Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon is the most recent in a long line of enhanced version entries in the series. For those unfamiliar with the term, “enhanced version” refers to the typical third game released after a main pair with each Pokémon generation: Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum are all enhanced versions of their base games from the first four generations. However, I went into the “Ultras” unsure whether it was an enhanced version or a direct sequel (a la Pokémon Black 2 & White 2). As it turns out, the Ultras are not sequels: they are, in fact, the more complete or “enhanced” versions of the original 7th generation Sun & Moon.
To that end, I feel it is only fair to open my review by encouraging the reader first to consider Neal Chandran’s review of Pokémon Sun & Moon for reference. He rightly notes many of the exciting features newly introduced in the 7th gen: island challenges and captains replacing gyms and gym leaders, regional variant Pokémon with both aesthetic design change and typing change, the abolishing of HMs with the new PokéRide system, and the addition of Z-Crystals and Z-Moves. I also agree with Neal that the aesthetic of the Alola region matches its Hawaiian inspiration well, both visually and musically.
So, what all does Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon add as enhancements? There are many, though most of them are little frills added to the side: the “Mantine Surf” minigame is one such example. The player is offered the opportunity to travel from one island to the next by utilizing the Mantine Pokémon as a surfboard, and then uses basic controls to ride waves, gaining speed to launch into a handful of spins and flips (a la Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater) before landing. Playing the minigame allows the player to accumulate points that can be redeemed at a special shop for valuable items, including TMs and Rare Candy.
Other fun features include the “Totem Sticker” collect-a-thon, wherein hidden golden stickers can be found and given to Samson Oak (cousin of the venerable Professor Oak from the original Pokémon games). In return, Oak gives you the Totem challenger forms of the Pokémon defeated at the end of each Grand Trial.
The two most significant additions to these enhanced games are the new Fairy trial and the postgame Rainbow Rocket episode. Both are essentially boss rushes, though the latter comes with plenty of throwback content, made possible through the use of Ultra Wormholes suggesting a PokéMultiverse. I found the Fairy trial re-fights to be both challenging and helpful as a prelude to the challenge of fighting the league’s Elite Four.
As for Rainbow Rocket, I would argue it is the biggest draw for fans of Sun & Moon to pick up this game for its additional content. On the other hand, consider that the 8th generation handled its additional content via DLC instead of an enhanced version release (Pokémon… Helmet?). I can imagine an early adopter who purchased a copy of Sun or Moon being frustrated that they couldn’t simply buy the Rainbow Rocket episode as DLC. It is, in my opinion, great content, and arguably it should have been made accessible to Sun & Moon fans without having to re-purchase the entire game.
Then again, that’s what the developers had been doing since Pokémon Yellow. Buy our game again with some fun stuff added on!
In my personal adventure to visit every Pokémon region in 2022 prior to the release of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, I have found Alola to be one of my favorite regions, right up there with Kanto and Hoenn. However, as I played my copy of Pokémon Ultra Moon, I could not help but wonder if what I loved about this game was already so well established in Sun & Moon that the “enhanced version” I was playing wasn’t really all that enhanced. Rainbow Rocket was a great add-on, but it couldn’t have been more than two hours of additional content. With that in mind, my score for this game is nearly identical to Neal’s score for the basic Sun & Moon because while this game is one of the greats, the “Ultra” does not add enough to warrant a boost in the final tally. It’s just that, whether in base or enhanced form, the 7th-gen Alola experience is a great one.