I’ll start this by prefacing any discussion about Pokemon by subtly revealing that I am a super-ultra-times infinity mega fan of the franchise. Played every game, completed too many heart-breaking nuzlockes and Venasaur is the greatest thing to have existed.
But before we scrap, I have to admit that unlike many, I was actually a little nervous about the shake-up in the formula. Totem Pokemon? Trial Captains? Where’s my goddamn gyms bro? What sweet badges do I get from kicking down Totems?
Oh, Z Crystals? Fair enough.
So, let’s admit it right here, the changes absolutely work for the better. From the off, it feels like there’s just a lot more on your plate than the average Pokemon game and with always a goal in mind, you’re always pushed towards the next exciting piece rather than plodding through landscapes to prepare for gym battles.
The Totem Pokemon fights are also much more of a challenge. With increased stats, hefty blows and the ability to call in ally Pokemon to turn it into a handicap match, they can be an absolute nightmare if you can’t finish them off quickly or if you lack the type coverage to punish it heavily.
In fact, when the EXP share is turned off, this is a surprisingly sturdy game compared to its predecessors. The final battle at the Pokemon League felt like a real battle possibly for the first time, with the AI using clever tactics and throwing curveballs for the first time in forever.
The story is also a nice departure that drags you in. With the Pokemon more involved and the characters a little more fleshed out in cutscenes, it really adds to the experience and gives much more gravitas that the paint-by-numbers fans have lived with for a while.
Saying that, the first two hours are a little hand-hold-y for returning consumers. It became a bit of a drag to begin with and the excuse will be because of all the expected new adopters but seriously, they didn’t need this much guidance.
Although little tweaks, like showing if a move was super effective on a Pokemon you’ve faced before and the elimination of HM moves were huge pluses. No longer do I have to do a Google search to check that Ice is strong against Ground for some unknown reason or catch a Bidoof to be a slave to all my adventuring needs.
They even fixed Pokemon Amie, now called Refresh, that actually gave benefits to your Pokemon other than reminding you that they are super cute. As they grew to love you, they would avoid attacks or stave off feinting or shake off status effects or have a higher chance of getting critical hits, which really added something.
Pikachu is also the cutest thing ever. Get a Pikachu, go on Refresh, thank the man that was smiling like a giddy schoolgirl in the pitch black of 2am at his electric mouse.
A lot of the new creatures are great too, whether it’s because of their design or because of their type matchings, there’s plenty of interesting combinations. The Alolan forms are also a real plus, giving familiarity to those returning to the series while mixing things up for the regulars with a twist on the classics.
Also, the gags on Alolan Exeggutor are great. They keep going until they aren’t even close to funny but at first sight, fantastic.
This just works so beautifully. Pokemon games usually pull me in but not to this degree, where I want to take my time to explore and not blast through so I can catch all the new monsters then cry at Nuzlockes.
Instead, this drew me into the world in a way I can’t remember since the original. Like my earlier, slightly creepier analogy, it made me feel like a kid again and if it can do that, it must be something a little special.