Pokémon Sun and Moon players hoping to become the very best, like no one ever was, will have to contend with a very different set of championship criteria in the new 3DS games. Why? Because Pokémon Gyms are gone.
Rather than earning badges by challenging a conveyor belt of Gym Leaders compelled by a self-defeating policy of sticking to one particular type of Pokémon, the four islands that make up Sun and Moon's Alola region opt for a different method of testing the mettle of Poké-hunters: Regional Trials.
While heavily emphasised in several promotional trailers prior to Sun and Moon's upcoming release, the trials play a bigger role in the overarching narrative of the latest Nintendo 3DS games than anyone could have expected.
The structure revolves around the Z-Ring and the new Z-Move mechanic. These extremely powerful, once-a-battle moves are awarded to players for beating a Trial leader – with a final Grand Trial posing as the ultimate test on each of the four islands.
These moves are activated by assigning type-specific Z-Crystals to a compatible Pokémon. For example, a Pokémon with a Normal-type attack holding a Normalium Z can harness its power. The Z-Crystals are the closest equivalent to Gym Badges Sun and Moon has, replacing them even on the Trainer Card screen.
In addition, each Trial differs greatly from the traditional Pokémon Gym experience established in the original Game Boy classics Pokémon Red and Blue 20 years ago. Without wishing to spoil anything, the majority of Trials encountered usually include three or four battles at most, with mini-games replacing the typical part-puzzle, part-trainer gauntlet design.
Trials start by introducing a Trial Captain, but rather than facing off in a one-on-one battle for Poké-glory, a trial ends with a showdown against a Totem Pokémon – a super-sized version of a regular Pokémon from Alola, with higher stats and the ability to call on other critters for help. Success eventually leads to each island's Grand Trial, where you are pitted against a Gym Leader-like Kahuna who reigns over the Captains.
Gyms are not the only established mechanic to see a grand overhaul either. Hidden Machines (HMs) are gone, with rideable Pokémon such as Tauros and Charizard replacing the archaic practice of teaching tough-to-overwrite moves to your Pokémon in order to make progress.
IBTimes UK has been working its way through Pokémon Sun and Moon for the past week, but we are holding off on publishing a review until we have explored a little more of the enormous adventure, post-game content and extensive online functionality.
What we can say at this stage is that the game represents a huge shift from what fans have come to expect from a Pokémon game's structure. Whether or not that is to the game's benefit or detriment will have to wait for our full review.
Pokemon Sun and Moon arrive in the US and Japan on Friday (18 November 2016), with a UK and European release scheduled for 23 November.