You could feel the Internet taking a deep breath as The Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara said, "The first Pokémon game on the Nintendo Switch is..." That was followed by a loud exhale as we learned that it would be Pokken Tournament DX and not Pokémon Stars, the oft-rumored enhanced port for the Switch.
Instead we'll be getting Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon—Nintendo 3DS updates that will include new monsters and an enhanced story. Their launch will roughly coincide with the Nintendo 2DS XL, widely seen as the platform's last attempt to grab a few more sales before riding off into the sunset (it is a nice little handheld, though).
With Pokémon Sun and Moon being little more than six months old, this comes across as more of a cash grab than usual for The Pokémon Company. The message is clear: The 3DS is almost done, and we want to get one more game in before the window is completely closed.
If a Switch version of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon doesn't appear at the E3 Nintendo Direct, then in all probability the expected Switch version—if it ultimately materializes—will encompass a brand new generation. As one Twitter follower reminded me, this has been Game Freak's approach in the past.
wait, this is not surprising at all. Black2/White2 was released on DS instead of enhanced ports to 3DS— Felix128 (@Felix128_) June 6, 2017
It kind of makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Even with HD models, the graphics for Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon would have paled in comparison to many other games on the Switch. It's possible that Game Freak and The Pokémon Company realized that and got cold feet.
If Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are indeed 3DS exlusive, then this is pretty much par for the course for the series, albeit on a bit of a compressed timeline. Generally speaking, Game Freak likes to begin by pushing a new story and new monsters, then flesh out the modes later. It might feel fans feeling a little burned, but the double dip is usually worth it.
What Can We Expect from Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon?
Game Freak's Junichi Masuda didn't confirm much during today's Nintendo Direct, only that it will feature monsters that haven't been seen before and an "alternate story." That would seem to indicate an approach similar to that of previous "third version" like Crystal and Emerald, which built out the original story with new sidequests and events. Pokémon Emerald, for instance, united the Team Magma and Aqua story into one cohesive story while giving Rayquaza a much-expanded role.
If Game Freak follows their previous pattern, they will also introduce some kind of new mode. Emerald and Platinum had the Battle Frontier, while Black 2 and White 2 had the Pokémon World Tournament and the wonderful Pokestar Studios.
At the end of Pokémon Sun and Moon, we see an important character head off to Kanto for a new adventure. Maybe this is a clue that we'll get an expanded second quest à la Gold and Silver?
Beyond that, expanded versions are where Game Freak usually tries to beef up a handful of monsters while introducing new forms. The long-standing Rotom appliance forms first appeared in Platinum, for example. Move tutors also play a big role in expanded versions, dramatically expanding the movepool for certain monsters. Scizor is one example of a monster that went from an also-ran to an absolute beast once it got Bullet Punch in Platinum.
As you can probably tell, third versions are generally geared toward the hardcore faithful, and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are likely to be much the same. As for whether it will make it to the Switch after all, I guess we'll see, but The Pokémon Company seems pretty adamant that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will be a 3DS exclusive. Indeed, if the intention is to push the 2DS XL this holiday season, then it makes no sense to put it on the Switch.
My main quibble is with the timing. It's a bit much to push a third version so soon after the release of the previous game. Usually Game Freak lets the original release marinate for at least a couple years before putting out an enhanced version. Still, I will be right there with my wallet open at launch, ready to buy what amounts to an expansion pack at full price. I would have preferred to have been able to play on the Switch, but if this is the only way for me to get a Battle Frontier or a trip to Kanto, then so be it.
See you all in Alola.
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