A new mechanic has been presented through several reveals and featured in the recent Sun/Moon demo., it’s called Poke-rider and with it, you can jump at the back of your pokemon and explore the Ulola region that way.
Back in Gen VI (because apparently we are going to talk Gen VI all the time now), small sections of the map had to be covered by riding the back of a certain Pokemon. You got in the back of Rhyhorn through the mountains and of Mamoswine through the snow. This mechanics gave some variety to the places you had to explore, but both Pokemon were very clunky to control and slow to booth. Well, those you had to use were slow, you could also ride a Skiido which was pretty quick and fun, but even in that case you were very limited in the areas you could explore with them. And it made little sense to have an army of pokemon at your side and being unable to ride any of them.
Strangely enough Poke-rider is pretty opposite to the other big “pokemon in the overwold” feature, namely pokemon following you like in Pokemon Yellow and Heart Gold/Soul Silver. Because when a Pokemon follows you, it must be in your party and it feels like a way of extending your interactions with your whole team, like Pokemon Amie did in a different capacity on Gen VI. The pokemon you ride however are rentals (as far as we know right now), they aren’t pokemon you own and you interact with directly. Their purpose is an utilitarian one: they are transportation just like riding a bike or using Surf in the overworld, they speed up your progression and allow you to access new zones that you were unable to reach without them (so in several ways they are a straight expansion from the ridding we saw and Pokemon X/Y, which shouldn’t come as much as a surprise, as a similar test run happened in Gen IV with the Amity Square).
After finishing the first trial on the Sun/Moon demo we got to test the Poke-rider feature with Tauros, and as you probably guessed by the title of my article, it’s AWESOME. It’s quick and free movement is more akin to riding a bike than to the Rhyhorn-riding of yore. The controls are more intuitive and you also get a Rock Smash ability by pressing B to charge. With this ability you bypass the need of teaching the Rock Smash move to any pokemon in order to continue your progression. Which pretty much means HMs are no longer needed and can be replaced with TMs! Which increases the value of this mechanic even beyond it’s application. Riding Tauros is awesome and so is not having to force your pokemon to learn crappy moves they can’t remove.
The genetics of this mechanic stems from Gen III with the Match Bike and the Accro-Bike. Both items enhanced your movement and allowed you to access secluded areas, effectively serving as “surrogate” HMs. But their system was very clumsy as you were forced to go back to the Bike Store to replace one with the other. This was corrected in ORAS but only during the post-game, so this was of little help for most players that did most of their exploring before beating the game. Understandably, Bikes couldn’t allow you to surf over water or to dive into the ocean as a pokemon could, so the jump into making this function a Pokemon related one instead of a Key Item dependant one is understandable.
If Poke-Rider work as advertised we will be able to switch from one Pokemon to another to perform their different abilities and effectively use “all HMs” without changing our team. Instead we will summon a different member of the Poke-Rider roster to advance through a dungeon or explore a zone, making it less painful for the player and also less punishing (you don’t travel three floors before learning you needed Waterfall to explore further). Nevertheless, it goes without saying that some difficulty is dropped, as you are now allowed to have a fully functional team with no HM-slaves while you travel. This would be yet another case of the games becoming easier by simplifying a system that was just cumbersome and sort of outdated.
So this is a very promising mechanic and I hope that it leaves a mark into the series. My only fear is that bikes are then dropped as their niche is in confrontation with this shiny new mechanic that only makes a lot of sense. Bikes are classic items in the series and I don’t want to see them go!