Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

The Pokémon Series Evolves

The original Game Boy Pokémon games inspired a generation to be the very best like no one ever was. Worldwide, trainers set forth on an adventure to capture and raise the titular Pocket Monsters. Twenty years later, the series remains as strong as ever, spawning dozens of sequels and hundreds of Pokémon. Pokémon Sun and Moon cap off the series’ yearlong anniversary celebration and show us how far the franchise has come. Not only does Pokémon’s seventh generation provide a robust execution of the game’s ever-growing mechanics, but it also challenges the traditional structure of every other mainline entry, resulting in a fresh evolution of the series.

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Cue The Lion King

If you’ve ever donned a Pokémon trainer’s cap, Sun and Moon’s base gameplay won’t surprise you. For those uninitiated, you play as a young trainer and raise unique creatures known as Pokémon. By capturing them in Pokéballs, they are yours to train. As your Pokémon battle other trainers’ monsters, they become more powerful, sometimes even evolving to stronger, larger forms. Each Pokémon is distinct, sporting different elemental types (Fire, Water, Electric, etc.) and game-changing abilities. The joy of discovering new Pokémon and picking a team of six favorites still forms the backbone of these installments.

Fans have enjoyed this structure for decades, but the developers at Game Freak have wisely chosen to spruce up the formula. The biggest difference is there are no gyms in the new region of Alola. You may be crying blasphemy, but the new Island Challenge feels fresh while still holding on to the series’ beloved gameplay. Instead of gyms, you engage in Trials scattered throughout the four Alolan Islands. These Trials vary from gathering ingredients to taking a memory quiz. Upon completion, you fight against a buffed-up boss-like Totem Pokémon. After finishing the trials on an island, you are worthy to fight its Kahuna, essentially a gym leader.

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You can now see your opponent during battle.

The autonomous Totem Pokémon mark a shift of focus to the lovable creatures themselves. Sun and Moon remind us that Pokémon are the stars. The new Pokémon Refresh, an upgrade to Pokémon X/Y’s Pokémon-Amie, lets you pet and feed your creatures via the Nintendo 3DS’ touch screen. Through Refresh, you can heal status ailments after battles at no cost. Even better, as you take care of your Pokémon, they will return that favor in battle. Loved Pokémon gain more experience points, land more double-damage critical hits, and dodge attacks more often. I hardly used Amie back in X/Y, but here, Refresh is clearly displayed as an option post-battle. You can ignore it if you’d prefer as well. But when I see my Pokémon ruffled up, I can’t help but want to clean it.

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This Raticate is more than buffed-up.

The focus on Pokémon extends to your means of travel. Instead of a bike, you traverse the world on Pokémon like Lapras and Charizard. They aren’t yours, but you are free to summon them as soon as they unlock. By far, the best aspect is that the series has finally gotten rid of HMs (Hidden Machines). In the past, you had to teach your Pokémon these special moves to get around. The HMs wasted potential slots for a Pokémon’s limited four-move set, but were mandatory to beat the game. Now, you can teach simply call on the new PokéRide summons to push boulders or surf. It’s more intuitive and also purely fun to charge a Tauros into a blockade of rocks.

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Riding on Lapras

There is a downside to giving Pokémon more autonomy. Wild monsters now sometimes call for help during battle, transforming it into a two-on-one fight. These “SOS Battles” can lead to some bonuses with stronger and evolved Pokémon appearing. However, it is a hassle during regular gameplay, especially since you can’t capture until you defeat one of them. Even worse, there’s no penalty for a wild Pokémon to call for help, so it does so immediately after attacking you. It’s a neat idea, but one flawed by its inconveniences.

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Magikarp may call on Gyarados to battle.

The new Pokémon are high-quality and have a hint of tropical flavor. From the adorable owl, tiger, and seal starters to the majestic cover legendaries, each new creature breathes life into the world. There are new monsters based on Hawaiian leis, salamanders, red pandas, and sand castles, just to name a few. Additionally, new Alolan forms of old Pokémon allow you to see old favorites in a new light, for better or for worse. Though there are some amazing inclusions, like the fire-dancing Marowak and snowy Ninetales, there are also hilarious oddities like the awkwardly tall palm tree Exeggutor. While the effort to make old Pokémon new is appreciated, it would have been nice to see more novel creatures.

