As a long-time fan of Pokémon, the announcement of Pokémon Sword and Shield was a thrilling one. For the first time, a core pocket monster game would be released on home console and, given the versatility of the Nintendo Switch, the prospect of a fully-realized Pokémon game on this platform had fans excited. Unfortunately, this excitement seemed to diminish with each Nintendo Direct, as fans learned more about the upcoming titles they became more and more skeptical. Restricted Pokédex (Dexit), seemingly recycled animation, and even underwhelming in-game trees all contributed to a sense of disappointment and frustration ahead of launch. Some even called for a boycott before the game even released. Despite this revolt, Game Freak had garnered enough goodwill with me that I remained optimistic about Sword and Shield.
Having recently played the Sword version of the game, I can confidently say the newest iteration of Pokémon is not the irredeemable mess that some people would have you believe. On the contrary, there are many things Gamefreak got right with the latest titles that make them well worth exploring.
The Galar region is arguably the liveliest region players have ever explored. The rolling green fields provide a sense of tranquility that is contrasted and complimented by the bustling UK-inspired cityscapes and the numerous vistas provide a sense of scale that has not been seen in previous titles. Most importantly, the appearance of Pokémon in the Galar overworld truly brings the region to life. Gone are the days of the endless, random Zubat encounters as creatures now freely roam around the environment, living their best lives. Not only does this make the world feel alive, but it is also a well-needed gameplay change.
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Additionally, the new monsters which inhabit Galar are, in my opinion, some for the best additions to the Pokémon franchise in a long time. Stellar design, compelling type combinations, and unique abilities all contribute to a sense of novelty with these new Pokes and provide players with a plethora of viable candidates for their teams. And yes, while all the new additions aren’t outstanding (looking at you Mr. Rime), the overall quality of these new Pokémon will likely result in some difficult decisions for many players when forming their parties. Admittedly, the new Pokémon don’t entirely fill the void that was created with the Dexit (RIP Gen 2 Starters), but the new creatures are an undeniable high-point in Pokémon Sword and Shield.
As previously mentioned, the roaming of Pokémon in the overworld is one of the most welcome changes and nowhere is the merit of this change is more apparent then in the Wild Area. The Wild Area is easily one of the most intriguing features of Sword and Shield and is a potential game-changer for the franchise. In short, the Wild Area marries the freedom of an open-world RPG with the tried-and-true Pokémon formula… and it absolutely works!
As I explored the Wild Area, I was constantly encountering different Pokémon at every turn. With Pokémon filling the grass, water, and sky, the Wild Area does a great job displaying the diversity of the 400 monsters present in the game. A particularly interesting aspect of the Wild Area is the encounters with “Strong Looking” beasts that far out level your team. Never before have players had to deal with this level of danger in the wild and it is a welcome change. All in all, the Wild Area represents an exciting new direction for future Pokémon games and is one of the standout new features in Sword and Shield.
In addition to the major additions to Sword and Shield, there are also more subtle, quality of life adjustments which enhance the gameplay experience. For example, players are now able to access their Pokémon storage anywhere, reducing the amount of downtime during their adventures. Individually, the effect of these smaller adjustments may not be overtly apparent to players, but together greatly improve the overall gameplay experience.
Despite what some outspoken folks on the internet will have you believe, there are plenty of things to like about Pokémon Sword and Shield. However, it is by no means a perfect game, as there are many disappointing elements that prevented the titles from being instant classics like others on Nintendo Switch.
Let’s start with the Donphan in the room, the omission of the entire cast of Pokémon is one of the most disappointing and confusing decisions made during the development of Sword and Shield. I will never understand the rationale behind this decision and the lack of transparency behind it amplifies my disappointment. However, potentially the most disappointing aspect of Sword and Shield is the missed opportunity the games represent for the Pokémon franchise. These games should have been the crowning achievement for Game Freak that took advantage of the hardware capabilities of the Nintendo Switch… but instead the game feels like an upscaled 3DS experience.
While I never expected Sword and Shield to be “Breath of the Wild with Pokémon” (as some may have hoped), I was expecting more than what I got. Pokémon appearing/disappearing in front of me, recycled animations, and (STILL) no voice acting all exemplify a lack of polish that appear to be developers cutting corners. There is no reason NPCs couldn’t have Banjo-Kazooie-like noises when talking (instead of just silently moving their mouths), just as there is no reason new animations couldn’t be implemented so everyone doesn’t walk and talk exactly the same. And while these may seem like nitpicks, these shortcomings ultimately diminished my gameplay experience and contribute to this unshakeable sense of missed opportunity that was ever-present during my playthrough.
Another shortcoming was the lack of innovation in gameplay. While I commend the Wild Area for being inventive, it is frankly the only new aspect of the game that seemed original and inspiried. Dynamax/Gigantamax is a half-baked mechanic that doesn’t add anything of value to the battle system and feels like a worse version of Mega Evolutions. The main campaign story is stagnant and recycles predictable, overused story beats (Spoiler Alert: Chairman rose is essentially Lysandre/Lusimere) and the writers seemed to think adding multiple generic “rivals” was compelling… I did not agree. Sword and Shield was an opportunity to innovate and improve the Pokémon formula, but unfortunately did not do enough to distinguish itself from its predecessors – opting instead to feel like every other Pokémon that’s come before it.
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Pokémon Sword and Shield will likely go down as one of the most divisive games in series’ history. Some declare them to be the Crown jewel of the Pokémon franchise, while others assert that it is so awful that they are becoming Temtem tamers out of protest. For me, Pokémon Sword and Shield is somewhere in the middle of these two polarizing opinions. If you have played and enjoyed previous Pokémon games, you will likely enjoy this one. However, if you are looking for a new and exciting spin on the formula, this game doesn’t exactly check that box. In short, I felt that Pokémon Sword and Shield is an adequate Pokémon game that ultimately underutilized the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch – something other major titles on the platform have made full use of.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are now available exclusively on Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite consoles. Okay, Cool was provided with a copy of Pokémon Sword for coverage purposes.