Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon has been out for a couple weeks, which means that most players have probably made it to the good bits by now—the endgame extras that make Pokemon's "third versions" worth playing.
I finally made it to Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon's endgame shortly before Thanksgiving, after which I set out to see everything that it had to offer. Unfortunately, while Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon definitely have some cool features, they can't quite match up to the likes of Pokemon Emerald, Platinum, or Black 2/White.
Actually, many of the most important differences in this entry are in the story itself. In the tradition of previous "third versions," the grand finale is dramatically different this time around. Instead of taking on a mutated and horrifying Lusamine, you instead travel through a wormhole into Ultra Space to battle Ultra Necrozma—probably the hardest mandatory story battle of any Pokemon ever.
Stuck with whatever you're able to raise, and with no Solgaleo or Lunala to serve as a cheat code, you're apt to get rolled by Ultra Necrozma's absolutely ferocious attacks. All things considered, it's actually kind of a cool challenge, though veteran players are apt to see it as an irritating waste of time as they try to get to the point where they can import their own monsters (I know I kind of did).
Once you get past Necrozma and defeat the Elite 4, you're left with a handful of options. You can take on the Battle Agency, a new challenge were you can test your mettle with randomly-assigned Pokemon. You can snap some pictures of your monsters at the Alola Photo Club—a novel if somewhat shallow take on Purikura photo booths in Japan. You can dive into the Ultra Wormholes and try to get some shiny monsters while capturing older legendaries. You can seek out Totem Stickers and capture supersized versions of a handful of monsters. Or you can take on Team Rainbow Rocket.
Of all the additions, it's Team Rainbow Rocket that perhaps best exemplifies the ways that Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon falls short of its predecessors. There's nothing wrong with the mode itself, of course. It's ultimately a short but sweet bonus dungeon in which you battle each of the villainous leaders from previous Pokemon games—a fun and nostalgic trip through the games of the past.
If you happen to be playing through Pokemon for the first time, these bosses are a respectable challenge. All have monsters in the level 60 range, and they carry legendaries to boot. But if you happen to have level 100 monsters in your stable, you'll smoke them without any problem. Then, before you know it, it's over.
And that's ultimately the problem with Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon—it doesn't offer much for the advanced players who will be most tempted to double dip.
This is especially disappointing because the previous "third versions" have all featured unique challenges for long-time players. In Pokemon Emerald and Platinum, there was the amazing Battle Frontier—an alternate league with a host of unique challenges, including bracket-style tournaments against comparably powerful trainers. Emerald also had unique Secret Bases where you could battle trainers sporting level 100 monsters, which was an amazing way to train up Pokemon.
Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, meanwhile, had the outstanding Pokemon World Tournament, which featured randomized tournaments against every gym leader and and champion that had appeared in the series to that point. As much as I enjoyed my nostalgic battles against Team Magma and Teaam Plasma, it paled in comparison to what the Pokemon World Tournament had to offer.
In that vein, Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon seems to be geared toward the hardest of hardcore collectors who need all of the new monster variants; the hardcore competitive battlers who only want the new in-game moves, and the newcomers who missed out on the original Sun and Moon (in which case, hey, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is definitely an upgrade).
For everyone else? Eh.
I do plan to take the time to capture some of the new monsters so that I can round out my collection; but otherwise, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon leaves me pretty cold as a hardcore player with a collection dating back to Ruby/Sapphire.
Having largely retired from competitive battling, and with no real interesting in capturing all 700+ monsters, I'm mostly left to capture the legendaries I don't have and bow out. There's nothing to aspire to in this version: No Super Contests, no Pokestar Studios, no Battle Frontier, no unique ribbons. Even the Battle Agency leaves my normal team sitting on the sideline.
For a generation that's otherwise pretty awesome, it's kind of a disappointment.
The End of Pokemon's Third Versions
I've been harping on this since Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon came out, but I'll say it again: this should really be the last time that we see a "third version" in this series. In the end, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is just an extra large DLC pack, and that's about it.
Someone on Twitter actually had a pretty decent alternative going forward: Make entries like Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon into Game of the Year editions, and release the new content as DLC for anyone who has already bought in.
But however Game Freak decides to approach the next generation, they need to throw a bone to solo players with powerful monsters. They already have the template in Pokemon Emerald, Platinum, and Black 2/White 2. They just need to bring it back.
They had that opportunity with Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon. You could even see the shape of it in the return of Battle Agency, which was one of the more enjoyable attractions at the Battle Frontier. Too bad they didn't go all the way.
As it is, it's a fun but limited expansion pack, but not much else. And for high level solo players like myself, there's just not enough to justify the purchase this time around.