2016 has been a monumental year for fans of Pokémon. It honestly feels like no other franchise has celebrated a yearly anniversary likePokémon did. Under the 20th anniversary there were new additions and remade classics to the trading card game, a notably good season of the XYZ anime, a Super Bowl commercial, multiple events such as the Twitch Watches Pokémon marathon and other developments that revolved around celebrating the long-lasting phenomenon.

Of course, there were also new games such as Pokken Tournament, the Pokémon-based fighting game, that was released outside of Japan earlier this year. Pokémon GO also  became an instant success. Although it is  not perfect, it is enjoyable and admirable for what it has accomplished. Even the original versions of Pokémon Red and Blue were re-released digitally, which is a rare occurrence when it comes to The Pokémon Company. They remake old games but they have rarely re-released one of their previous entries for another device, even if it was a Nintendo handheld or console.

These game releases and events ultimately culminated in the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, the game that serves as the introduction of the “7th Generation” of Pokémon and  brings new features to the series – new game mechanics, characters and of course… pokémon, as well as the return of previous mechanics that were well desired like character customization. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this entry is that it has all the potential to revitalize the series and to maintain interest in the franchise for the near future.

Before getting into all of the new mechanics and features for the upcoming title, it would be best to take a look of some of the new pokémon that can be trained and captured throughout the game. The three starters for Sun and Moon are  Rowlet, Litten and Popplio,  based on an owl, cat and sea lion respectively. In addition to these starters, other new pokémon within Sun and Moon are based on a plethora of creatures and objects including woodpeckers, sardines, orangutans, bee flies, donkeys, mongooses, meteors, mushrooms and the obligatory sand castle.

Naturally, there are new legendary pokémon for each version as well in the form of the sun lion, Solgaleo and the moon bat, Lunala. A new group of pokémon were also displayed in the form of the “Ultra Beasts” which appear to be created beings that could rival legendaries or psuedo-legendaries.

Sun and Moon takes place in the Alolan region, basically the Pokémon equivalent  of Hawaii, which explains the design choices of the new pokémon that can be encountered in the game. With this in mind, there are numerous islands that make up the region that also contain their own guardian. Alolan forms of pokémon from past generations were also unveiled as pokémon such as Raichu, Vulpix, Meowth and Exeggutor, who have been given new forms and variations with changes in typing. With all of this in mind, there is a multitude of new pokémon designs that are surprisingly good, as there is a nice balance between the simple and cute pokémon and the complex and intriguing pokémon with only a few uninteresting additions for this entry. The Alolan forms of pokémon from previous generations range from absurdly silly (alolan exeggutor and alolan dugtrio are the first that come to mind) to unexpected improvements (alolan sandshrew and alolan ninetales are noteworthy examples). My only gripe with this is that the first generation of pokémon got most of the love when it came to getting alolan forms.  

The new mechanics that are introduced Sun and Moon serve their purpose in keeping things fresh as a multitude of features develop a distinct identity for the Alolan region. Other features go above and beyond in allowing players to interact with their pokémon and traverse through each island of the region. In Sun and Moon, Z-moves are introduced and basically serve as an incredibly powerful, type-based move that can only be used once per battle like mega-evolution. A Poké-Finder photo system is also displayed, allowing you to take pictures of pokémon in various environments. Another prominent feature within Sun and Moon is Poké Ride which provides quick access to rideable pokémon that allow you to travel throughout the Alola region and reach blocked off areas in a manner similar to using HMs such as Surf or Rock Smash. As for multiplayer features, a festival plaza was introduced that allows you to interact with other players by trading and battling and to take part in activities to gain “festival coins” which are essentially “battle points” from the previous generation of Pokémon. A new multiplayer battle was introduced in the form of the “battle royal” where 4 players face off in a free for all type of battle where the winner is determined once the  one trainer runs out of pokémon. It’s about time that this game mode was officially introduced but I expected more out of the multiplayer features or at least something better than the festival coin system.    

Overall, the impressions received by this entry were optimistic to say the least. The majority of the new features and mechanics are serviceable distractions or additions that provide some nice conveniency. Most of the new designs for the pokémon had admirable qualities. For those that enjoy post-game content, the Battle Tree location will hopefully provide a challenging battle system where you’ll encounter noteworthy trainers of the past in battles that will likely garner the interest of long time fans. Player models were thankfully upgraded and player customization was also reintroduced. In terms of gameplay the premise is essentially consistent with each title, you explore various locales as well as battle and trade pokémon. There isn’t really any drastic change in gameplay, the features, revisions and new pokémon are what will ultimately serve as the main draw for this entry.  Possibly the most exciting premise of Sun and Moon is that it truly feels like a celebration of the Pokémon franchise as a whole, an aspect that hasn’t really been replicated by many of the past entries. For 20 years the Pokémon franchise grew continuously, impacting the lives of many and becoming a cultural phenomenon. At this point if The Pokémon Company continues to promote the franchise as they have during this year, then it will only continue to thrive.