Video Games

“Pokémon Moon” is bloated and has a horrible storyline, but it’s still home

Litten, this little cat, is one of the starting Pokémon in “Pokémon Moon.”
Litten, this little cat, is one of the starting Pokémon in “Pokémon Moon.” The Pokémon Company

Back in my day, Pokémon had no use for food, cuddles or grooming. They didn’t participate in pageants. They showed no affection and received none in return.

No, the Pokémon of the ’90s were unfeeling pixels with only one purpose: Fighting. Beating the opposing creature into submission was their only goal, and they did so with ruthless efficiency.

But my day was a long time ago – a fact made painfully clear to me as I spent the last week playing through “Pokémon Moon.”

I was about five months late to the party, but “Moon” is an intriguing enough game to warrant a bleated review. It is likely the last great game to be released for the Nintendo 3DS, as the company looks to focus exclusively on its hybrid Switch console.

At first, “Moon” is overwhelming. Players are transported to a group of islands – not the textbook circular body of land – called Alola. The islands are filled with a diverse group of Pokémon and a frightening number of Pacific Islander stereotypes.

I love the look of Alola. It’s a vibrant universe that serves as a believable home for hundreds of adorable Pokémon begging for a life of indentured servitude.

The new pocket monsters are even better. A few previous generations – I’m looking at you “Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald” – had awful “Pokémon.” You just can’t do a “Pokémon” game without decent Pokémon. It’s never been done.

“Moon” and its counterpart, “Sun,” also mess with the mold a bit by shuffling up the look and skills of a few my-generation Pokémon. Sandshrew, for example, is no longer a ground type. He is now ice/steel, which means he’s usable in a variety of different ways and fills a different spot on your team.

The latest generation also brings a bunch of new features – online castles in the sky and slave Pokémon who are not yours but can be called on to perform one and only one function. I hate these. Maybe I am just too old, but I am here for creatures, battles and maybe some story.

Ah yes. The story. Does “Pokémon Moon” have a good story?

Insert a four-letter word of your choice, and add no.

It’s just so bad. I mean – I get it. It’s meant for kids. And the drama is by no means the major draw of a “Pokémon” game. The story is basically the vehicle you use to get to new places and catch new Pokémon.

But holy – why, in the name of Oak, do I have to battle Juggalos and protect an extremely sexist damsel in distress character while also fighting space Pokémon?

The point of every other “Pokémon” was pretty simple: Catch them all, train the good ones, defeat your rival and anyone else stupid enough to get in your way. Someone decided that, after 20 years of limitless success, kids also wanted interdimensional travel.

I am not saying I oppose all changes to the Pokémon formula. In Alola, you don’t fight gym leaders for badges – a central part of my first 20 years as a trainer.

Instead, you participate in various themed trials. The core concept is basically the same: Defeat some Pokémon of one specific type, earn rewards and the right to push forward into the game. But the trials have fun quirks such as having to snap pictures of ghost Pokémon or fight electric Pokémon in the dark.

Change is scary, so I initially rejected this system. But I came to love the variety. It’s much better than pushing through a meat grinder of baby trainers on your way to a showdown with an emotionless gym leader.

Brace yourself for a bit of a deep dive into a relatively simple children’s franchise.

“Pokémon Moon” continued a heartening trend for the franchise with Hau, the player’s rival. He is your buddy – a happy-go-lucky kid who’s much more concerned with his next meal than he is with your next battle.

In the first few games, players were pitted against Gary Oak. Gary was an jerk. There’s no escaping that. He was arrogant and hurled insults seconds after your Pokémon beat the hell out his.

I was always a little irked by the negativity Gary presented. It’s a children’s game. I was 10 when I first tangled with him. Sure, it provided motivation to train a strong Pokémon team, but it just didn’t really fit into the paradise where kids wander the world gathering tiny creatures as friends with no real fears.

Over the years, the franchise has moved away from that. The rivals slowly turned into buddies who you occasionally sparred with. You no longer have to beat them in order to progress. It’s just part of the journey.

“Pokémon Moon” probably wasn’t designed for a 28-year-old still looking to kill countless hours training tiny creatures into angry monsters. The story is awful, and the game has a tutorial every 2.5 seconds. Seriously, everything you can think of gets a tutorial. I half-expected an adult to show my character which buttons he has to press in order to breathe.

Regardless, I loved it. It feels like home. I poured more than 30 hours into “Moon” without a second thought. The hunt for rare, cute and strong Pokémon has gripped millions for most of their lives. As Nintendo fades from relevance, I’m not worried about losing Link or Mario. But a world without Pikachu? That’s a chilling thought, indeed.

Pokémon Moon

Video game review

1/2

▪ Rated e for everyone

▪ Developer: Game Freak

▪ Publisher: The Pokémon Company

▪ Out now for the Nintendo 3DS

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