How Do 'Pokémon Sun' and 'Moon' Stack Up to 'Pokémon Go'?

pokemon sun and moon

Pokémon Go hit smartphones just four months ago, leading packs of dazed citizens to wander into traffic, off cliffs, and into all sorts of strange situations. Thankfully, the summer craze died down, but there's still a legion of devoted trainers locked to the location-based adventure.

Despite being the most played Pokémon edition of 2016 -- the original Game Boy title's 20th anniversary -- it's not the only big Pokémon game out this year. Today Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon come to Nintendo 3DS, and each offers a young trainer a meaty adventure exploring the world while capturing and battling the adorable creatures, keeping the classic formula intact while introducing some fresh features. After the nostalgia peak of Pokémon Go, will hours spent roaming the neighborhood with your phone really transfer into love for Pokémon Sun and Moon?

Why you'll love it

Simply put, it's pure Pokémon. Nintendo has shipped all sorts of spinoff games over the past two decades, from fighting games to a photography simulator, but the main handheld series has strictly adhered to the classic Pokémon formula. Sun and Moon -- which share the same quest, albeit with slight differences and monsters exclusive to each -- mostly stick to the routine.

As a young trainer, you'll choose a starter Pokémon (I picked Rowlet, aka "owl with a leaf bow tie") and set off to defeat powerful monsters and fellow trainers. Sun and Moon offer slightly different flavors, thanks to the Hawaii-inspired locale of Alola, which affects the sights, sounds, and people you'll encounter along the way, but the experience is just as colorful and charming as ever -- perhaps even more so, thanks to crisp and vivid 3D graphics.

Rowlet | Nintendo

They're distinct experiences, but Pokémon Sun and Moon poke at the same urge that drives Pokémon Go: the need to collect as many Pokémon as possible, and be the best at it. It's a simple motivator, sure, but it has driven 20 years' worth of Pokémon games, from lengthy role-playing quests to simplified smartphone affairs.

pokemon sun and moon

Why you might not

Pokémon Go is an ultra-streamlined take on the series formula: It has no real storyline or dialogue, and no missions or campaign progression. Currently, Go includes only 151 monsters, like the original Pokémon Red and Blue, with no trading between players. You can open it up wherever you are, on the smartphone already in your pocket, and play for 10 seconds or 10 minutes at a time to get a hit of its addictive, real-world gameplay.

Instead, Pokémon Sun and Moon offer a sprawling, story-driven game that spans dozens of hours, requiring you to explore a new world (rather than your own), interact with characters, and grind out hundreds of battles to be strong enough to face the top trainers.

pokemon store

And the experience has grown larger and more complex since the Game Boy days: There are several hundred Pokémon now, all with different types, genders, and potential evolutions. Plus, they have special Z-Move attacks to use under certain conditions. And that's just scratching the surface of all the nitty-gritty detail here: There's a lot more depth to every aspect of Sun and Moon than in Pokémon Go. It can seem overwhelming.


Should you make the move?

Despite the countless hours I spent on Go, it's been more than a decade since I've been sucked in by one of the main games (2003's Pokémon Sapphire). For anyone dealing with a packed schedule that doesn't allow for much gaming time, Pokémon Go hits a sweet spot, offering the series' signature charm and excitement without the big commitments of time and attention span.


You'll have to commit to Pokémon Sun or Moon if you're going to see either game through: This is a game best enjoyed while curled up in bed or filling 45 minutes of a train commute -- not so much while waiting in line to order lunch. Unlike the immediate gratification of Go, it's a slow burn of a campaign that gradually rewards you over time, and the early hours are pretty quiet. It's also not available for smartphones, meaning you'll need to carry around another device to play.

If you dug Pokémon Go's classic flashback formula but craved something a little more complex and engrossing -- and playable on your couch -- you're in luck. From what I've played so far, Pokémon Sun and Moon are as strong as the series has ever been, layering on fresh content and tweaks without muddling or exhausting the proven formula. On the other hand, if you lack the motivation to stick with a game for 40 or 50 hours, or just want something to amuse you when you're out and about, Pokémon Go's bite-sized thrills remain a better fit.

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Andrew Hayward plans to play Pokémon Moon long enough to see his adorable Rowlet evolve into the dashing Decidueye. Follow him on Twitter @ahaywa.