Nintendo dives deep into ‘Pokémon Sun and Moon’ at E3

Pokemon’s back, and with a bang. During Nintendo’s Treehouse live stream at E3 2016, company reps sat down with longtime Pokémon developer Game Freak and revealed a few juicy new details on Sun and Moon, the upcoming twin additions to the endearing monster-hunting series.

The play session, which marked the first live demonstration of Sun and Moon, laid out many of the details in full. The new games are set in the Alola Region, a tropical archipelago inspired by the volcanic islands of Hawaii, and that’s not all that’s new. There is now an improved character selection screen with a number of races and gender combinations to choose from, and you have two new NPC guides: Professor Kukui and his ‘mysterious’ assistant, Lillie, who introduce you to the game’s most fundamental mechanics. Traversal and battles between Pokémon are also rendered fully in 3D. New catchable Pokémon are in tow, too — Litten, a kitten-like fire type; Popplio, a water type; Rowlet, a grass-flying type; Yungoos, a normal type; Pikipek, a normal/flying type; Grubbin, a bug-type; and two new legendary Pokémon, Solgaleo and Lunala.

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The premise on Sun and Moon might sound familiar to longtime fans of the series: you assume the role of a young trainer who recently moved to the Alola Region. After bidding farewell to your mother, departing home, and receiving your first Pokémon, you set off on your first grand adventure across the islands.

The narrative many not tread new ground, but Sun and Moon’s marks a technical departure from past Pokémon entries. In battles between Pokémon, for instance, the game camera now moves “dynamically” to the left and right, and when you’re Pokémon is ready to strike, each selectable attack’s accompanied by a detailed explanation. Another enhancement: tapping the 2D icon of the enemy Pokémon pulls up its defense, and accuracy stats, and, if it’s a Pokémon you’ve fought before, a truncated battle history with the effectiveness of the attacks you’ve previously used against it. Capturing a Pokémon is a tad more verbose now, too: when a new creature’s added to the Pokédex, indicators show how many variants of the captured Pokémon you’ve yet to encounter.

Trainers in Sun and Moon are a touch more fleshed out than the homogeneous almost-clones in previous Pokémon titles. Each opponent has their own set of unique animations, down even to the way they toss a Pokeball. And some battles, like those against local gym leaders, take place in arenas in front of cheering crowds of NPC onlookers.

The single-player experience isn’t all that’s been revamped. Sun and Moon feature a new four-player multiplayer mode, Battle Royal, in which participants choose up to three Pokémon and battle one at a time. It’s a free-for-all battle: first three trainer to lose all three Pokémon cede victory to the remaining player, and the final score is a combined tally of the number of Pokémon defeated and the number of Pokémon remaining.

One of broader goals of Sun and Moon was to make Pokémon more “accessible” to franchise newcomers, said Nintendo. To that end, settings screens have been “simplified” and “pared down.” And it’ll ship in more than nine languages, including Simplified and Traditional Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, and Korean — a series first. But in a nod to fans who’ve sunk a few hours into the Virtual Console versions of Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, X, Y, Omega Ruby and/or Alpha Sapphire will have their efforts rewarded in Sun and Moon: both games are compatible with the Pokémon Bank, Game Freak’s online Pokémon storage system.

Pokémon Sun and Moon hits store physical and digital shelves for the Nintendo 3DS on November 18 in Japan, North America, and Australia, and on November 23 in Europe. It lands on the Pokémon series’ 20th anniversary; the original Pokémon was released on February 27, 1996. It’s grown, since then — Nintendo’s Pokémon properties now generate a collective $2 billion a year annually, and lifetime sales of the games in May surpassed 200 million copies.

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