Pokemon Sun and Moon

If you’re returning to Pokémon after a long absence, you may be pleased to find that the latest iteration is a kinder, gentler monster-battling game.

Thanks to the tremendous success of the Pokémon Gomobile app, there’s a lot more attention on Pokémon Sunand Pokémon Moon, the latest installments in the long-running series of role-playing games that released this week for the Nintendo 3DS system. With that influx of new (and lapsed former) players brings a challenge: Trying to satisfy the people who grew up with this 20-year-old series while still aiming it at youngsters and less-experienced Pokémon trainers.

That’s no easy task, either. Pokémon is, at its heart, about capturing and training magical creatures that possess elemental powers. You carefully select a team of your favorites, then set out to conquer the world by forcing your monsters to fight others’ until one side gets knocked out. That process involves strategy and planning; you must compose a group of Pokémon that can tackle any challenge. After two decades and dozens of games, there are now more than 800 different kinds to keep track of, each with a spreadsheet of stats, attacks, skills and other traits for you to learn.

For players who are migrating from playing the simpler Pokémon Go app, this could surely be overwhelming. The main series of Gameboy and Nintendo DS Pokémon games could always be boiled down to a form of trumped-up cockfighting, but Sun and Moon try to slough off that aggressive past by baking friendship into the gameplay. The result is a gentler (re-)entry point for the series than we’ve seen in more than a decade.

This pair of almost-identical games (there is a slightly different mix of Pokémon in each, to encourage trading between players) tries to mend that divide by reframing the franchise’s core premise. While the popular Pokémon TV show always focused on the buddy-buddy relationships between protagonist Ash and his Pokémon friends, that rarely came through in the player input of the games, in which your group of monsters was just a ruthlessly efficient arsenal. Instead of focusing solely on teaching captured creatures how to fight, Sun and Moon also aim to help you build a relationship with them, shifting your role shifts from taskmaster to caregiver.

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