Surprise! Pokémon Sun and Moon are out next week — November 18 to be exact. The games have already broken Nintendo’s pre-order sales records and the demo was downloaded by 3.5 million people in its first week. The Pokémon Sun and Moon launch promises to be huge, so you better not go in unprepared.

Pokemon Sun and Moon
The 'Sun' and 'Moon' starters: Litten, Rowlet, and Popplio

Starter Pokémon

As is tradition, trainers will be able to choose from one of three starter Pokémon at the beginning of the game. This generation we have Litten (Fire type), Rowlet (Grass type), and Popplio (Water type). The starters’ stats and final evolutions have all been revealed, and you can check out the official video for the spoilers if you’re feeling so inclined:

Pokémon Sun and Moon
The 'Sun' and 'Moon' Legendary Pokémon: Solgaleo and Lunala

Legendary Pokémon

Pokémon Sun and Moon each get their own legendary Pokémon as well. If you purchase Sun, you’ll eventually be able to add Solgaleo, a Psychic/Steel type. His ability, Full Metal Body, ensures that his stats can’t be lowered by an opposing Pokémon’s attacks. Meanwhile, those who buy a copy of Moon can add Psychic/Ghost type Lunala to their roster. Lunala can use Shadow Shield to take less damage from an attack that hits when it has full HP.

Each legendary has a slightly different story arc depending on who you choose, so the course of the game could flow differently. Either way, though, you’ll be able to trade these Pokémon if you’re looking to complete your Pokédex.

Pokémon Sun and Moon
A new mythical pokémon -- Magearna

If you’ve played previous games, you’ll know that most generations have featured a third mythical Pokémon, like Mew in Red, Blue, and Yellow. Nintendo recently revealed that another legendary Pokémon, the human-made Magearna, will feature in the next movie. Judging by past generations, perhaps Magearna will eventually be available as an event Pokémon? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Plenty of New Pokémon

There will be lots of new regular Pokémon joining the fray, too. We already know of quite a few, like the adorable Dragon-type Jangmo-o and Rock-type puppy Rockruff. And let’s not forget Mimikyu, which dresses up in a shoddy Pikachu costume to draw trainers into a false sense of security. Some of the new additions will also have version-specific evolutions, as evidenced by the video above.

Some Pokémon from generations past are also getting special Alola forms, some even boasting complete type changes. Alola Vulpix, for example, will now be an Ice type. Meanwhile Exeggutor has a comically long neck resembling a palm tree, and Alolan Dugtrio now has flowing blonde locks, the envy of surfer dudes everywhere. You can see some of them in action in the trailer below:

Players will also have the chance to capture special “Totem” Pokémon during the island trials. Pokémon like the weaselly Gumshoo only appear in these special challenges. If you really want to get into the juicy details, you can see a lengthy, full list of already announced new Pokémon over on the official site.

Pokémon Sun and Moon
The varied islands of Alola

Alola and Its People

The game itself will be set in the lush Alola region. As we saw in the demo, Alola is rich with Hawaiian inspiration, with the ukulele music, the swaying palm trees, sandy beaches, and towering volcanoes. The land is made up of a series of islands, so there will be a lot of hopping from one to the other as you go about your adventures.

Pokemon Sun and Moon
Professor Kukui will help you get started. 

The new region boasts a whole new cast of characters, too. Professor Kukui will introduce you to the land of Alola at the beginning of the game. He caused quite a stir when he was first revealed owing to his, well not-so-professor-ly appearance. He’ll be hanging out with Professor Oak’s cousin, Samson Oak. The two look oddly similar save for Samson’s whatever-man appearance.

Pokemon Sun and Moon
Your buddy, Hau

You’ll also have a chance to spend time with your good friend, Hau. He’s an upbeat fellow trainer with a passion for malasada. You’ll also run into Lillie, who assists Professor Kukui in his lab. She’s one of the few people in the series to question battling Pokémon, and is likely to play an interesting role in the story.

Lusamine, leader of the Aether Foundation
Lusamine, leader of the Aether Foundation

The Aether Foundation is another new presence found in Alola. They’re said to rescue Pokémon, but also perform experiments and research on their artificial island, Aether Paradise. It all sounds and looks a bit suspicious, but we still don’t know for sure what role this organization will play in the story.

Team Skull leaders Plumeria and Guzman with their minions
Team Skull leaders Plumeria and Guzman with their minions

And let’s not forget the bad guys. Team Skull causes general mayhem across Alola, committing petty vandalism, interrupting Island trials, and even stealing Pokémon. They’re headed by Plumeria and Guzman.

Hala is Kahuna of one of the island challenges.
Hala is Kahuna of one of the island challenges. 

Island Challenges

In one of the biggest changes to the series, Sun and Moon forgoes gym battles in favor of Island Challenges. They’re a bit more involved, but add some depth when it comes to testing your mettle as a Pokémon trainer. Players will face a number of challenges, like hunting for items and testing their knowledge. Challenges also include Totem Pokémon, especially strong Pokémon only found on island trials that can call in the help of other pocket monsters to turn the tide of battle.

At the very end you’ll face off against the Kahuna, or what is most closely considered the “gym leader.” In a grand trial, you engage the island’s Kahuna in battle. Winning means you cleared the trial and can move on to the next island’s challenge.

Shiny New Features

Apart from the new story and Pokémon, players are privy to a bunch of new tools and features. For starters, players will be able to compete in four-on-four battles in a Battle Royal mode. The winner is decided based on the number of Pokémon beaten and the number of surviving Pokémon in your party. It looks to add a new twist to competitive battles.

Training for competition is also a lot easier now with the addition of Hyper Training, which allows you to boost the stats of level 100 Pokémon. This could possibly cut the time spent on breeding and training Pokémon for the competitive scene, which is a time-consuming process. Once you do have a team ready for battle, the new Pokémon Global Link makes it easy to find casual competition or even ranked online competitions.

If the new Pokémon aren’t quite doing it for you, the Pokémon Bank will now let you transfer over Generation I Pokémon to your Sun and Moon games, as long as those Pokémon were caught in the 3DS Virtual Console editions of Pokémon Red, Blue, or Yellow. You can also freely move Pokémon between 3DS games — Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire, X, and Y. Pretty much every other game in recent Pokémon history can send ‘mons to this newest generation, giving you more flexibility than ever.

QR codes help you discover new pokémon.
QR codes help you discover new pokémon. 

You can also unlock Z-Moves, special high-powered moves with a cinematic flair that you can use once per battle if you have a Z-Ring and Z-Crystals in-game. We got to see one of Pikachu’s Z-Moves in the demo and they’re looking great so far.

Lastly, you can use QR codes to scan new Pokémon you haven’t discovered yet, granting you access to Pokédex data and placing markers on your in-game map to help you track them down. You can make your own QR codes to share with friends, or find them at Pokémon events.

There are a lot of interesting new features to take in before Pokémon Sun and Moon launch next Friday, but it’s exciting to see the franchise experimenting with new ways to become a master Pokémon trainer.

Photos via Smartworld, The Pokémon Company (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), The Pokemon Wiki, Miketendo 64, IGN, The Pokemon Company (1, 2)

Jessica is a freelance writer based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can read other stuff she writes on VICE, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Geek & Sundry.