of pride in my first difficult-to-obtain Pokémon.
I’m not sure how readily I should admit to this, but my central method of staving off Pokémon fatigue is by playing it while watching something else I’m half-invested in. Not all the time, but during any of the frequent stretches spent walking a route, having to engage every blood-thirsty preschooler that crosses your path sure feels like a good time to catch up on some Luke Cage. That said, I can’t say I’ve given one iota of consideration to the game’s plot so far. I think I’d prefer it if my Pokémon games were more like Linklater films: Utterly shapeless and lacking anything beyond a generally amicable stream-of-consciousness adventure. I agree the Team Skull’s base was fun, but at the same time, I can’t say I was too concerned with gaining a more intimate understanding of their mindset. That they’re insecure bullies was obvious from the first time they showed up. But I don’t mean to sound too negative. The game has proven really good about providing a variety of set pieces to stage battles in, and if the price you pay for that is listening to the backstory of a group of emotionally vulnerable skull-festooned would-be rap stars, so be it.
But all that aside, William, let’s get to the real meat of this week’s entry. We met up to duel, and you soundly mopped the floor with me.
“Mopped the floor” is a little strong, Nick. Sure, I won both our fights, in one case without losing a single Pokémon. But you won the moral victory, because your Pokémon nicknames are way better than mine. (I especially liked your Carbink, “Kidney Stone,” and your spoon-wielding Kadabra, “Uri.”) The one-sidedness of our fights is a good reminder of how unimportant a Pokémon’s numerical level is in an actual fight, since I used the battle options to set every monster in our bouts to Level 50. Despite that supposedly egalitarian effect, my team still had access to higher-level moves—Primarina’s Aqua Jet, which always goes first and does decent Water-type damage, is absolutely cruel—so they almost always won. My team’s Effort Values—a whole other, invisible set of statistics that’s been pissing off casual Pokémon fans like me for decades now—are also probably higher, which means that my level 50 Toucannon will out-stat yours in a straight fight. (Nick, promise me that you will not look up EVs. It’s the kind of micromanaging bullshit that will drain the joy out of this game so fast.)
The duel was also a chance to really dip into the game’s multiplayer features, and boy are they just as clunky as I’d feared. If there was an option to burn the Festival Plaza to the ground—residents trapped inside, helplessly asking if I want to spend six Festival Coins to paint my pants green with their final dying breath—and replace it with a simple menu, I’d take it in a second. (That being said, Global Missions are finally operating now, and the idea of the Pokémon-playing world being collectively tasked with capturing 100 million wild monsters is kind of cool.) We eventually figured out how to fight and trade with each other, but it took 30 minutes of fiddling before we were duking it out and trading Pokémon. Still, thanks for the assist in getting my Magmar, Kiln, and my Machoke, MaBDSM, up to their final forms, with some evolution-minded trades.
What were our battles like for you, Nick? Were you as irritated as I was by how damn long some of those Z-move animations are? (It’s like someone let Game Freak’s move designers get their hands on a compilation of the summons from Final Fantasy VIII.) And, most importantly: three weeks into our coverage, do you think you’d still be playing Pokémon Sun if it weren’t part of your job?
“Seal,” Primarina, Primarina
“Ziggy,” Zygarde—10% Form
Not many changes this week, but I have a lot of affection for Zygarde, if only because the collection side-quest to empower him is surprisingly fun. Also, Garbodor, the evolved form of Trubbish, truly is sight to behold, even if my Bob’s Burgers joke no longer works now that his “ears” have sprouted into garbage-filled tufts of hair.
You know, for a chunk of the game—specifically the interminable-seeming Akala Island—I really didn’t feel engaged in the game outside of it being an assignment. A fun assignment, to be sure, but an assignment nonetheless. But I’m already thinking about locations to revisit after finishing the game to find Pokémon I missed the first time around. It’s a charming and familiar-feeling game, perfect for picking up and putzing around with for a bit. And besides, despite her protestations, I have a suspicion it won’t take much work to get my daughter interested. It’s a game full of cute animals you get to find and collect, after all. The kind of thing that fits exactly into her compulsive, first-grader wheelhouse. So I’m definitely approaching the game as an experience to enjoy and not just a 40-hour albatross around my neck. Albathrottle, maybe? Whatever the Pokémon-equivalent of the ancient mariner’s curse would be.
Concerning our duel, it was a lot of fun for me, despite getting taken to school. I feel a bit like the main character’s rival, Hau: getting my ass whomped, and then just putting my hands behind my head, grinning a goofy grin, and offering some sincere but corny platitude about how it’s just fun to be able to compete! You’re absolutely right about the Final Fantasy VIII comparison, though. All those prolonged, unskippable 30-second move animations didn’t do anything other than provide me with extra time to contemplate my impending ruin. Getting to the fight was far more painful than losing the fight was. I had to look online to figure out how to stage a duel between friends, which isn’t good. For all of Nintendo’s adorable/obnoxious overtures to approachability—like informing you that the item you just bought will be placed in the exact same spot that the previous five hundred items you bought before it were, or the constant corrective beep the game spits out whenever you bump into a wall—Pokémon Sun and Moon remain surprisingly obtuse in some basic, fundamental ways.
I will not be looking into EVs, I promise you. I know there are players who take great satisfaction in that kind of ritualistic Excel-spreadsheet maximizing, but for me, it’s anathema to actually enjoying a game. Until next time, when all secrets will be revealed, legendary Pokémon will rise, victorious, and the last few remaining Poké-beans will be shaken from the beanstalk!