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Litten takes on the new Alolan Raichu.

Sun and Moon’s new major battle mechanic is the Z-Move. Although intended to follow up to last generation’s popular Mega Evolutions, it doesn’t garner as much hype. Like Mega Evolutions, you can only use one Z-Move per battle. However, your opponent can block or lessen the damage considerably, with a move like “Protect,” for instance. There is a corresponding Z-Move and Z-Crystal for each type, and you obtain each type’s Z-Crystal through the Island Challenge. They are incredibly flashy and are fun to use during the game. However, as far as battle mechanics go, it’s more style than substance.

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Pikachu performs the electric Z-move.

The new optional battle format, the Battle Royal, is decent. Battle Royal pits four players into a free-for-all match. You earn points by landing the final blow on a Pokémon, and the game ends when one player has run out of usable Pokémon. This mode generates unique strategies as well as luck-based outcomes. Brought a Pokémon to a sliver of health but an opponent finished it off? Shame, you get nothing. Battle Royals can be entertaining as a party mode, but they’re not meant to be taken seriously.

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Four Pokémon go in…

There are other quality-of-life improvements that trainers will appreciate. You can now see which moves are “super effective” or “not very effective” from the move selection screen, eliminating the need to memorize the type chart. It only activates for Pokémon you have faced before to prevent spoiling your initial encounter. When you catch a Pokémon, but have a full team, the game now asks if you’d like to add it to your party. You can increase a Pokémon’s base stats with Hyper Training. Grid movement is also gone, allowing you to move freely in any direction with the circle pad. Finally, a map with objective markers on your bottom screen ensure that you will never get lost.

Both Sun and Moon are fundamentally identical, with the exception of version-exclusive Pokémon. Additionally, Pokémon Moon reverses day and night in-game, which means if you play during the day, it’s actually nighttime in the game. It’s a minor difference, but one to keep in mind.

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Would you hang out with these guys?

The story is a step up from previous generations with one of the most entertaining teams in recent history, the nogoodniks of Team Skull, and some of the most mold-breaking characters the series has to offer. The journey’s linearity is par for the course, but this game especially makes it clear by blocking you off from areas until you beat the Island Trial. Coupled with the slow opening, veterans may get disheartened. Worry not, for the game picks up after the first island.

What a journey it is! The Hawaii-inspired region of Alola comes alive through the impressive visuals and music. Thanks to a shift from the traditional overhead view to a more natural perspective, the world sucks you in with its vibrant colors and lush life. Each island is distinct and offers an array of environments. Even battle backgrounds display your current terrain. The animations during battle are as exciting as they’ve ever been, with some new ones added in. The only con is that the game chugs on an old 3DS, especially during battles with more than two Pokémon. There’s also a lack of 3D, aside from a new lackluster photography mode (it’s no Pokémon Snap!). For the first time, characters have realistic proportions. This complements the character customization tool, and your custom hairstyles and clothes will stand out.

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The Pokémon world has never felt so alive.

Relaxing island tunes comprise the soundtrack, and the trademark composition of battle music is familiar and energetic. Of particular note are the hip beatbox stylings of Team Skull’s themes, the futuristic Aether Foundation music, and the island chantings from the main Alola theme.

When you’re not journeying through Alola, you can also visit the new Poké Pelago. Here, you interact with your stored Pokémon in gradual increments, similar to how mobile games work. You can train your team, hatch eggs, send Pokémon on expeditions, and perform other tasks, provided you are willing to wait hours for them to finish. Its passive nature makes it super effective. While you are playing the game proper or even while not playing, everything continues moving in Poké Pelago. You then return and reap the rewards later.

