With the explosion of augmented reality game Pokémon Go earlier this year, the latest installments in the ongoing Pokémon narrative series, Sun and Moon, have become some of the franchise’s most eagerly awaited games. And that is saying something, because those games have not gone out of fashion in twenty years. Though it is expected to fit roughly the same plot that most of the other games have, there is a lot that makes it stand out from its predecessors. Showing off a little of what they have up their sleeves, Nintendo released a short free demo on the eStore earlier today.
The demo is relatively brief, with probably no more than an hour or so of immediate gameplay, depending on how much you want to linger battling the same handful of Pokémon over and over. But the demo is good at fulfilling its purpose – that is, introducing the all new Alola region and encouraging you to fall in love with it.
And you get a free Greninja.
A good chunk of the beginning is cutscene, in which you have little control over what happens. You’re introduced to your Mom, with whom you have just moved to Alola from Kanto. A local boy, Hau, befriends you and shows you around a little bit of the area – primarily the city of Hau’oli. You also meet the local Pokémon professor, Kukui, and battle a pair of thuggish Team Skull grunts.
In the battle, you use a Greninja that has been left for you by a mysterious stranger. Though it won’t happen immediately, as you continue to fight with Greninja, its Battle Bond develops and it eventually goes through a special change not unlike Mega-Evolution which many fans will recognise from the anime. In the show, Ash and Greninja’s special bond is reflected in battle by a unique transformation. This is recreated in the demo, with your Greninja’s Battle Bond transforming it into ‘Ash-Greninja‘. If you get the full version of the game, you can transfer this special Pokémon from the demo in the same way players got Mega Glalie from the Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire demo.
Greninja isn’t the only familiar Pokémon you encounter in the demo, either.
The professor gives you the ability, through pressing the Y button, to summon a Tauros, which acts as a kind of public transportation system. You can ride the Tauros around and use its dash attack to smash through the rocks that block your path.
Though this isn’t a huge feature of the game, it is something that fans have been begging for for generations. It has been slowly been improved over the years and it looks like it’s really charging forwards. Though you only get to ride Tauros in the demo, the trailer included in the download shows you blasting around astride Sharpedo and other cool, familiar Pokémon.
You also meet Professor Kukui’s partner, Pikachu. Another familiar face, its role in the demo is to showcase Z-moves. These are new abilities that Pokémon have in this generation – an incredibly powerful move that can only be used once per battle. In your second battle with a Team Skull tough, Kukui lets you borrow his Pikachu to learn how to use Z-Moves and take down a fearsome Golbat.
But you don’t just fight bad guys in the demo. One of the most interesting things about the new games is the way they deviate from the established Pokémon storyline. Up until now, trainers have fought gym leaders to earn badges to show they’re ready to take on the Pokémon League.
In Sun and Moon, instead of battling gym leaders, you take on Island Trials and you get your first taste of what one will be like in the demo.
You head to Ten Carat Island and are set a challenge that is both original and charmingly nostalgic for real Pokénerds. Your challenge is to take four photographs of rare Pokémon in a set area – a cool twist on the usual Pokémon narrative and a fun throwback to the halcyon days of Pokémon Snap on the N64 back in 1999. You still get the classic battle as a photograph will usually startle a Pokémon into attacking.
It’s not a difficult trial, but it offers a decent idea of what to expect from future ones, which will hopefully be a little more challenging.
In the process of your first trial, you get to meet two new Pokémon – Jangmo-o and Hakamo-o, native Alola dragon types.
There are is also an area you can explore full of smashable boulders, though that’s the bulk of everything the demo has to offer so far.
But that’s not to say there’s not more to come. If you speak to various people around the area, they drop hints that something exciting might happen at some point between now and the release date of the full games. Maybe there will be even more interesting things to learn about the new games, or new Pokémon to meet or maybe you’ll get some more cool goodies to transfer over.
A lot of the things in the demo so far are not new revelations – most have already been reported in early trailers and leaks. But having an opportunity to actually play it for yourself and feel your way around the new features is a lot of fun.
From what little you get to explore in the demo, it’s already crystal clear that the new games will be a very different beast from the series so far, in a way that cleverly blends the original and the nostalgic.