Impressions from the Pokémon Sun and Moon Special Demo Version

The demo for Pokémon Sun and Moon is officially available, and I’ve spent some time today playing it. Pokémon Generation 7 is one of my most anticipated games of the year, and if this demo is any indication, it is really gearing up to be the definitive Pokémon experience. I will be recapping what you can do in the demo, so don’t keep reading if you want to experience it yourself without *spoilers,* but keep in mind that this demo doesn’t seem to be a story section ripped from the game, and instead is just a short series of sequences designed to show off the game’s new features.

You play this demo as Sun, the male avatar that we’ve seen many times now (No gender choices in the demo, unfortunately). You have several tasks and areas where you can try out a bunch of the new features.

The first thing I have to mention are this game’s visual improvements. Like we’ve seen from trailers, character models are no longer chibi-style, and instead have realistic proportions. You get a real sense of this with the variety in character designs, from big adults to tiny youngsters. The NPCs are really fun and each have their own distinct visual personality, which is really awesome.

But one thing that wasn’t apparent to me before is just how the game’s animations have been massively improved from X and Y. I don’t mean just in battles-I mean in cutscenes and outside of battle as well. If you remember the Generation 6 games, character animations in cutscenes were really janky and awkward, and they kind of soiled all of the storytelling the game was trying to do. In this demo, character animations are very fluid and full of personality (just look at Team Skull!), while the camera angles and dialogue give a much more cinematic flavor to the game’s cutscenes. It almost feels like playing an interactive episode of the Pokémon animated series, and that is a really good thing if they can pull it off.

But this is not all. The environments are just gorgeous! While textures can still be pretty pixelated-we’ve seen much better from the 3DS in this regard-Alola feels like the most fully realized and lived in Pokémon world to date. There is a verticality and variety to the new areas that has really never been explored in a Pokémon game before. I think this is mostly driven by the fact that Sun and Moon are the first Pokémon games to finally completely ditch the grid-based world design and movement of the previous games. While X and Y brought the series into the 3D world with full 3D models and environments that sometimes played with height, it was still grid-based, like they weren’t fully committed to the idea of making a 3D game. This hurt the environments, and at some points made them feel like playing a big board game. In Sun and Moon, going with full 360 degree movement has really opened up the door for more varied and realistic landscapes, and this demo shows they are taking full advantage that.

In terms of gameplay, the demo starts by taking us through some of the basics. Your first battle is with a Team Skull grunt, and you will find that battles look and work the same way as in X and Y, which is fine, but there are a few improvements in the visual side. First, trainers are now visually represented in battles, which really adds to the cinematic side of fights. Second, the environments are much more visually engaging than the generic “grassland” or “cave” battle backgrounds from the previous games. Now, they are accurate representations of the areas that you are currently in.

After your initial battle, you meet up with Professor Kukui, who makes you take part in a “trial,” which involves testing out the new Poké Finder feature. This feature will ring many Pokémon Snap bells: You essentially have to search a cave to take pictures of the Jangmo-os and Hakamo-os that live in it. At the end of the trial, you will battle your first Totem Pokémon, a Hakamo-o. These pokémon are powered up versions of their normal selves that feel like they are meant to act as “boss battles,” so to speak. Besides being powered up, they also have the ability to call more pokémon to the battle, and you can end up in a one versus many situation if you don’t take them out quickly.

Last, but not least, you get another battle with Team Skull, this time with Admin Plumeria. In this battle, you use Kukui’s Pikachu, and you get the chance to try out another new feature: Z-Moves. While you only get that one chance to try it, I really enjoyed using the move. It kind of reminds me of summons from Final Fantasy-very powerful moves with high costs that have the added bonus of an awesome, visually ridiculous cutscene to go with the move. It’s really great, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this will change up the battle gameplay.

After you complete this section of the demo, there are a few other things you can do, mainly exploring Hau’oli City, talking to NPCs and riding on a Tauros (which is AWESOME). I went in to this demo with high expectations, and I’ve come out the other end MUCH more excited than I was before for Sun and Moon. These games are shaping up to the be the best Pokémon games ever, and this is not just the hype speaking. Even in this tiny snippet from the game, I see very promising elements, such as fantastic models, animations and environments, as well as massively improved gameplay thanks to the long overdue removal of grid-based movement and a greater variety in the amount of things you can do. Definitely expect to hear more from me once Pokémon Sun and Moon are released next month, and check out this free demo-you won’t regret it!

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