Review: Pokémon Sun & Moon (3DS Game and TCG Expansion)

The following reviews were contributed to us via local Pokémon trainers / event organizers Fred Bingham and Stephanie Brooks. We found their honest and competitive perspectives on the 7th generation Pokemon video games / TCG expansions intriguing, and we hope you’ll feel the same.

Pokémon Sun & Moon for 3DS

Guest Blog Written By: Fred Bingham
Gemr user: fredbinghamiii

In November of 2016, Nintendo finally dropped their newest installment in the HUGE series that is Pokémon; Pokémon Sun and Moon (which I will refer to as SuMo for the rest of this article). Boasting a new region, new Pokémon, and a host of new mechanics, SuMo brings a lot to the table that, as a semi-competitive player, makes SuMo an interesting beast to tackle. Gone are the days of gym leaders and badges. Now, you must compete in trials to receive Z-crystals which, when equipped to Pokémon, give you a once-per-battle super-move. Nintendo has always had the staple claim in innovation over success, and this really shows in this newest entry to the Pokémon series.

While all the fundamental gameplay mechanics that were great in the previous Pokémon games are still strong in SuMo, this installment brings about quite a few quirks this trainer hasn’t found his way around yet.

For example, every other main series Pokémon game has the trainer exploring vast regions while collecting gym badges, battling trainers, and stopping some kind of evil organization. SuMo, however, while still containing the latter two, loses gym battles and badges completely. The normal 8 badges are replaced with over 20 Z-crystals, 17 of which are received after completing certain battles against boss Pokémon (referred to as Totem Pokémon) and mini-games. I don’t feel like I earned those Z-Crystals, I feel like I was handed them after some silly debacle that my team was underwhelmed by. This may be a tactic to draw the player into the world more, but it feels like a gimmicky reward system to get kids familiar with how the game works. I don’t want to fight some weird, glowing wild Pokémon (that I can’t catch) for a lousy crystal! I want to pit my well-trained Pokemon against a well-versed trainer’s Pokemon! I had way, WAY more trouble battling through certain caves and routes than I ever did with Totem Pokémon. I had my whole team wiped on a few occasions just from a strong, unimportant NPC, while I beat the Totem Pokémon in a short five minute battle. The game has difficulty issues, which makes just getting to the “hard” battles pretty rough. This feels like a huge departure from the other games in the series and quite honestly makes totem Pokémon and NPC boss battles kind of a joke.

In Pokémon’s last installments, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire (which we will combine to call ORAS), there was a method of EV training called “Horde Battling” (Pokemon boost their stats by gaining what’s referred to as Effort Values, or EVs for short). With horde battling, players pit the Pokemon they want to add EV value to against a group of five wild Pokemon. If the player is able to knock out all five targets, they gain a rather large amount of EVs, and the battle ends. The player may repeat this process until their EV limit is capped.

SuMo’s answer to not having horde battles is called the SOS mechanic. This mechanic is triggered when a player brings the opposing wild Pokémon’s health past half. When this happens, the Pokémon may call for help and, if it succeeds, a second Pokémon may appear. This may or may not trigger depending on the game’s RNG. The player can use a variety of ways to increase the chance of the Pokémon calling for help, but cannot increase the chance of a second Pokémon appearing. This is a drastically less dependable way of EV training than ORAS horde battling. The SOS mechanic is time consuming, clunky, and makes this trainer want to give up entirely. This mechanic is a severe handicap to players who want to get competitive in the new gen.

Now that I have thrown SuMo through the grinder, I’d  still point out that there’s a lot that this game has to offer. It boasts some of the most well designed Pokémon I have seen in years, ranging from the simplistic, but deadly, Bewear to the technical and intense Toxapex; It has some of the cleanest graphics and prettiest environments the 3DS has to offer; It’s a game that can be enjoyed by every age. SuMo also offers some of the absolute BEST post-game missions and quests, from catching the Ultra Beasts to hunting down some of the rarer Pokémon. For the first time, in a very long time, I care about every single pocket monster I catch and train. Sun & Moon gives each Pokémon a loving personality, as well as little quirks in battles that resonate with how well the player has taken care of their Pokémon. As someone who has played the series for over a decade now, I can say that while SuMo’s innovation causes some problems for my personal enjoyment, it is a well made and well coveted title in Nintendo’s library. In general, I would give SuMo a strong 8/10. The world is pretty, the Pokémon are very well designed, and the story rivals some of the better Pokémon series games. I would definitely recommend picking this one up for newbies and Pokémon veterans alike.

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Pokémon Sun & Moon TCG Expansion

Guest Blog Written By: Stephanie Brooks
Gemr user: @beautiousbidoof

On the TCG side, we haven’t had a new core expansion in almost 3 years, so I am seeing a lot of excitement for Sun & Moon. I’m particularly excited about this expansion as it adds a new element to the game: GX Pokémon!

With the Black and White expansions, we saw EX Pokémon emerge.

These were Pokémon that, even while only technically a Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokémon, were labeled as Basic, had more HP, and were more powerful than your average card. When you defeat one of these cards, you take two prize cards instead of the single prize card that any other Pokémon yields. The introduction of EX cards began to make regular cards near unusable and, in my opinion, made the game more boring for the older players. With Sun & Moon, EX cards are no longer in the new expansions. Instead, we see GX cards, which are evolution cards (unless the Pokémon they are based off of is a Basic Pokémon) that have a powerful move you may use once a game called a GX move.

When you knock out a GX Pokémon you take two prize cards. There are cards like Lunala GX that seem to be an EX in all but name, but I hope this is a shift toward deck diversity in the competitive scene, as EX cards begin to rotate. I’m really excited to see what players do with this new dynamic, as well as how the evolution requirement for some of these cards changes the deck building process in the coming years.

In this set there is rumored to be a secret rare Ultra Ball that will be printed. Before this information came out, the last secret rare Ultra Ball that was printed was in the Plasma Freeze expansion, and was going for about $125 in Near Mint condition. Competitive players are already worrying about the value of their older versions, so if you’ve been looking to add this card to your collection but weren’t too keen on paying over $100 for them, keep an eye on the market for any particularly good deals.

Finally, the trainers of Sun and Moon have your staples that would be in any core set: your potions and switches and Pokémon catchers… and we get to meet new characters from the game as well. Some of these have new ideas for the game, like the Rotom Dex that has you shuffle your prize cards into your deck and place the same amount of prize cards from your deck. Others are more traditional, such as Ilima, which is basically an Ace Trainer with a coin flip determining your draw. It does, however, seem that Pokémon has worked hard to add new dynamics to a 20 year old game, and I have high hopes that this shift will be incredibly fun for old and new players alike.

If you’re looking to get involved in the card game, no matter your experience level, you can always find a League near you on the Pokémon website. Leagues are free events where players get together and play, trade, and talk Pokémon. If you are in the Southern New Hampshire area and want to talk Pokémon with either me or Fred, come visit us Thursday evenings from 6pm-8pm at Jetpack Comics in Rochester, NH for our Pokémon League. We love to meet new friends! And keep an eye out at the end of the month for the Pokémon Sun and Moon Prereleases that will be happening around the country the last two weekends of the month (ours is on the 22nd!!!).