In case you aren’t aware, the first chunk of this log will be spoiler-free! That is to say, I will not be talking about anything not mentioned in official press releases and trailers prior to the game’s release, and I’ll even try to keep THAT stuff to a minimum.
A lot has happened since Day One – I’m nine and a half hours into the game and have completed the Melemele Island portion of the Island Challenge! Along the way I’ve encountered a ton of new and old Pokémon, experienced some gameplay far outside what I’ve come to expect from the franchise, and got a chance to try out some really cool Z-Moves. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
A few days ago I complemented the game for its distribution of Pokémon, but now that I’ve been all around the first island I’ve been able to see the sheer variety of ‘wildlife’ in the Alola region – I’ve only completed about 9% of the game’s Pokédex (a sort of encyclopedia for Pokémon) at this point. Of course, some of the empty slots in my ‘dex are for evolutions of Pokémon I’ve already encountered and creatures in the sea (I can’t swim or fish yet), but you can still color me impressed. One of my biggest problems with previous Pokémon games, especially when I replay them, is that there aren’t a lot of exciting Pokémon available from the start. I’d encounter the same Ratattas and Caterpies over and over again until I got through a good chunk of the game. That definitely isn’t the case here!
I’ve had a few encounters with Team Skull at this point, and I’m finding them incredibly entertaining. They’ve got this ‘street thug’ vibe to them that shines through not only in the way they talk (lots of “yo”s), but also in their behavior – slouched walking, waving their arms to the music during battle, and petty crimes. It also looks like they shop (or shoplift) for clothes exclusively at Hot Topic. After playing through the demo I couldn’t help but think that they might start to wear thin, but that isn’t the case for the time being. One of the Grunts I’ve encountered speaks almost exclusively in rhyme, and the other one spouts off some pretty great one-liners. If you aren’t at least a little bit excited to see what they have to offer, check out this article from Dorkly.
In my review for Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, I complained about how Hidden Machines (HMs) slow down the gameplay. HMs are special attack moves that also allow you to do something in the field – chop down trees, swim on water, break rocks, etcetera. On paper it sounds like a great idea, and it definitely was back in the GameBoy era, but there are a number of issues with them that I could never get over. Most of the attacks aren’t very useful in battle, you can’t remove them until you find a special character late in the games, and you might find yourself needing to backtrack to grab a different Pokémon in order to progress. If you’ve played through the Special Demo then you’ve already seen Sun and Moon’s excellent workaround for this, but if you haven’t then I won’t ruin it for you here.
Talking too much about the Island Challenge here will get into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave that for the next section of the article! Check back soon for Day Three!
First thing’s first, let’s talk about my current team: Diglett (complete with his beautiful Alolan strands of hair), Grubbin (because soon he’ll be an electric bug), Meowth (sassy and purple, I’ll probably replace it with something else down the line), Trumbeak (the first evolution of Pikipek at level 14), Cutiefly (because a bug/fairy with a name like that is hard to resist), and Rowlet. Most of them are at level 16, and throughout my play session I’ve found myself to be on par with the other Trainers I’ve faced off against. Of course, some of that is because I’ve swapped a few Pokémon out of my party and had to level up new ones, but I feel like that’s the best way to play the game. If you only have three Pokémon in your party (or even one, as some people like to do) it’s easy to get overlevelled way too quickly and then the game is a cakewalk.
The Island Challenge consists of a few different sections. First I met up with Ilima, Melemele Island’s Trial Captain, and followed him to a grotto where I needed to defeat three Pokémon (two Yungoos and a Gumshoos) and then a significantly more powerful Totem Gumshoos. I had a lot of fun battling the Totem Pokémon, it was definitely more of a challenge than anything I’ve experienced in Pokémon before. At the start of the match it boosted its defense and called a Yungoos to assist it in battle, and the two of them slaughtered a number of my Pokémon before I was able to Paralyze them with Stun Spore to level the playing field. At the end of the battle I was rewarded with Normalium-Z, my first Z Crystal.
After completing the Trial I was challenged by the island’s Kahuna, Hala, who uses Fighting-type Pokémon. I was a bit surprised that there was no encounter with Tapu Koko after completing this Island Challenge, so I suppose I’ll have to wait until later on in the game to meet it in battle. Shortly after beating Hala I also gained access to my first Ride Pokémon, Tauros, with whom I could open up areas gated by large boulders. These gated-off areas featured Pokémon that could call allies, similarly to Totem Gumshoos but without the stat-boosting aura. It was more challenging to make my way through these areas, but I’m always up for some additional difficulty in a Pokémon title.
One thing I noticed during my battle with Totem Gumshoos was how much the game’s engine chugged. I hadn’t experienced any slowdown before this match, but it was REALLY noticeable here. More so than it was in Pokémon X and Y when the 3D was enabled.