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The Festival Plaza, your online Pokémon theme park

Festival Plaza is not as effective, and is actually a downgrade of a feature from Pokémon Black 2/White 2, Join Avenue. Within the plaza, you can interact with trainers who you’ve passed online or offline. By taking their requests, you gain Festival Coins which you can spend on any of the facilities in your specific plaza. Each facility has a different function, whether training your Pokémon, dyeing your clothes, or selling rare goods. However, unlike Join Avenue, you can’t upgrade your facilities. You either get a random new facility after earning coins or buy facilities from other trainers. While a great setup can go a long way, a barebones set of stores is only moderately useful.

More importantly, the Festival Plaza is where you engage in online multiplayer. Whereas previous games allowed you to always be online while playing the story, you are now limited within the confines of the plaza. That said, the online is fantastic. All the multiplayer options that have kept the community alive are present here. Battle with trainers around the world through the Battle Spot or official championship tournaments. Compete in singles, doubles, and Battle Royals online. Trade with anyone in the plaza, or test your luck with a random Wonder Trade. The Global Trade System (GTS) likely represents your best chance at catching ‘em all, with players depositing their Pokémon and requesting specific creatures in return. Even though it’s all limited to the plaza, it works. The extensive multiplayer and the everlasting desire to catch ‘em all and raise the best battle-ready Pokémon will keep your adventure going past the roughly 30+ hours of story and postgame.

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Welcome to Alola!

Conclusion

There is always an expectation for Game Freak to deliver the classic gameplay that has enamored us for years. With Pokémon Sun and Moon, I can safely say that they have not only accomplished this, but have also given us groundbreaking changes in how we perceive the traditional Pokémon journey. Whether there are gyms or trials in the next game is unforeseen, but this newest generation represents a radical shift and a wondrous excitement for the future. If you’ve somehow avoided the Pokémon series up until now, this is one of the best entry points the series has ever had. For those of you who already love the series, pack your bags for the Alolan Islands and embark on one of the freshest journeys to date. Alo-la!

Rating: 9.5/10

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Sun and Moon? Which version are you getting? What are your favorite new Pokémon and starters? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Note: Both Pokémon Sun and Moon were used for this review, with Moon being the primary version played.

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55 thoughts on “Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

