(all images courtesy of IGDB.com)
There’s a very mixed opinion about Pokémon Black and White 2, but that pair is firmly at the bottom of my ranking for the series. While generations 1-4 featured Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum, generation 5 deviated from that pattern and gave us a direct sequel to each game. Again, opinions were split on this, but I did not like it in the slightest.
Therefore, I was a bit concerned about Ultra games. Instead of getting something like Pokémon Dusk that would be like Emerald or Platinum, I was worried that it would be the same as Black and White 2. Fortunately, it wasn’t, and it was absolutely spectacular. Instead of being a direct sequel to Sun and Moon, the Ultra games were reduxes akin to the 4th generation remakes of Gold and Silver. Unlike the endless, terrible, interchange slew of horror movie remakes, the Ultra games do everything right. Let’s start with the little things:
The Little Things
Other than the absolutely badass intro, the game starts out remarkably similar. Your protagonist movies to Alola with their mother, meets their rival Hau (I do miss getting to name your rival(s), but it looks like that’s firmly in the past now) and the professor. The manner in which you get your starter Pokémon is a little different, more akin to the start of Diamond and Pearl than most other games, but quite a lot of the intro is very similar to the original Sun and Moon.
After maybe an hour or so, you find a rockruff sitting on one of the routes. A trainer near it tells you to play with it… and you can! It’s not much, but there are about half a dozen Pokémon scattered around Alola that you can do tricks or play peekaboo with. “So what?” I hear you asking. “You want me to buy an entire new game just to pet a dog? I can get NintenDogs online for $10 and play it on the same system.” Well, calm down, I’m starting small. This is on the same level as the handful of new outfits you get by upgrading or the cutscene where you have a brief heart-to-heart with Nurse Joy. It’s these little labors of love that make the game special, but not upgrade-worthy.
In that case, let’s move on to some minigames. While you could ride the ferry or Charizard Glide to the various islands, which is fine if you’re in a hurry, the Ultra games let you surf on a Mantine to get to each island. It’s crazy fun riding up and down a wave and doing tricks, trying to beat Professor Samson Oak’s impossibly high scores. Samson features in the game as well; unfortunately not handing out Charizards to his grandson’s least favorite people like his cousin does. By collecting stickers scattered around the various cities, he’ll give you totem-like Pokemon to add to your Pokedex.
Finally, there’s the Photo Club minigame. In the original, there were a few locations where you could take pictures of wild Pokémon a la Pokémon Snap. In the Ultra Games, the Rotom Dex lets you take pictures of the Pokémon in your party, pose them however you want, and add little decorative touches once you’re done. The best thing about all three of these games? They’re completely optional. While I loved Mantine Surf and the stickers, the Photo Club wasn’t for me, so I didn’t do it. You’re never forced to do any of these, so if you like them, then you can go ahead and knock yourself out with them. If not, you don’t have to do them once.
Getting into some of the more medium-sized changes, there’s a couple new areas to explore. The one that stuck out most to me was Pikachu valley, which is literally a valley full of Pikachus for you to play with. It’s completely silly and absolutely wonderful, especially because you can get exclusive Pikachu clothes from there to prove your dedication to the series’s lifelong mascot. I think my favorite of the smaller changes, though, was the new fairy-type trial. After fighting the fairy-type captain, she gives you a pink flower petal and tells you to collect six more petals from the other captains, sending you on a trek around the islands to collect all of them. This is both a nice cooldown lap after a series of intense battles immediately beforehand and a pleasant (although a bit cliché) “look how far you’ve come” trip before sending you to victory road.
The Major Changes
Spoilers below, and I’d highly recommend experiencing it for yourself, so skip down to “Gameplay and Presentation” if you want to enjoy the game with fresh eyes.
True to their name, the Ultra games feature the Ultra Beasts more prominently, as well as the Ultra Recon Squad working with the Aether Foundation to try to recover the UBs. You encounter and battle them a couple times, and they feature in the climax of the game (which I’ll explain shortly). Lillie, Lusamine, and Gladion also appear in similar-but-different roles in a story that’s similar-but-different… until the scene at the Aether Foundation. In Sun and Moon, you had to enter the ultra wormhole to free Lusamine from UB-Beauty. In this game, before you have a chance to, Lusamine and Guzma flee from the portal, telling the protagonists they have to leave, because Necrozma’s after them.
