We can't pin all of Pokémon's recent, revitalized success on Pokémon Go, but we'd be remiss to ignore the free-to-play mobile game's influence. Since its July launch, millions of new fans have embraced the Pokémon series, whether for the first time ever or first time since its late '90s heyday.
Pokémon Go's arrival was perfect timing for two reasons: The franchise turned 20 this past February, making 2016 a nostalgia fest for all kinds of fans. More exciting than just a yearlong Pokémon birthday party, though, was the ultimate present to players with the fall release of Pokémon Sun and Moon.
Sun and Moon mark the seventh set of role-playing games in the series, which means there's plenty of catching up to do for anyone foreign to the formula. Even those with an understanding of Pokémon informed as much by Red and Blue as Pokémon Go may find themselves more than a little confused by the new Nintendo 3DS games. As lifelong veterans of the series, we’re here to guide you through the motions of starting your next Pokémon adventure.
What are Pokémon Sun and Moon?
They're the latest Nintendo 3DS titles in the series. Although there are plenty of Pokémon games across a variety of genres, role-playing games like these are Pokémon's bread and butter. Expect dozens of hours of playtime and way more Pokémon to collect than what's available in Pokémon Go.
Wait, what's the difference between Sun and Moon?
The exclusives are marginal. Sun has a small set of Pokémon not found in Moon, and vice versa. There’s already a helpful list to consult and see which ones you prefer, and that should guide your choice. Moon also operates on a time shift of 12 hours, while Sun cycles through real time. If you like to have your game reflect the actual lighting of the real world, then Sun is your pick. If you don’t mind seeing the Pokémon world at night when it’s bright out or sunny in the shade, then check out Moon. (There are certain Pokémon only found during the day or night as well.) Otherwise, all things are equal here, so don't stress too much over which one to pick up.
I can't play them on my phone, right?
Nah — like we said, you'll need a Nintendo 3DS. There are several different models of the handheld available, all of which are capable of playing Sun and Moon. There's even a nifty $99.99 Black Friday deal in the works, if you're willing to wait for it.
What do you do in Sun and Moon? You still have to catch Pokémon, right?
Yep, that's a big part of it. Like all Pokémon RPGs, the point is to catch 'em all, but there's much more required of you to actually do that. You won't ever have to go outside, but your character will traverse the entire fictional region of Alola. That's four separate islands full of Pokémon to hunt down.
Instead of just lobbing balls at Pokémon, you’ll have to fight them with one of your own monsters. After whittling their health down, you’ll be ready to cross your fingers, throw a ball and hope for the best. You’ll also be on your own when it comes to finding them — they don’t just spontaneously spawn on the map. Traverse into the tall, often rustling grass for a good chance of finding one randomly.
Is Pikachu in the game?
Yup. It's pretty dang cute in Sun and Moon, too. It can even wear Ash Ketchum’s hat!
What about my other favorite Pokémon from Pokémon Go? Can I catch them?
Not every single Pokémon is present in Pokémon Sun and Moon, although a bunch of them are. There are now more than 800 Pokémon, so the monsters you're familiar with from Pokémon Go are just a percentage of who you'll be throwing Poké Balls at. The number of Pokémon available may be a shock to anyone just dropping in, but we promise many of the new guys are just as lovable as Charmander, Pidgey and Nidoran. Plus, many of the original monsters get a fresh coat of paint for Sun and Moon, so you'll definitely be seeing Vulpix and Meowth — and a new version of them, too.
What about items? Do I still need those?
Items are way more important in Sun and Moon than they are in Pokémon Go. There's a variety of them, from all kinds of Poké Balls and potions to a slew of stat-affecting sprays and other healing methods. All of these are kept in your bag, which you'll never have to clear out as you do after visiting a PokéStop in Pokémon Go. (In fact, there are no PokéStops at all in Sun and Moon. You’ll be buying all of your items in the local Pokémon Centers.) The game has ways to sort them by kind, which helps you with managing your ever-expanding inventory.
Are there still gym battles?
Actually, that's one of the biggest changes from Pokémon Go, which itself has a unique version of gym challenges. In the main Pokémon games, players visit eight gyms that have teams centered around a single type. Each one is befit with a set of trainers and a leader. Defeating these teams earns you a badge and some bragging rights.
That's quite unlike the trainer-versus-trainer set-up Pokémon Go has going on, so that may be a shock to any player who makes the leap to the RPGs. But Sun and Moon levels the playing field by bucking gyms altogether. There are now a bunch of trials to complete, and they require more than a strong team. There are audio quizzes, spot the difference tests and scavenger hunts to complete before the officiating captain gives players the OK to keep moving forward.
That sure sounds different! What about battles against other trainers?
Unlike in Pokémon Go, you can play against others directly in Sun and Moon, not just a team they've left behind. That includes battles against non-playable characters scattered across Alola, who become more challenging as you progress. You'll need to train your Pokémon to level them up if you want to stand a chance, and battles require selecting from a set of four moves. That's a nice change from Pokémon Go, where gym battles are basically impossible unless you're at a high level, and fighting is reduced to finger-tapping.
There's also multiplayer, which means you can battle your friends from around the world.
Can you trade Pokémon?
Yep! Pokémon Sun and Moon benefit from robust online features, which include battles and trading. There are also tools that let you trade with random players or even receive a surprise Pokémon in exchange for one of yours.
If you remember the link cable days of old, Sun and Moon may shock you with its online capabilities. These extend beyond trading and battling, although just barely: There are also online missions that are basically minigames and a free-for-all battle mode. We're so accustomed to online modes at this point that we take it for granted, but it's a major overhaul over the Game Boy era. For someone who has only played the fairly empty Pokémon Go, all these features are about 10 times more fulfilling than the mobile game's content.
But I still love Pokémon Go! Does Pokémon Go connect with Pokémon Sun and Moon?
They're not compatible, no. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, the 3DS does not interact with your smartphone. There's no way to bring over your Pokémon Go collection into Sun and Moon, for example.
Blah. Can I still take pictures of my Pokémon out and about, though?
That's a Pokémon Go exclusive, one of the few advantages that the mobile game has over the meatier 3DS games. There is a cute feature called Poké Finder where you can take pics of wild Pokémon once in awhile, though. But in short, no Pokémon selfies to be found here.
I can forgive that. Anything else that I can only do in Sun and Moon?
You can go shopping for new clothes to customize your trainer! That's pretty fun. There are also way more battling options, and you can even pet and groom your Pokémon for some nice interactivity.
Pet your Pokémon?! Okay, when can I pick these games up?
They're available as of Nov. 18. Sun and Moon are sold separately, by the way, so time to make a choice. Read our review if you want to find out if we recommend them. (TL;DR version: Yes!)