  1. Awesome review! I just recently beat the game. I’ve been a Pokémon fan since Red and Blue. I’ve played most of the generations, but this is the first time since Crystal I’ve played a Pokémon game right as it came out. It was refreshing to see a game that breaks the mold of fighting 8 gyms to earn 8 badges. I love the tropical Hawaiian flair. Each island feels unique and has different terrain to explore. One of the biggest improvements is the elimination of mandatory HMs. It allows more flexibility in my Pokemons’ move sets and it’s fun to ride around on the ride Pokémon. I also like feeling more immersed in the world I’m exploring rather the classic top-down view. There were some nice surprises at the end (which I won’t spoil here). There’s so much to say about this game. Bottom line: I loved it! It sets itself apart from its predecessors and gives old fans a fresh experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your insightful comments and kind words! I’m happy that you enjoyed the game as much as I did! And of course, Alola reminded me of our Hawaiian honeymoon! Hawaii is a great place to base anything on. Everything’s so relaxed. The changes made here are for the better! This is quickly becoming one of my favorite regions for all the changes and graphical improvements it brought. I see myself playing it for months to come! Thanks again and Aloooooo-la!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review mate. I was Leaning to 9.8 myself but don’t do . Any more so I stuck a 10/10 on it. Great points and informative as always. I played both two with Moon as my primary. Even completed the Rotom Dex, how about you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Jack! I was very close to 10/10 myself, but 9.5 is still marvelous for a new Pokemon game that changes up the formula! Congrats on completing the Dex! Very impressive! I also completed the Rotom Dex and plan to move my Pokemon up once Bank updates. I’ve also started breeding and training up some battle-ready Pokes for the tournaments they’re holding. I’m having so much fun with this and can see myself playing his for months to come! Thanks again for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always love the post game training and breeding every generation! One of my favorite parts about the game is building a team of my own! Battles are tough though, and the World Championships are always intense!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic review! I’ve been away from the series since FireRed and i can’t wait to play this game, someday. I’m going to get the Sun version when i do. I like the big fire lion thing better than the bat-like creature. As you can tell, I only know the names for the first generation Pokemon, lol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! This is a great time to get into the series! It will feel even newer for you because they’ve added so much in terms of mechanics since the GBA games. They’ve also added hundreds of Pokemon so hopefully you’ll find plenty of favorites! There are some newer ones worth knowing the name for too, haha! I liked the fire lion Solgaleo more before too, but playing mostly through Moon, I have grown to appreciate the bat Lunala. You can’t go wrong with either of the versions though. Wish you the best as you explore the new region! Let me know what you think when you play it and thank you again! I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I picked up Moon. When I went to play it though, there was something on my 3DS and my analog stick cap popped off. So now waiting for it to come in the mail. But the thing I’m most looking forward to is the ditching of HMs. Great the development team is trying to make improvements to the series and even taking chances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw oh no! Sorry to hear about your analog cap. Actually, mine has begun rubbing off since starting this game, but I think it’s just natural wear-and-tear from all the other games I’ve been playing. I’ve already had this happen to an older 3DS while playing Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, so I know how you feel. Hope you enjoy it when you start it! The ditching of HMs is something that definitely should have happened long ago. Shifting from gyms to trials is something I didn’t expect but gladly welcome. Overall, the risks they’ve been taking with the series have been paying off with this game! Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic review of the game! This addition to the series is definitely a departure from the Pokemon games we have seen in the past and thank goodness. I feel like since last generation that the formula with gyms needed a change-up and the Island challenges are a welcome breath of fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! Before playing Sun and Moon, I was actually of the mindset that there was no reason they should change it. I warmed up to the Island Challenge very quickly and now embrace it and look forward to seeing what they’ll do next time around. I don’t know if they’ll necessarily do trials again. However, I’d be open to something completely different from either gyms or trials next time around. I would even welcome a system where you went around one region doing a new challenge, and then went back to an old region (Gold/Silver style) and did the traditional badge run. If anything, Sun and Moon opened up the notion that the series could change, and that’s one of the biggest contributions these games have made! Thanks for your insightful comments! Good to hear you enjoyed the changes!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Awesomely done review. I particularly agree with you on your complaints regarding the SOS mechanic, which is incredibly annoying even if it is useful for EV training. I also agree on how the story is a huge improvement over what we had been getting (even if, unlike you, I dislike Team Skull) and on how great the visual update is!

    Nice work! I just finished writing my review for the game, and it was a tough one to write because there is so much to cover (I ended up leaving a lot of things out), but you did an amazing job describing and offering your take on all the mechanics involved!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why thank you so much! I know the SOS battles have its own set of bonuses too, but that should be entirely optional. It drags out so much if you’re just trying to catch a Pokemon. It’s annoying. I’ve actually dabbled in trying to get those bonuses and it can take at least an hour of being in the same battle to get what you’re looking for.

      Team Skull is hilarious, but I can see why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I see them as a huge improvement over some of the teams that try too hard like Team Flare or Magma/Aqua.

      Thanks again! It’s incredibly difficult to fit everything in, and I appreciate that you acknowledge how I got through that! I look forward to reading your review!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I still haven’t beat the game because I’m too busy to play most of the time, but I’m really enjoying it! Your review hit every nail on its head. 🙂 I think one aspect that you could comment on would be whether the game makes shiny encounters easier or harder than past games. I would be done with the game by now, but I took a two day detour trying to catch a shiny vulpix that didn’t pay off. I’ll be trying again after I beat the game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thank you so much! I appreciate it a lot! I can tell you now that shiny encounters are improved, but couldn’t tell you exactly by how much. I got my first Sun/Moon shiny last night actually, a pretty pink Mareanie! I’ll give you a tip though. If you want a shiny, catch ’em all first. I also recommend getting a foreign Ditto. 😉 You’ll thank me later! Thanks again for your kind comments! Good luck with the rest of the game and getting that shiny Vulpix!

