Pokémon Sun and Moon launched late last year to generally positive reviews and record-breaking sales, but that's not to say they're flawless experiences. Dated hardware and a few questionable design choices kept the twin games from being truly outstanding in my book, which is why I was thrilled when Eurogamer reported that a new and improved version of the seventh generation games is in the works for Nintendo Switch. Here's five ways Pokémon Sun and Moon can be even better on Nintendo's next console!
Let's get one thing out in the open: Pokémon Sun and Moon's first few hours are rough. I fell in love with my copy of Sun well before it reached its conclusion, but that love wasn't instantaneous. In fact, the poor pacing of the beginning sections had me so frustrated that I almost quit playing altogether. In talking with friends, roommates, co-workers, and colleagues online, I've found this to be a pretty common sentiment.
Sun and Moon are heavily story-driven experiences (more so than most other games in the series), and the early parts of the games are also heavy on tutorials and repetitive exposition. This is always somewhat true in Pokémon games, but Sun and Moon crank the early game hand-holding up to a whole new level. You can barely take five steps without triggering a wall of text or a cutscene on Melemele Island. You can't figure anything out for yourself by exploring, as NPCs like Lillie, Hau, and Kukui (and sometimes a combination thereof) constantly interrupt to over-explain things before you ever get the chance. My thumb was exhausted from mashing the A button long before I left the first island.
While this "user-friendly" approach will no doubt be helpful for the influx of new Pokémon fans drawn to the series by Pokémon GO, it can be a considerable annoyance for longtime players. You shouldn't have to read an in-game novel before the fun starts. Much of this frustration could be alleviated by making all of the early game tutorials skippable. I'd love to be able to check off a box that says "I'm not five years old" at the start of the game and simply be done with it, but just giving players the opportunity to opt out each individual time that a tutorial or lengthy explanation is about to be delivered would be a gift from Arceus above.
Sun and Moon have the most ambitious visuals in the series to date by far, and it's a huge step in the right direction. The region is beautiful and scenic, and battles have been re-designed with more active backgrounds. Trainers even stand beside their Pokémon in battle, adding to the sense that this is the most immersive experience the series has ever offered.
All of that said, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Nintendo 3DS released six years ago, and it was already far from top-of-the-line hardware at the time. Sun and Moon squeeze as much performance out of the handheld as they can, but there are some obvious technical limitations, and a few simple tweaks could make a world of difference.
The art style of Sun and Moon is wonderful, but the dated hardware and low resolution screen don't allow it to shine to its fullest. On Nintendo Switch, that same beautiful world could be explored in much greater detail and clarity. Improved draw distances (perhaps coupled with some re-worked camera angles) would allow you to see Alolan landmarks clearly from far away. HD graphics (720p on the go and up to 1080p at home) would give Alola a much more crisp and polished look. No more jagged edges or pixelated character models would be amazing.
Smoother, More Immersive Gameplay
In addition to prettier graphics, beefier hardware means better overall performance. 3DS does its best to give you a smooth adventure in Alola, but it definitely comes up short at times.
Like X, Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire before them, Sun and Moon suffer from some pretty severe frame rate drops at times. Double Battles, Battle Royals, Totem Pokémon battles, and the Poké Finder feature all trigger a considerable amount of lag, and that was my experience on a New Nintendo 3DS. I can't imagine they run any smoother on the older hardware, but Nintendo Switch would have no trouble keeping a steady frame rate throughout.
The hardware limitations of 3DS are noticeable out in the overworld as well, thanks to a surprising number of transition screens. The game takes a brief moment to prep the next screen not just when entering and exiting new routes or towns, but sometimes even in the middle of routes themselves. Even simple actions like opening a small gate or talking to a person who won't move out of your path can trigger a brief transition screen. These breaks in the action are never long by any means, but they're frequent enough that they add up to a stop-and-go feel that detracts from the immersion. The improved hardware of Switch could allow you to run around the overworld freely without the nuisance of these frequent pauses.
