The world of Alola, again
It should be of little surprise that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon take place in the Alola region, but if you’re returning from Sun and Moon you’ll notice a variety of subtle changes to the region and its story. Some of these can be seen very early, too — these changes will feel fresh when you experience them on your own. That you receive your starter right at the start of the game (rather than slogging through multiple events just to be given one later) changes the dynamic in various subtle ways, for instance.
Even so, it’s the same old Alola. The player characters are the same. The starter Pokémon are the same; that said, how you meet them is different. The Trial Captains you’ll encounter are most familiar.
Visually, Alola remains much like the treat that it was in Sun and Moon, if not more. The games seriously push the 3DS to its limits, with the world and its graphics still separating themselves from previous games. The Hawaiian influence shines even more with some additions to the foliage. Pokémon feature prominently in the world, with several new ones seen walking around in their native environments or with their Trainers.
While little changes like these help make Alola look really good, the changes to Alola aren’t all cosmetic, either!
The Alola Pokédex has been updated with new Pokémon found in the region, including various fan-favorites such as Mareep, Inkay, Zorua and Larvitar. Some of the new additions are exclusive to each game — for example, Houndoom in Ultra Sun, and Manectric in Ultra Moon.
How you feel about the new Pokémon can be subjective — a lot of fan favorites and their evolutions are catchable and make great additions to your team (or the next VGC), but not every Pokémon has made the cut, so not every player may find themselves drawn in. That aside, the extra diversity in the Pokédex doesn’t hurt, though it will take that little bit longer to complete.
Supercharged Rotom Pokédex
With so many new Pokémon added to each of the islands’ respective Pokédex data, you’ll be pleased to know that the Rotom Pokédex has some cool changes, too. You’ll quickly notice that the generation’s venerable companion is now far more talkative than before, occasionally tossing around tips and asking a little bit about you. If you thought the Rotom Pokédex was cool but needed more interaction, you may be pleased with its upgrades.
New to the games is Rotom’s ability to use Rotom Powers, which effectively serve as free items you can obtain randomly by the means of Roto Loto, which activates on occasion as you play the game. Rotom Powers can be used in and out of battle, and range from raising the all the stats of your Pokémon mid-battle, to boosting the experience or prize money earned in battles for a period, to repelling or attracting wild Pokémon, to fully restoring your battling Pokémon’s HP or PP. There’s even a few times where Rotom will consider it appropriate to demonstrate its power without being asked — at times you may not think about doing it yourself.
The aforementioned talkativeness has its problems, though. The Rotom Pokédex tries its best to be helpful — sometimes reminding you to save, or that your team is looking a little beaten up. The problem is that Rotom is quite persistent — you may be prompted to save mere seconds after you last saved, or after you’ve opened the 3DS from sleep mode after a while. Or, you might be well aware that it’s time to heal up, but you’ve told Rotom not to worry, only to be asked again not too long after. It’s through this eagerness to help that you may find that the new and improved Rotom Dex as helpful as the much-maligned Clippy. When Rotom talks, you’ll have to dismiss it to be able to use the map or quickly access the Pokédex; when Rotom’s advice starts repeating, you’ll want him to stop.
Annoyances aside, Rotom’s new abilities can be massively helpful, particularly when you’re stuck in a rut — which can happen plenty of times in these games. The ideas behind the enhanced Rotom Dex are nice and thoughtful, but the execution could do with more work.
As an aside, Sun and Moon’s Pokédex entries are renowned for being disturbingly dark. Players will be glad to know that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon continue the trend.
Surf’s up: time for Mantine Surf
The most interesting mini-game to grace the Pokémon games to date, Mantine Surf lets you ride the eponymous Pokémon on Alola’s waves to travel between the islands. It’s only used to travel as part of the story once (to travel the first time to Akala Island) — the rest of the islands are still by boat — but it does serve as a cool way to go between the islands once you reach the beaches of each island.
The controls take a little getting used to, but they’re simple enough. Get a grip of the mechanics and you’ll be riding up and down the waves to gain speed, avoid obstacles and perform tricks using the Circle Pad. You’ll also want to avoid the various Pokémon such as Tentacool and Sharpedo, who often get in the way and will slow you down. Sometimes they’re impossible to avoid, so they might foil a good trick run quickly.
The payoff for getting a high score is getting Beach Points (just another name for Battle Points). Perform tricks as often as you can and ride like a pro and you’ll receive a large helping of points. Mantine Surf takes a few minutes at best, so it may quickly become your favorite way of getting Battle Points (the Battle Tree remains a massive slog). Those Battle Points can be used to purchase some helpful items like Carbos, Rare Candy and PP Ups. Move tutors are introduced too, with different sets available at three beaches in Alola (there’s one beach for each island, but no Move Tutor at Poni Beach). BP can also be used at the Battle Royal lobby as well as the Battle Tree.
Mantine Surf is a fun little addition to the games and can be a good little time sink. It offers little for your actual Pokémon team during the game — there’s no battles, after all — but the payoff will be the moves you can teach your Pokémon as well.
Riding the wormholes: Ultra Warp Ride
After a certain point of your journey you’ll be able to ride a Solgaleo or Lunala through an Ultra Wormhole. The Ultra Wormhole is a space full of countless warp holes that lead to different worlds, including Ultra Megalopolis and various worlds containing Ultra Beasts. This mini-game is referred to as the Ultra Warp Ride, and it’s a fun way to explore and find new Pokémon and encounter the Ultra Beasts.
There are two control methods to exploring the Ultra Wormhole — using motion controls or using the Circle Pad. You have to use motion controls in the first ride as there’s no way to toggle it, and depending on how you play you may find them pleasant or you may find them counter-intuitive. For accuracy, the Circle Pad may be the best way to play, given that motion controls can be fidgety enough that you’ll want to press A to re-calibrate it during the ride. Changing the motion controls afterwards requires talking to an NPC and is not obviously available to the player.
The various worlds you can reach via warp holes are a spectacle to look around in, but exploration is limited to a small path from the warp hole to the Pokémon. Some worlds have a little bit extra, particularly the worlds containing the Ultra Beasts — some of which you’ll find fascinating, funny, or downright disturbing.
The ability to ride to and explore a few different worlds is really cool, but ultimately, you’ll want to turn off motion controls to get the most out of it.