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  8. This was a great read! Though I’ve yet to actually finish any Pokemon games, I can appreciate all the positivity in your review as a step in the right direction for the series. I’m so happy for you and other fans of this franchise that the newest installment has improved upon the past games in the series. This doesn’t seem to be typical these days for other games! One day, probably long from now, I will likely pick this game up and play through it. I need to spend some time getting through the first three generations of the series that I own first!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! I’m surprised. Have you not played the games you own or have you played them and just not beaten them? I can’t get enough of this series. Honestly, I’d be fine if they didn’t change much, but I’m ecstatic with the improvements. Since you haven’t finished any games, maybe you might not see everything they’ve changed firsthand, but I think you’d like the end-product regardless. If you were going to play through the original games, I’d say you could just beat the first game and then time-travel all the way to this one. It’s a great modern rendition of the Pokemon formula!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know… it’s a bad habit I have. I don’t finish every game I start, and Pokemon has suffered this fate for the time being. The first one I ever started was Pokemon Sapphire, and I made it part way through that one until life got busy and I put it down. When I picked it back up a few months after, I had no idea what I had done or where anything was anymore, so it’s been on hold ever since! I have a Game Boy Player for the GameCube and a Super Game Boy, so I’m planning to stream the games at some point. Streaming seems to keep me accountable so I actually finish what I start!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s awesome that streaming is helping you do that. I think I’m the opposite as you for Pokemon. When I play, it’s a mad dash to the finish. I find the series so addictive from the moment I get my first Pokemon to the last story battle. I just need to keep playing, and that goes for past the credits. I hope you enjoy your Pokemon journey when you’re able to finish it!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you! I think my problem is that I’m too cautious. I don’t know enough about the battle system, so I’m always humming and hawing over which Pokemon to keep, what to do next, etc. I have many games that I’ve started but never finished, including many others. I hate ending good stories.

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  9. My goldfish memory means that I could never remember the weaknesses. Thank goodness that they now show those in the menu. Gyms shall be missed, but I can understand why they would want to freshen up the formula after all these years. I don’t think I like the SOS mechanic. One sec you think you will beat up a helpless Magikarp only for a mighty Gyrados to jump into the fray.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! I know some may insist that people remember every Pokemon’s weakness, but with 800 Pokemon and a huge amount of dual-types, it’s a huge convenience for even people like me that have the type chart memorized. I do still miss gyms, and I see the value of returning to it in a future generation. The removal of it here simply shows that Game Freak is willing to change and I welcome that eagerness. Whether the next games has gyms, trials, or something completely different, I want to see them expand on their formula while holding true to the spirit of the game. SOS Battles are very annoying, but they do have their merits. For instance, you can capture the allied Gyarados even though you were only expecting Magikarp. I’ve caught some final evolutions through the SOS mechanic. Also, stronger and rarer Pokemon come out if you chain enough SOS Pokemon. What I don’t like is how it interferes with regular gameplay. It can make random battling and capturing Pokemon a slog. I’d prefer if you could trigger it off and on at will. At present, there’s only a way to increase the chances of it happening. Thanks for reading and leaving insightful comments! I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I nearly bought this day 1 along with all of my co-workers since it looks so awesome, but I heard a rumor that they’re porting it for the Switch. I figured I’d wait just in case, but if Nintendo doesn’t announce that on the 12th during their big Switch conference, then I’m definitely taking the plunge. This does look like one of the all time great Pokemon titles!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’d be something if they did port this to the Switch, especially because it would mark the first time the mainline series has gone to consoles. Pokemon Colosseum and XD for the GameCube were nice tries, but I’d double dip for a port or “ultimate” version (a la Pokemon Platinum) for the new console. Of course, if they do announce it for Switch, I don’t necessarily see the game coming out at launch. I guess we’ll see. Regardless of how you end up playing it, I hope you’ll enjoy it and let me know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent review! I’m hoping to get this for Christmas. I’m really diggin’ the removal of gyms and HMs. The former I wasn’t married to, and the later I always hated. Changing from an overhead camera also sounds like a cool idea! I’m excited all around!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a bunch for your comments! I wish I could be your Santa and get it for you, but either way, I hope you do pick it up because I think you’d enjoy it. The removal of gyms is something doesn’t have to be permanent, and I’d be fine if it came back in future generations. I hope HMs just permanently disappear from the franchise though. I won’t miss them at all! The perspective change is truly something. Pokemon X/Y and Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire tried to improve the visuals, but Sun/Moon are the first to make the game feel like a console game. I know you had been wanting Pokemon to come on consoles, and aside from this game ever being ported to Switch, this game’s graphics is the closest to being a mainline version of Pokemon Stadium!

