Last Friday, Sword and Shield launched as the eighth generation title to the widely popular Pokémon franchise. Marking the first mainstream debut for the series on Nintendo Switch, the two new games have been some of the more controversial releases from Game Freak. So over the weekend, we dove into Pokémon Sword and Shield to review in order to see how the new titles stack up. Packed with enhancements that longterm fans will enjoy, some missteps and more, you’ll want to head below for all of the details.
Pokémon Sword and Shield refresh the 20-year old formula
With The Pokémon Company not considering Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee to be mainline Pokemon titles, the pressure was on for Game Freak’s latest to shine on the Switch.
A staple of any new generation game is a class of never before seen Pokémon to catch and battle. That’s no exception for the Galar region, as this time around you’ll find around 80 new additions to the series’ cast of collectible characters. But there’s more than just some new Pokédex entries to marvel at. Not only have graphics have received some notable upgrades, but there’s another area where both Sword and Shield have been overhauled, overarching story.
Much of the same, but with an undeniably British charm
To accomplish this, here you’ll find that the Pokémon world has been centered around Garlar, a region that heavily draws inspiration from Britain. Other titles have been set in areas mimicking a real-world location before, but things get taken to a whole new level here. Everything from the scenery to the way NPCs talk nail the desired aesthetic, which makes this game more immersive and just a blast to explore.
Another thing is that the world seems much more lived-in compared to past releases in the series. There are more shops than ever, interactions have a bit more charm to them, and everything about the overall narrative is a bit more story-driven. If I had to highlight just one aspect of all this though, it’d be how in place of the usual organized baddies, read Team Rocket, here there’s a group of obnoxious fans deemed Team Yell. These are far from the usual enemies in a Pokémon game, rocking some of the most punk outfits imaginable. Some even wield Vuvuzelas.
While for this review I haven’t gotten far enough in Pokémon Shield to tell how formidable Team Yell will be, so far I’ve been really enjoying their presence in the game. At the very least, they’re certainly a lot more fun than past attempts to emulate the original Team Rocket.
One last change that’s worth noting is that The Pokémon Company is finally ready to embrace the 21st century. Now your in-game character relies on a smartphone to handle everything from logging entries in the Pokédex to checking the map and interacting with inventory. The Rotom Phone is a delightful interpretation of how real-world tech would appear in the Pokémon universe, and it’s just one more thing that really rounds out the overall world.
Dynamax battles, camping, and cooking!
While Pokémon Sword and Shield are unlike past mainline games in a lot of ways, they do borrow quite a bit from Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. One of the ways that’s most quickly made apparent is that Pokémon now spawns in the open world rather than mysteriously when entering tall grass. The new Wild Area takes that idea to the next level with an open pasture of visible encounters. In addition to the typical patches of tall grass flanking pathways throughout the Galar region, you’ll find a massive field spanning a sizable amount of the game’s map filled with various Pokémon to hunt.
On top of just the ones that hide out in the grass, some more powerful Pokemon will openly strut around. Early on in the game, these encounters have to be avoided at all costs, but as your party levels up, they provide a challenging and rewarding battle, unlike really anything we’ve seen from wild Pokémon in past games.
Dynamax is another new feature that is closely related to the Wild Area. Various dens are scattered around the open section of the Galar region which house monstrously big versions of Pokémon that you’ll have to fight against. These raid battles are reminiscent of the team fights you’ll experience in Pokémon Go. For its implementation in Sword and Shield, each of the four trainers will have to select a single Pokemon to clash with the Dynamax’d foe.
These Dynamax Pokémon are also a staple of the game’s eight gym battles. The feature ultimately doesn’t have much of an impact on the completive nature of a battle, but oh boy does it amp up the overall mood. It’s hard not to get psyched up when lobbing a beach ball-sized Pokéball over your head to bring out a massive version of your party’s ringer. Paired with some exciting new soundtracks, this might be the most hype a gym battle has been in the Pokémon games.
There’s also the addition of camping, which allows you to play with your Pokémon and even cook. Pokémon Sword and Shield introduces a curry making system that has you turn an assortment of ingredients into European-inspired dishes. It’s more like a mini-game than full-fledged Pokémon action, but don’t get me wrong, it’s a great addition to the franchise and fits perfectly into the world.
Quality of life improvements elevate the gameplay
Alongside the big flashy new additions and gameplay features, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company have also included some quality of life improvements that this longtime fan surely appreciates. One of the most notable enhancements comes in the form of group XP share, which allows every Pokémon on your team to game experience points following a battle or catch. This means you’ll have to grind much less in order to train new additions to your party, a sorely needed and highly appreciated gameplay tweak.
Longtime fans will also know the struggle of accidentally forgetting the wrong move on your Pokémon. In past games, each region has a designated move tutor that you’d have to hunt down in an obscure location. But now you’ll find someone in each Pokéstop throughout the game to take care of that for you. He’ll also let you easily change the name of your battling companions.
There’s also a more transparent IV stat system and items to perfect your team, the ability to see where captured Pokémon natively appear in the region, and even a built-in flying taxi service to quickly jump from town to town. All of this adds up to a game that’s far less tedious than before. It lets you really enjoy the open-world experience of Pokémon without having to jump through unneeded hoops.
While graphics and gameplay are pretty solid in most parts of these titles, one area where the Switch doesn’t quite seem up for the task pertains to the Wild Area. Often times when traveling to a new section of the wilderness, the game freezes up for a second while rendering all of the new scenery. This is especially true if the online functionality is enabled, as visiting players will just kind of fade in and out in the jankiest of ways. Most of Pokémon Sword and Shield feels optimized for the Switch, at least from the playtime I’ve logged for this review. But the Wild Area is clearly one portion didn’t get the same kind of love, and that shows more often than it should.
One of the biggest controversies leading up to this game’s release was that it wouldn’t include the entire roster of Pokémon released over the past two decades. With nearly 900 creatures overall, only 400 have made their way into this edition of the franchise. That’s all well and good for me, but I take issue with how the game chooses to fill the world with its roster of Pokémon.
You’ll still find a variety of encounters that keep things interesting, but not so much when it comes to discovering newly-added Pokémon. The Galar region has 80 different native species so to speak, but in my travels so far for this review, new Pokémon feel far less common in Sword and Shield than ever before. It’s just a little disappointing to be on the hunt for new releases onto to run to generations of past Pokémon.
While sticking to the same Pokémon goodness that’s made the series so popular over the years, Sword and Shield have managed to bring the mainline series to the Switch in an exciting new way. So many minor changes that add up to pretty big difference for a seasoned fan like myself. And while there’s a lot here that caters to similar older gamers or competitive players, there’s plenty that makes the eight generation Pokémon games a great starting point for those just diving in for the first time.
Pokémon trainer veterans will certainly appreciate the enhancements that have found their way into the game, and the refreshed narrative mixes things up enough to entertain those who have been catching them all since the beginning.
In terms of how much bang for your buck Pokémon Sword and Shield have, prior to writing this review I logged about 12 hours. In that time, I’ve only managed to fight through the first three gyms and really haven’t even scratched the surface of completing the Pokedex. So there’s no need to worry about there being a lack of content.
All things considered, Sword and Shield aren’t perfect, but either title is definitely worth adding to your Switch library now or throwing on your holiday gift list. As someone who has lost interest in Pokémon over the past few years, this has reignited my joy of catching them all.
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