A third version of 2016's Pokemon Sun and Moon dropped last week for the 3DS, so you may be wondering what, exactly, has been changed this time around. Should you play Ultra Sun and Moon if you already enjoyed the original games? If you've never played any version before, is this the best game to get?
I've beaten Ultra Moon, and can say that a good chunk of Ultra Sun and Moon is similar to the initial instalments. That isn't a bad thing: Sun and Moon are wonderful Pokemon games full of smart design choices and charm. You still play as a young kid undergoing a monster-fighting challenge in a tropical paradise. Instead of gyms, you take on a series of surprising "trials" where battling prowess is not the sole factor determining your success. The islands where everything unfolds have a unique ecosystem where many monsters have a unique "regional variant" which reinvents many classic pocket monsters. Mysterious "Ultra Beasts" from a different dimension are still in the mix. All the previous improvements are still here: You can call a special Pokemon at any time to fly you around, or surf through the water. You can read our original review and get a good sense of how these game work and what makes them so good.
This is a rough estimate, but I'd say around 85 per cent of Ultra Sun and Moon will be familiar to anyone who has played the first game. Like many third Pokemon games before it, Ultra Sun and Moon are enhanced versions with a handful of new additions, tweaks and small refinements. Here are some of the specific changes I noticed while playing.
The story is different
While the structure of Ultra Sun and Moon remains the same, the larger threat has changed. This time around, legendary Pokemon Necrozoma, a monster hailing from a different universe, threatens to destroy everything you hold near and dear. This in turn changes some of the tale surrounding Guzma and Lusamine, who aren't exactly villains this time around. Granted, you won't see the bulk of these differences until late in the game, when the story takes a major turn. Otherwise, along the way, you'll also have to fight some new battles against an "Ultra Recon Squad" who are somehow tied to Necrozoma.
Some of the fat has been cut
Certain scenes and scenarios have been edited to be punchier, so you'll get to the action a bit quicker. There's still a lot of unskippable dialogue and the like, but you'll be spending a lot more time in battle.
There's quicksave now
I can't believe the original Sun and Moon didn't have this. Very useful.
There are more monsters to collect
Creatures from other games will appear in Alola this time around, and more importantly, every legendary can be captured in Ultra Sun and Moon. As usual, though, what you can capture is limited by version exclusivity, so you'll have to make some trades to catch 'em all. If you want a handy list of exclusives, Serebii has you covered.
There's a photo mode now
You can take pictures with your buddies now, complete with special borders for your photographs, stickers and special poses. It's fun to use, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what silly pictures other players take with this mode. The more you play, the more borders you can unlock for the mode.
Rotom Dex is more useful now
Not only does your Pokedex talk and ask you questions from time to time, it can also reward you with special power-ups that help you in battle. Rotom can help you gain more experience, more prize money, or recharge your PP. Having these extra bonuses is a welcome change.
There are more quests now
Expect more characters to ask you to show them certain Pokemon, do fetch quests, or to visit certain areas for money. Since all of these quests are unmarked, it felt gratifying not just to complete them, but to remember they exist at all.
You can surf on a Mantine
Ultra Sun and Moon introduce a surfing mini-game where you can use the control stick to perform tricks and cool moves with a Mantine for points. The more points you get, the more "BP" you earn, which you can trade in for useful prizes. It's a neat idea that fits in with the wider theme of the game, but I found the controls kinda cumbersome on the 3DS.
There are stickers to collect
Guiding you along your journey are "Totem Stickers" that you can collect, all hidden around the main story path. It's surprisingly addictive to seek these stickers out, especially once you can start using them to redeem Totem Pokemon from Samson Oak. Yes, the Alola version of Professor Oak actually has something to do this time around!
Festival Plaza has more to do
New to Festival Plaza is the "Battle Agency" where you can rent monsters to fight against enemies. You can team up with other players, and the more people you connect with, the more powerful monsters you'll be able to rent.
Team Rocket makes a return
Once you beat the game, a new segment opens up where you can take on a super group of super villains called Rainbow Rocket. Here, you fight against 20 years of major Pokemon enemies in what makes for one of the most exciting post-game additions to the series in a long time.
There are new Pokemon
While it's disappointing that there are no more Alola variants, there are a handful of new powerful monsters you can collect - including, of course, the new legendaries on the cover - and a few new Ultra Beasts.
There are new Z-Moves
Legendaries have new Z-moves, but more importantly, take a look at this monstrosity:
There are more customisation options
Your trainers can look a little different now, and I also spotted some new threads available for purchase in various shops.
You can think of Ultra Sun and Moon as the Director's Cut of this generation of Pokemon. If you haven't jumped into the latest Pokemon games yet, this is absolutely the place to start. If you've already played the original games, Ultra Sun and Moon is a tougher sell, especially on a jam-packed year like this one. I found going through so much of the same game over again to be a slog, but things picked up a couple of dozen hours in. I imagine collectors who want to own everything, along with competitive players who want to build the best teams, will want to check Ultra Sun and Moon out no matter what. Ultra Sun and Moon is not an essential experience if you've already played the first games, it still showcases a better, more-refined version of Sun and Moon.