Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are a new take on the usual 3rd version of a Pokémon game. It’s kind of like a different cut of a movie. The scenes and dialogue are a little different, but it’s still the same story. Pokémon USUM has a new script, new and different vignettes, new characters, and new trainer battles, but at the end of the day, it’s still a lot like Sun & Moon. The real new content in Pokémon USUM comes after beating the Elite Four. There's a new post-game episode, a bunch of legendaries from old games to catch, and 5 new Pokémon, bringing the new total to 807. Don’t worry, you don’t have to catch 'em all. Actually, you can’t really catch 'em all here, because there is still no National Pokédex in the game.
In Pokémon USUM, you play as a young trainer who has just moved to Alola from Kanto, the region in which Pokémon Red and Blue took place in. The real story of the game is about Lillie and her Cosmog, Nebbie, though. Nebbie is a new unknown type of Pokémon, so Lillie is traveling around Alola trying to find out more about it. The story is not particularly good, and there’s a lot of it. It seems like there’s someone waiting to talk to you everywhere you go. This combined with the extremely linear path through the game, and the fact that I’ve already played this, makes for a very slow and uninteresting experience.
Much like in every other Pokémon game, you’re constantly blocked off from certain areas and funneled down a path. There is very little room for exploration, until you progress through the story. US and UM do let you have early access to BP items, move tutors, trading with Sun and Moon, and importing from Pokémon Bank, so you can at least play with the Pokémon you want, and experiment with items and moves as you play through the story again.
The new post-game story, Episode RR, has you battling against Team Rainbow Rocket. A new organization led by Giovanni, who has recruited other team bosses, like Maxie and Archie from Ruby and Sapphire. Giovanni actually pulled them in from other dimensions, through wormholes. Yeah, some Pokémon games take place in different dimensions. The Zelda timeline has nothing on the Pokémon timeline. This new episode is a short trip down memory lane, with a lot of callbacks to old villain organization lairs and bosses from old games to battle. Someone out there has nostalgia for teleporter mazes and rooms full of one way conveyor belts, right? Well, this episode is for those people. Aside from a bunch of references to old Pokémon games, and a few items, there’s not much here. You don’t need to play through this episode to catch the new Pokémon.
If you’re like me, you’re getting this game for the 5 new Pokémon. The new Pokémon are; Poipole, Naganadel, Stakataka, Blacephalon, and Zeraora. Naganadel is the evolvolved form of Poipole, Stakataka is exclusive to Ultra Moon, Blacephalon is exclusive to Ultra Sun, and Zeraora is the new distribution event only Pokémon. You can get 2 Blacephalons/Stakatakas, so you can try to trade the extra for the other version’s exclusive. I guess you’ll have to trade or wait for a distribution event if you want both Poipole and Naganadel for a living Pokédex.
USUM also has every Ultra Beast from Sun and Moon, and every legendary from all the games for you to catch. No mythical Pokémon, like Mew and Celebi, though. The Sun and Moon legendaries are waiting for you around Alola, after beating the Elite Four, and the old legendaries and Ultra Beasts can be found in the Ultra Space Wilds. The Ultra Space Wilds are small areas you can visit by going through wormholes in Ultra Space. There's a little Star Fox-like minigame in which you fly through Ultra Space on a Lunala or Solgaleo and collect rings, which make wormholes with rare Pokémon appear. The flying in this minigame is very sluggish and inaccurate, because you are constantly being pulled towards the center of the screen, so it feels like you’re fighting with the control the whole time. It’s very easy to miss rings and wormholes, so it can be very time consuming and frustrating to try and get all the legendaries like this, but a trainer's gotta do what a trainer's gotta do to catch 'em all, I guess.
The graphics in this version are exactly the same as in the originals. The framerate in single battles is better than in X, Y, and ORAS, but it still takes a dive in doubles and multi battles. The art style in the game is very nice, and Alola is a beautiful region, but the graphics look like they’ve been dialed back from even what X and Y were doing. There is also still no stereoscopic 3D in the game.
They did change the UI from Sun and Moon, but I’m not sure if it was for the better. It looks different and now you have to press Y to save and can’t scroll down to the save option with the d-pad or stick. I’m not sure how that’s an improvement.
One thing I really wanted upgraded was the PC space. It’s still 32 boxes with 30 spaces, for a total of 960. That’s fine if you only have 1 of each Pokémon, but doesn’t leave long-time collectors and breeders with a lot of room to play with, if they’re keeping a living Pokédex. Sure, that’s why we have Pokémon Bank, but constantly messing with Pokébank has its own share of problems.
Throughout my playthrough, I kept thinking that I want this formula to change. I don’t want more story, and I want to be able to explore more. I’d be perfectly happy with a game with no story besides me wanting to be the very best, like no one ever was. I just want to explore the world, catch Pokémon, battle, get badges, and become the Pokémon Champion. I don’t care about Lillie and her mother and the wacky scientists. Just let me live out my trainer fantasy. I also want the way in which these third versions are delivered to change. We live in the age of Internet connected videogame systems. There’s no reason (besides greed) why USUM couldn't have been DLC for Sun and Moon. I don’t want to play through a 20-30 hour game again to play a new 2 hour episode and catch 4 new Pokémon.
If you want the 5 new Pokémon, you’re going to get this game anyway. I didn’t have much fun replaying the story, but there’s plenty of fun to be had after it. This is still the game you’ll want to get to do all your breeding, raising, and battling in.