Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are neither very different from each other, nor from last year’s Pokémon Sun and Moon. It’s worth highlighting the exclusive content that both games do have, however — especially if you’re trying to decide if checking them out after beating Sun and Moon is worth your while.
A new minigame: Mantine Surf
Scattered across Alola’s beaches are opportunities to check out this new minigame. Mantine Surf is what it sounds like: Trainers can grab onto a Mantine and surf the waves. Doing special tricks will grant you additional points toward your overall score, as will avoiding other Pokémon hanging out in the waters. Prizes are then awarded based on that score; these are typically Battle Points, which can be traded for further rewards.
Your mileage may vary on this one; I’m not a huge fan of the controls in particullar. But surfing is still a decent pasttime for anyone looking to get more out of their adventure.
A new online mode: Battle Agency
In the online multiplayer hub, the Festival Plaza, players will find an additional battle ground among its returning offerings. This is called the Battle Agency, where players can rent Pokémon to try fighting with a new kind of team. These Pokémon are a combination of the Battle Agency’s supply and trainers also checking out the Festival Plaza. It’s kind of reminiscent of Pokémon Stadium’s rent-a-Pokémon feature, which was a cool way to test out the battle readiness of certain Pokémon you’re on the fence about.
A new trial: Fairy-type
There’s an extra Island Trial to tackle in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, and it’s both an exciting and infuriating one. After defeating Necrozma during the game’s climax — which we’ll get to in a second — players are sent to Mina, the laid-back master behind the Fairy-type challenge. It’s both a fetch quest and a test of serious strength, as players have to travel around Alola finding all the other Island Trial Captains for a rematch. Finding them is a total pain in the neck, if you ask me, but at the more difficult fights are a decent trade-off.
An actual gym!
The biggest difference between the seventh-gen Pokémon games and their forebearers is probably the lack of traditional gyms. Island Trials replace gym leaders; Z-Crystals replace badges. I found this to be a nice change of pace back during Sun and Moon, but for Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, I found these challenges to already be a little stale. (It didn’t help that they were almost exactly the same in these games as the previous ones.) Thankfully, there’s now a gym-style battle arena to take part in. A quartet of trainers battle players as they make their way to a leader. It’s a familiar setup with a key difference: These gyms are replayable on a daily basis.
Like everyone who grew up on the Nintendo 64, I’m a sucker for collect-a-thons. That’s not to say I love them, but I can’t help but take part in them anyway. For anyone else with this compulsion, this pair of games throws Totem Stickers into the mix. These golden badges decorate buildings all around Alola, and ripping them off will earn players gigantic Pokémon. Yup. It’s ... kind of rad, actually.
A legendary Pokémon gets more spotlight
Necrozma was a more subdued presence in Sun and Moon, but the legendary Pokémon plays a larger role in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Expanding Necrozma’s role has interesting ramifications for the story, which was always the best part of the seventh-gen games anyway. It features in a climactic fight for trainers toward the end of the games’ storyline, and it even appears in a handful of new forms. Legendary monsters Solgaleo and Lunala even fuse with Necrozma and gain new looks and abilities in the process.
An expanded postgame — and fighting familiar villains
It’s not just a menacing Pokémon who returns. The leaders of every enemy organization from prior Pokémon games appear in the new pair of games, forming a supergroup called Team Rainbow Rocket. Why it took this long to do this is beyond me, but it’s arguably one of the most rad throwbacks for nostalgic fans in these upgraded versions. Players won’t encounter them after they’ve defeated the Elite Four, at which point Team Rainbow Rocket plays a major role in the postgame. (They even have their own Castle where players will fight a gauntlet of foes.)
More Pokémon to catch
I covered this in our story on the differences between each version, but to recap: Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon allow players to catch every legendary Pokémon between them. Which ones are accessible depends on which game players own, but that’s what trading is for. There are also a smattering of new Ultra Beasts and an exclusive mythical monster to collect as well. Many of these are accessible by traveling through wormholes; yeah, these games get kind of weird.
If this sounds like enough new content for you, then have at it. For more on my thoughts on whether these games make it worth heading back to Alola, read my impressions.