Pokemon chief game developer Game Freak eschewed a number of traditions in the seventh generation Pokemon games - but brought back a familiar one this year: a third version. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the third versions of Sun and Moon, the first since the fourth gen's Platinum - Black 2 and White 2 are officially listed as direct sequels, although they essentially function as third versions to the fifth gen's Black and White.

Like Yellow, Crystal, and other third versions before them, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are basically carbon copies of the base games, released just last year, in terms of gameplay and structure. You start the adventure the same way, though Game Freak made a few changes to the opening sequences, giving you access to a starter Pokemon almost immediately. You move from island to island, doing Island Challenges and taking on Island Kahunas, which stand in for Gyms and Gym Leaders, respectively, in the seventh generation. You butt heads with Team Skull and, later, the Aether Foundation and thwart their evil plans.

Ultra Sun and Moon follow pretty much the same script as Sun and Moon. However, there are several things along the way that make the adventure feel slightly different. There are new trainers to battle, new Pokemon to catch, and new items in different places. A number of locations got a few touch-ups, not in a drastic way but enough to make you notice that they didn't look that way before. And a few Island Challenges received improvements, though they still remain easy because of the lack of challenging puzzles. You also meet a group called the Ultra Recon Squad, who play a significant part in the story, early on. Aesthetically, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon feel like the developers simply rearranged the furniture to give us a better view of their wonderful creation - and the resulting product is way better than the original.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon introduce several new features. I will briefly go over each of them one by one. Mantine Surf is the most fun and is exactly what it sounds like. In the mini-game, you rack up points by performing tricks using a Mantine as a surfboard. You can exchange points for useful items. Mantine Surf only takes a few minutes to complete, making it a great avenue for farming certain items. The controls can be annoying sometimes, though. Totem Stickers is a nod to those who love to collect things in games. Collecting Totem Stickers scattered around Alola rewards you with various Totem Pokemon, which vary depending on the version you have. Alola Photo Club allows you to take pictures with your Pokemon, with the option to change certain aspects such as camera angles and background.

Ultra Wormholes allow you to personally say hello to Ultra Beasts. And speaking which, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon actually include new Ultra Beasts, marking the first time all-new monsters are introduced mid-generation. The Rotom Pokedex also includes new features. You can forge a bond with the Rotom Pokedex by constantly communicating with it. You get useful rewards for developing a strong bond with the gadget. Finally, we have the Battle Agency. Found in the Festival Plaza, the Battle Agency allows you to rent Pokemon and fight with them in battles. It's similar to the Battle Factory in the Battle Frontier in Emerald but has a more diverse range of Pokemon-for-rent. The aforementioned new features aren't exactly the biggest things to ever happen in Pokemon games. But they're enough to entertain both new players and returning players. The Rotom Pokedex changes, specifically, are welcome for those who dive into competitive battling.

The biggest changes come in the late-game and post-game. Meaning, you need to spend around 30 hours or so before you get to see what truly makes Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon special. I'm not going to spoil what happens, but I can assure you that the long wait to see the big guns at the end is certainly worth it. The developers did a great job at knitting together a cohesive and definitely satisfying end-game scenario, which is way different than the one seen in Sun and Moon. The late-game battles in the main story still lack fireworks in terms of difficulty, though. All battles feel like a walk in the park. You can probably get by with a passable team composed of Pokemon with unbalanced typing and average-at-best moves. Then again, Pokemon games aren't really known for their difficulty, considering they're made to be accessible to kids. Still, the developers could have at least included an option to increase the difficulty, even if it only meant artificially increasing the difficulty by giving Pokemon unnaturally higher HP.

The good news is that the difficulty picks up in the post-game, though not enough to frustrate veteran players, most especially those who regularly participate in competitive battling. Teased in promotional trailers, Team Rocket big boss Giovanni from the first-gen and second-gen games returns in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon in the post-game. But this time, he comes with a drastically and more dangerous team. Called Team Rainbow Rocket, Giovanni's new posse includes the leaders of all the "evil teams" in previous generations. The formidable lineup includes Maxie (Team Magma), Archie (Team Aqua), Cyrus (Team Galactic), Lysandre (Team Flare), and Ghetsis (Team Plasma).

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon include another post-game feature which, together with Team Rainbow Rocket, serves as one final salute to all previous generations of Pokemon games before the series shifts to the Nintendo Switch. In Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, you have the ability to encounter and catch all the Legendary Pokemon seen in previous games - except the mythical Pokemon such as Mew and Celebi. You can trade with players who own the opposite of your version to get version-exclusive Legendary Pokemon.

The Hawaii-based Alola Region is definitely worth exploring again in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. They are the best third versions in the series by far, serving as excellent farewells to the Nintendo 3DS and ensuring the Pokemon series leaves with a bang before Game Freak finally moves on to developing a mainline Pokemon game for the Nintendo Switch.