Pokémon Sword and Shield Review

Many of us have been dreaming about this day for many a year. Pokémon is all grown up and it’s time to explore the vast world on a console rather than a handheld device. Pokémon Sword and Shield is here for Nintendo Switch, but is this the Pokémon we’ve always wanted? Let’s find out.

Pokémon Sword and Shield is the first original outing on Nintendo Switch for the Pokémon Franchise following on from Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee from 2018. Game Freak have been biding their time and sent fans into delirium earlier in the year when the game was announced. They managed to keep most of the details of the game fairly close to their chest, not without a little controversy (more on that later).

Those of you familiar with the Pokémon franchise won’t need explaining what Pokémon Sword and Shield is. You play a young Pokémon trainer starting out a journey to become a champion, starting off in a small town and as the game proceeds to collect more and more Pokémon as you go making them stronger as you level up. Pick a starter Pokémon at the beginning of the game and level them up through a series of Gym battles. It’s your job to work your way through the world and defeat Gym Leaders along the way and collect their badges, ultimately taking down the champion and realising your dream of becoming champion yourself. The story is tried and tested and where they don’t stray too far off a model that works.

In Pokémon Sword and Shield, we’re exploring the Galar Region, which is supposed to be like England. There are rolling hills, dodging English slang and tea Pokémon. Being English I liked it. The Galar region has recognisable landmarks (such as the Stone Henge like area) and the quaint little villages. The British versions of the Pokémon are kinda cool. The only thing that annoyed me a little was Team Yell, the Punks of the Galar region.

I liked the generation eight Pokémon set. Wooloo is a sheep, Zigzagoon looks like a badger, Yamper is a new electric type who looks like a Corgi. Gossifleur is a cute little flower Pokémon and so on. I liked them! We have the classic water, fire and grass starters with Soble, Scorbunny and Grookey. Normally I go for water types when I start Pokémon games, this time I thought I’d change it up and I went for fire with Scorbunny. The evolutions had been leaked before the game’s release, but I managed to miss those and focused on evolving them myself. As well as the new generation we have the classics in there too with Pikachu, Eevee and Meowth all early catches in the game.

When people think of Pokémon on console I think there mind goes into a meld between old school Pokémon and Breath of the Wild. We want this wide-open space, where we can see Pokémon everywhere we look and anywhere we see we can go. We haven’t quite got that here. It feels like an iteration on Pokémon Let’s Go, rather than the game changer and a big step forward for the franchise. I really enjoyed Pokémon Shield, but it feels like Game Freak didn’t quite turn the volume up to 10. They played it safe and stuck to the formula they knew.

One of the main innovations in the game is the Wild Area – a big expansive area that you can walk around and pick and choose Pokémon to battle. This is what we wanted everywhere. You character running around a 3d space (being able to control the camera!) running into Pokémon and battling. There’s good things and bad things here. It’s great to run around the wild area and fight random Pokémon. It’s great to actually see the Pokémon as well as get into random battles in the tall grass. It’s not great that this gameplay is restricted to this area and the rest of the game is very much on rails. Also, you can’t always catch the Pokémon when you’re under levelled, it doesn’t even give you the option.

Together with the Wild Area, Max Raid Battles have been added to the game where you and up to 3 others can take on Pokémon. The online features open up in the game after you meet Professor Magnolia fairly early, and once this happens you can connect to other players and team up for Max Raid Battles. This is where you take turns in taking down a large Pokémon. It’s also pretty cool going online and seeing other players running around in the same instance as you.

Cooking has been added to the game in the form of curries – we here in England do have some delicious curries on offer. You first learn this skill in the Wild Area very early on in the game and hanging out with your Pokémon and cooking curry together helps you bond as well as fill you up. The cooking ‘minigame’ isn’t quite as fun as cooking in Breath of the Wild, but can be entertaining. The animations and amount of time spent cooking took a little too long for my liking and became a little repetitive.

New in the game is the Dynamax phenomenon. This is the ability to make your Pokémon super large, making the once cute little guys look much more menacing. Professor Magnolia, your resident professor of Pokémon lore in the game, has been looking into Dynamaxing throughout her career and taught many trainers how to harness the power. There’s also Gigantamaxing Pokémon, which is similar, where you get to make your Pokémon large AND they may change form also. It’s a nice new feature in the game which makes battles feel grand in scale and impact. It’s also funny to Dynamax and then watch as a tiny little Pokémon tries feebly to attack you and you crush them in a single blow.

Pokémon Sword and Shield wasn’t without controversy on it’s build-up to launch with an announcement earlier in the year saying for the first time, not all Pokémon would be in the game. For the first time ever, you wouldn’t be able to catch them all. Then, just days before launch, there was anger from fans saying Game Freak had reused character models. The game launched to a bunch of players saying they were going to boycott the game. However, since the game has come out the complaints have died down… it seems these players actually quite enjoyed the game.

There’s plenty to enjoy about the game. It’s classic Pokémon, collecting your best team of Pokémon and building up their skills and evolutions and working your way through a series of Gyms and collecting badges. The gameplay is fun and keeps you wanting to come back for more. The Galar region is awesome and this new generation of Pokémon is vibrant and likeable.

I don’t think it’s the perfect Pokémon game we would have wanted. It feels like an evolution on the right path to what we want, but perhaps in one or two more iterations of the Game. Pokémon Sword and Shield are very easy, whereas I remember running around in Red and Blue all those years ago getting a proper beat down from opponents. It’s not quite lived up to the open-world expectations of fans. It’s definitely a step forward in the right direction and a good game, but it’s not quite there in terms of the ideal Pokémon game. Game Freak no doubt will learn from this release in terms of missing Pokémon and build on the Wild Area, hopefully expanding this model to the rest of the game.

In summary, I enjoyed my time with Pokémon Sword and Shield. It’s great to see a full-blown Pokémon game on Nintendo Switch and I enjoy nothing more than building up my team while I’m on the commute or the sofa. It’s not a perfect game by all means, but it does leave room to build on this idea for the next iteration. If you enjoy Pokémon games then no doubt you’ll love this, and it’s also a great place to jump in if you’ve taken a break from the series. There’s room for improvement for sure, but it’s a fun time to be had for gamers of all ages and definitely one of the biggest releases of 2019 so far.

Developer: Game Freak
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 15th November 2019

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