After fleeing to Poni Island, acquiring whichever flute you didn’t get previously, and fighting through Vast Poni Canyon, you arrive at the Altar of the Moone in Ultra Moon or the Altar of the Sunne in Ultra Sun. After calling Lunala/Solgaleo, it battles Necrozma and becomes either Dawn Wings or Dusk Mane form by merging with the legendary. It flees into the Ultra Wormhole, which leads to one of my favorite additions: flying through ultra space. The Ultra Recon Squad calls whichever legendary Necrozma isn’t harvesting, and you ride through ultra space to arrive at Necrozma’s home. Now it’s time to fight Ultra Necrozma and separate it from the legendary. The difficulty skyrockets here, it was easily the hardest battle in the game for me as Ultra Necrozma was able to one-shot just about everyone in my party.
Eventually, though, you defeat Ultra Necrozma, and Lillie takes the legendary where it’ll be safe. This is where the redemption arcs for Lusamine and Guzma begin, and the latter is amazing to watch (more on that soon). Once you’ve defeated Necrozma, you can find it on victory road, and Lillie lets you battle and capture the legendary at the edge of Mahalo trail. Colress, expert on Pokémon fusion from his days in Unova, teaches you how to merge Necrozma and the legendary to have either its dawn wings or dusk mane form in your party. This is part of what made the game for me. I mentioned earlier how I was worried it would end up like Black and White 2, and not only did it pleasantly surprise me, it also took one of the only things I found interesting about those games and finally expanded upon it!
After defeating Ultra Necrozma, you’re free to fly through Ultra Space… which is absolutely awesome. You fly on either Lunala or Solgaleo (you can choose which you’d like to use, regardless of game), collecting speed orbs and avoiding electric orbs that slow you down. You’ll see a variety of colorful wormholes, and the further and fancier a wormhole is, the rarer the Pokémon that will be inside. You can catch UBs and legendaries inside, as well as a couple rare Pokémon to round out your team, so it’s definitely worth diving into for a while.
Finally, after becoming the champion, it’s time to fight team Rainbow Rocket. With help from branch chief Faba, they’ve taken over the Aether foundation, and with help from Lillie, Guzma, and Colress, it’s your job to chase them out. Lead by Giovanni himself, he summons Archie, Maxie, Lysandre, Cyrus, and Ghestis to try and stop you, and you get to fight each and every one of them on your rampage through the pallet-shifted Aether Foundation HQ.
Gameplay and Presentation
It plays and looks a lot like the original Sun and Moon, so there’s not that much to say here. The controls are, obviously, exactly the same, and my only minor gripe is with the Ultra Wormhole rides. Instead of using the circle pad, you tilt your 3DS in whichever direction you want to move in, which has a tendency to slightly decalibrate. Mantine surfing, however, controls perfectly fine.
There are some minor graphical upgrades here and there, nothing to write home about but the game still looks lovely. I love the aesthetic they’ve taken on since generation six, and I sincerely hope they continue with it. Since the game runs on the same engine, double battles can still cause some serious slowdown, but since a turn-based RPG it’s more of an annoyance than anything as it can’t impact your personal performance in battles.
Pokémon’s had some incredible music ever since the first games, and that’s never stopped. While some of the themes (including the standard battle theme, unfortunately) are a little “meh”, some of them (boss themes especially) are incredible. The Rainbow Rocket bosses even bring back some battle themes from their original games, which is a fantastic touch.
With additions big and small, a new story, more Pokémon than ever, and a brand new adventure in Alola, I’d recommend this game to any Pokémon fan, whether they played Sun or Moon or skipped over it entirely. Even after over 60 hours of gameplay over the past week, all of which was an absolute joy, I still haven’t seen and done absolutely everything there is to do in the Ultra games, and I’ll sure as hell be revisiting it soon enough. While I’ve been longing for Blaze Red and Forest Green since X and Y came out on the 3DS, this is a perfect example of how to remake a game on the same system, and if this really will be Pokémon’s last 3DS installment, it’s a hell of a sendoff for the series before it hops over to the Switch.