Much is being made of the upcoming Pokemon games, Pokemon Sun and Moon, and with good reason. They’re the official continuation of the Pokemon franchise, following 2013’s Pokemon X and Y. Pokemon games have stood the test of time by now. The player knows the formula by now: start with one cute little Pokemon, use it to fight and weaken other cute little Pokémon, catch them, repeat ad nauseam. We know it works. It has since pokemon Red and Blue, twenty years ago. But while the core of the game may remain the same, changes must also be made in order to catch the attention of new players and keep older players coming back for more. While simply introducing new pokemon with each new generation of games is an easy fix to the problem of stagnation, it is a temporary and cosmetic one that doesn’t fix the root problem with a game whose core component is old enough to vote.
Some Pokemon games have done well with their attempts to change things up just enough to keep the core of the game intact, without sacrificing that particular blend of the conflicting mechanics repetition and discovery that marks a good Pokemon game. Pokemon Gold and Silver were the first sequels in the line of Pokemon (Yellow being a re-tooled version of Red and Blue). They introduced the mechanics of trainer rematches, the cell phone, new and specialized pokeballs, and even threw in a whole extra continent to travel through, effectively doubling the size of the game, giving the player that much more of a memorable experience. Gold and Silver exceeded all expectations, to be sure. Not all games were as lucky, however. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire removed the ability to re-challenge trainers, and even made it impossible to carry over pokemon from your other older games to your new ones. Ruby and Sapphire made it literally impossible to “catch ‘em all” which is the core tenet of the game! They did introduce beauty contests though, so uh….there’s that. Those were fun, right?
While the following games like Pokemon Black and White, Black 2 and White 2, Diamond and Pearl, and X and Y, have given different experimental changes in each game, nothing has yet to revolutionize the Pokemon games quite like Gold and Silver did (the mega evolution came close though); which brings the focus to Pokemon Sun and Moon. It would appear from the trailers that have been released so far that the big change in this generation is introducing new versions of old pokemon. Sandshrew and Sandslash for example are being given makeovers as Ice/Steel types with what are called “Alola verisons” of old pokemon. Others receiving Alola versions are Meowth, Raichu, Exeggutor, and perhaps even Zubat and Dragonite. Players are also being given the opportunity to ride pokemon throughout the course of the game (more than those short segments in X and Y), which has long been a request of fans. Alola itself also seems refreshingly original, more so than any other game at least. Every continent traveled on throughout the pokemon games is completely interchangeable. No one has any defining characteristics more than the other. Alola seems different in that it is set specifically as a chain of islands, with environs and climates that are specific to islands and islands alone. It’s a sharper more defined focus on geography that Pokemon hasn’t seen yet. There are also type specific, uber-powerful z-moves which can get you out of a tight jam if necessary.
Pokemon Sun and Moon appear to be made with the focus of a game company doing its absolute best to revamp and restyle one of their most lucrative properties without alienating its existing fan base. The decision to include Alola forms on generation one pokemon is intelligent for two reasons: it gives a new take on old favorites and it signifies the willingness to alter what made them great in the first place. Nintendo is telling their fans with the Alola versions that they’re going back to basics, if only to shake things up in a way that the old fans have never seen before. This is what the fans of Pokemon and the games themselves deserve as well. Pokemon games need more than a shiny new coat of paint and a few dozen new pokemon to challenge. It needs some of its DNA altered if it wants to continue to be relevant to anyone over the age of 12. Pokemon Sun and Moon look like nothing the Pokemon world has ever seen before, and that couldn’t be better news.