In addition to making both the actual gameplay and cutscenes look better with some HD polish, Sun and Moon could be greatly enhanced by blurring the barriers between the two. Classic Pokémon games carried out their "cutscenes" without any shift away from the normal gameplay look, but the more complicated 3D games have not been able to replicate this. Instead, they rely on (you guessed it) a brief transition screen to reset the camera and cut to the action. Many modern RPGs and action-adventure titles have evolved beyond this need for a distinction between the two, and Pokémon could and should do the same on Switch.
An Expanded Post-Game Experience
Warning: This section contains key story details from Pokémon Sun and Moon. If you're avoiding spoilers, now's your last chance to turn back!
Pokémon Sun and Moon feature a relatively entertaining and interesting story (even if it's not always well-delivered) and a fair depth of content, but there are still many unanswered questions, and an enhanced version of the games needs to feature additional content.
Once you've completed Sun and Moon's main story, you can access a dimensional portal that takes you to a parallel world. The time of day is inverted in this new world (so if it's daytime in your world, it'll be night in the other world), which heavily implies that you're actually crossing over from Sun to Moon or vice versa.
This opens the door to numerous questions and potential opportunities, but Sun and Moon don't really take advantage of any of them. A new and improved version of the games could greatly expand the role this second world has. In addition to obvious ideas like allowing players to acquire unique Pokémon (other than just Cosmog) and items in the other world, you could discover new or alternate truths behind the games' story. Remember how exciting it was to face Trainer Red in a final, challenging showdown atop Mount Silver in the second generation? Imagine traveling to another universe for an intense battle with an alternate version of yourself as final showdown in Sun and Moon's successor!
In addition to the parallel universe, Sun and Moon also underutilized the universe of the Ultra Beasts. We enter it only briefly, see very little of it, and are quickly returned to our own world, never to see it again. What is this strange universe? How did Ultra Beasts come to be? These are questions that beg to be explored further.
One final area of Sun and Moon's story that could use some fleshing out is their relation to other games in the series. There are numerous connections and tie-ins with other games strewn throughout the story (such as characters from Kanto), as well as some rather peculiar Legendary references. Players can collect cells and cores in order to recreate the sixth generation Legendary Pokémon Zygarde on their adventure (just what is it doing broken up into 100 pieces in Alola?), and Type: Null appears to be an attempt to recreate the fourth generation Legendary Pokémon Arceus as a synthetic being. Arceus, by the way, happens to be the literal God of the Pokémon universe, so that's a pretty big deal, but Sun and Moon don't really do much to build on that concept.
If Game Freak really wants to keep fans engaged beyond the main story, they can add new events that elaborate on these connections, or even offer players the chance to visit some areas in another region to explore some of these story questions. Obviously remaking an entire region in the Sun and Moon graphics engine as a post-game mission is out of the question, but a one-off trip to a city in Kanto would be an incredible treat for fans while also testing the waters for a potential 3D, HD remake of the original games. Lillie's story ends with her setting off to Kanto in hopes of finding Bill, the well-known Pokémon researcher. That sounds like a perfect excuse to revisit Cerulean City to me!
Pokémon That Follow You on the Overworld
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, and Nintendo celebrated by re-releasing Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow on the 3DS Virtual Console. Playing through Yellow again was a blissful nostalgia trip, and I was reminded of how exciting it was as a child to see Pikachu following behind me in the game. More recently, I found my old copy of SoulSilver while doing some house cleaning, and it instantly brought a smile to my face to see my trusty Red Gyarados walking behind me.
Having a Pokémon follow the player in the overworld is such a small touch, but it adds so much and it's something that many new fans haven't experienced yet. Data miners have found walking and running animations for every Pokémon in Sun and Moon, but the feature didn't make it into the final version. Adding that in for the Switch release would be a great way to make players feel even more connected to the experience and to the Pokémon friends they meet in Alola.