Pokémon Sun & Moon: Where Did the Gyms Go?

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Remember when Ash was going for his first gym badge in the Johto League? He was super hyped about battling and the gym leader was like, “Uh, no. We’re going to race instead to see how in tune you are with Lapras.” That initial change of pace made us feel like it was a whole new step for Pokémon. It was going to be completely different ­— but it was actually exactly the same. Pokémon Sun and Moon are just like the Johto League; it confuses you at first, but once you get into it, it is just like all the other games, only easier.

Alola is a brand new region with its own culture and way of doing things based around the culture of the Hawaiian islands. Rather than have several large cities with gyms and appointed gym leaders, it has villages with captains giving out trials and Z-crystals instead of badges. You don’t battle the captains, just the Pokémon they raised to protect a certain plot of nature. In order to fill that void of gym leader battles, each island has a Kahuna you need to battle. Kahunas also give out the Z-crystals in addition to a passport stamp allowing you to move on to the next island. This all seems cool and a whole new way of doing things until the main professor professes he wants to be like all the other regions and is trying to create a Pokémon league for Alola. Heritage is nice, but you don’t get the same respect and opportunity to become stronger if you don’t have the same things as all the other regions.

Lovers of the first generation of Pokémon are either going to love or hate the next addition of Pokémon — evolution. Or regional variation. It’s all Darwinian finches to me. Because Alola is a secluded island that always had close relations with Kanto, original Pokémon have been living on the islands for many generations and adapted different qualities based on their newfound niches in the tropical environment. Changes vary from a new color palette to completely new types. I’m working towards an Alolan Ninetales. Who doesn’t love snow foxes?

In Alola, there’s no need for any HM hoggers (the one or two Pokémon who can use all the HMs you need to get through the game, but are otherwise completely useless and take up party slots). This is due to a large cultural difference between Alola and the other regions: Alolans worked side-by-side with Pokémon to build their villages and cities while maintaining each island’s natural beauty which means no large roads or bicycle trails. Rather than a select few trainers having to find special HMs to transverse each island, they have a communal system of Pokémon mounts. It’s basically Uber with Pokémon! If you need to fly home, call a Charizard. Want to go fishing? Lapras will pick you up. If that giant boulder is blocking the mountain path but Tauros can’t break it, then Machamp will scoop you in his arms and push it out of the way. The only thing Poké Mounts don’t do is Cut, because your character is smart enough to crawl under branches.

Maybe it’s just me, but the villains in this installment are sadly relatable. I don’t want to ruin it with spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at…grunts with low self-esteem and mother issues. Bonus content: the bad guy’s lair is rife with graffiti that looks like an epic Splatfest went down.

With all the changes and quirks, like wild Pokémon wandering into your pelago and joining your party because they like your beans, my biggest disappointment was the lack of clothing options. Ever since Sims 4 took away the color wheel, the quality of customization has been one of my top concerns for games that boast it. Pokémon customization got better every game, and I fell in love with Parisian fashion attitude in X&Y. I guess I should have expected a fashion change going from a Paris to a Hawaii theme, but it felt like Sun & Moon had five outfits with only two good ones in basic colors. However, I totally squealed in excitement when I bought a Prof. Oak Iconic tank top.

My best friend’s eight-year-old son recently tried to play my old Soul Silver. He instantly got lost trying to find Mr. Pokémon’s house, got frustrated, and asked me for help. “Figure it out,” I said. That was the fun for me, getting lost and confused, forgetting where I was supposed to be going in order to unlock the next chapter and eventually figuring it out. He now has Moon and likes it a lot more than Soul Silver because it’s easy. For me, the challenges, especially Pokémon Snap throwbacks, were fun and interesting but not at all challenging. There were no sliding ice puzzles or maze-like qualities to the caves. Everything was straightforward with obvious TM spots. No power leveling required.

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