I have not been kind to these games, given how they’ve shown us nothing actually surprising or different, but Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon finally showed us what sets them apart from the previous games in the latest trailer.
Now, granted, it’s not much. These are minor changes at best, but follow-up versions like these typically only get the small ones anyway. The Ultra games were especially light on meaningful changes until now though, so we’ll take it.
Let’s talk about some of the expected things first.
The trials are back, which is great for those who liked them and an expected disappointment for those who didn’t. I mentioned in a previous article that the trials were a good idea in theory, but so incredibly easy and lacking in unique features that the execution turned out boring.
Frankly, even if you liked the trials, don’t get too excited here. There are some changes, like the fact that the grass trial now appears to involve Sudowoodo which weren’t there previously, and we see a robotic Vikavolt going haywire in the electric-type trial.
However, it seems unlikely that there will be any meaningful change to how things turn out. Pausing the trailer reveals that the grass trial is essentially the same, as you find an ingredient for the food made by the trial captain on a sudowoodo and you can clearly see that Lurantis will still be the Totem Pokémon.
We can presume the electric-type trial won’t be all that different either and that Vikavolt will still be the Totem Pokémon, since we see its robotic counterpart in the trailer.
However, the good news is that this may not be the case for every trial. The website for these games shows a screenshot of a Totem Alolan Marowak for the fire trial. In the previous games, the Totem Pokémon was a Salazzle.
The ghost trial appears to have changed in some way as well, as the captain is repeatedly screaming for you to “Get out!”, and there may actually be a fairy-type trial this time.
Previously Mina, the captain, just kind of chucked the Z crystal at you without an actual test. She seems much more involved this time as she appears to greet the player when they arrive at her village and you clearly fight her at some point. If that is the extent of the trial is currently unclear.
One of the more notable differences is the fact that over 400 Pokémon will appear in Alola in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. That’s around 100 which didn’t appear in the previous games, including Tropius, Mareep, Larvitar, Larvesta and Zorua. Houndoom can also be found exclusively in Ultra Sun, while Manetric is exclusive to Ultra Moon.
More Pokémon is always cool, as it allows players more options as they go through a familiar region!
Sadly, the trailer also once again brings up the Alola Photo Club like it’s a feature that anyone wanted or asked for.
Weirdly, this glorified screenshot mechanic might actually replace Pokémon Refresh. It’s not confirmed in the trailer, but the website does mention that taking pictures of a Pokémon increases its affection.
Previously, raising affection was done primarily through Refresh and it seems weird to change that, if they are going to. Being incentivised to brush or clean your Pokémon after a fight actually promoted the idea of caring for your partners and being nice to your team.
This just seems like it’ll take that out and instead promote the idea of using your team as mindless fashion accessories. Personally, I hope they keep Pokémon Refresh. You could high-five your Pokémon, for Arceus’ sake!
Now, to be fair, there do seem to be a fair few ways to take these pictures. You can seemingly pick anything from backgrounds to costumes for your trainer and there are at least three pages of effects and props you can add to it.
That being said, this is a feature I just cannot get excited about. The time spent on this could have been so much better spent on far more interesting features and it kind of annoys me just how obviously it wasn’t.
Of course, finally, we have the big new features. Surfing on a Mantine!
This does look pretty cool. Going by the Japanese trailer, it is used both as a competitive game where you perform Pokémon-inspired tricks for points and weave between hazards like Tentacool and Sharped0, which will presumably cost you points if hit, and as a way to travel between islands.
Previously, travelling between islands was done either by ferry or by flying between them on a Ride Pokémon. It’s pretty cool that we will have a bit more freedom to explore the sea now.
How much freedom you have while surfing is a bit unclear. We never see any swimmers hanging out in the water in the trailer and the wave the player is surfing...well...it doesn’t really seem to move or lose height. It just kind of seems like a stationary, watery ramp.
Because of those things, it doesn’t really seem like you can just go off somewhere and find a small island along an ocean route or something or fight trainers swimming between islands.
If those things are in the games, great! The more we can explore, the better! However, I won’t be surprised if the path between islands is almost entirely linear and the tricks are just something you can do to make the commute less boring.
It may be akin to the soaring mechanic introduced in Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby only with the option to do tricks, but we don’t really know enough to say for sure.
Neither the trailler nor the website currently mention if there is a reward for performing the tricks well.
So Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have finally, finally found something that sets them apart from Sun and Moon. It’s not a whole lot, but it might be just enough to make them better than just replaying the older games.