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  12. I was signed up for a 2DS and Pokemon Sun before the Switch rumors popped up. Now I’m thinking of saving up the money. But it means I’ll be dropping Sun 😦 In any case, glad that I chose Sun, because I didn’t know about the time thing in Moon. That sounds like it would be an annoyance not worth dealing with.
    Hopefully the Pokemon Stars rumor will turn out to be true, because Gen 7 is looking amazing so far. I’d probably be going for a Rowlet. Was planning to choose Litten at first, but the evolved forms just ruined it for me. How can something so cute turn into something so beastly. Haha. Really love your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks so much! I hope the rumors are true too just because I’d love to finally play a console mainline Pokemon game. I know it’d be a port, but it would be something else to play it on the big screen. Playing Dodrio Tower on Pokemon Stadium doesn’t count. And yay Rowlet! That’s my choice too, but I like Litten too. Their evolutions are okay. I really like the base forms of the starters this gen. Hope you enjoy Pokemon whenever and however you get it! Let me know what you think when you play! Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Great Review! Agree with most points. I would go as far to say this game had the best story of any Pokemon game to date. Lillie’s story arc was very personal. It had quite an impact on me. She was like a traveling companion. That said I absolutely hated the S.O.S. feature and I found the Battle Royal tedious. There were some graphical issues as well. Despite some of these minor flaws, I had so much fun Playing through Moon version.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome! Glad you enjoyed it so much, especially the wonderful story. Lillie is one of the most interesting characters the games have had. I particularly like her development throughout. She did feel like a traveling companion, as did Hau. I agree that SOS and Battle Royal were tedious, and the graphics and frame rate were not perfect by any means. But yes, they are still great games. Thanks for your excellent words and comments!

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  14. Great review!
    As you know I had Moon featured as Game of the Month December for me. Love the new elements, the atmosfere of the games and the new critters. It’s just that for me it’s a case of catching the pokévirus before I can frantically enjoy any PK game, and I’m still waiting for that. Not worried though, it can strike me totally unawares at any random time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! The good old Pokérus hits me the instant a game comes out, especially if it’s a new generation! It’s deserving of Game of the Month! I actually put this as my Game of the Year!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I got away from Pokemon for awhile after I got a bit burnt out and then came back to X and Y and saw the quality improvements they had made. It seems they have further refined the formula and added some new flair that makes this one of the better Pokemon titles. I’ll probably go with Moon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Game Freak developers do a great job in making quality improvements every generation. It’s easier to see the enhancements when you take time away between generations like you did. Sun and Moon expanded on the formula by changing key mechanics, and it worked well in this game. I look forward to seeing how they will refine it further in subsequent titles. I also went with Moon so it’s awesome that you’ll go with it too! I’d love to hear what you think! Thanks for your awesome comments!

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      1. I also wonder if they will try to bring Sun/Moon onto Switch, although the split screens might make that difficult. Will be interesting to see how they go forward in the mainline series with the new hardware.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It seems Game Freak generally waits until a system gains steam to put something onto it. If they are planning a Switch version, I wouldn’t be surprised if it came out much later in the system’s life. I’d love to see how they utilize the Switch either way though! And if they decide to do some spinoff instead, I’d be interested to see what direction they go in. Pokken Tournament was pretty fun!

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