Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Exclusive)
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Pokemon Sword and Shield is the first truly new Pokemon game on the Nintendo Switch platform. While there was Pokemon Pikachu & Eevee in 2018, they were only remakes of the first Pokemon games and not really new.
Sword and Shield comes with some long-overdue and much-needed changes. For one, the game is now in proper 3D and you can rotate the camera with the right stick. This makes it feel much more modern and was absolutely necessary. The Pokemon also have their moves properly animated (each move has its own unique attack animation), and you can see Pokemon physically walking around in the world. Random encounters in grass are also still there to mix things up. Another ease-of-life feature is that you can teach any Pokemon moves it didn’t learn, or that were overridden to learn a different move instead. If you by accident taught your Pokemon a move you don’t like (e.g. an attack that also damages your Pokemon with each use), you can simply go to a Pokemon Center and copy back any previous move. It doesn’t cost anything and can be done as often as you want. Small things like this can make a giant difference. The weather also affects what Pokemon you can encounter. There are various weather conditions such as Snowstorm, Intense Sun, Rain and more. Each Pokemon is tied to specific weather in an area and some are only found hidden in the grass or water while others are only found visibly walking around the world. Oh, and of course there is a new generation of Pokemon, too!
It’s worth pointing out that Sword and Shield each have some Pokemon exclusive to them and also some Gym Leaders are unique to each version. Obtaining all Pokemon is not possible without someone with the other version trading you the exclusive Pokemon.
The campaign is the usual – beat all Gym Leaders for their Gym Badges. At the end, you get to face off in the Championships. Your goal in the story is to become the Champion, first you must get all Gym Badges to enter the Championships, then beat all other contestants. There is a cool new feature tied to arenas, called “Dynamaxing”. It allows one of your Pokemon to grow bigger and more powerful for 3 turns. The attacks also change to special Dynamax moves. Your opponent can Dynamax one of their Pokemon too, which they always reserve for the final and most powerful Pokemon. It adds a little bit of extra tactical gameplay and looks awesome to see your Pokemon in a different form.
The Pokedex boasts 400 Pokemon. It’s a mix of old generations, a completely new generation not seen before, and some old Pokemon have new shapes and evolution forms (called Galarian forms because the game takes place in Galar Region). The amount of Pokemon is a big discussion point for many players because over half of all invented Pokemon are not in the game at all. You may find that some of your favorites didn’t make the cut.
Personally, I feel that cramming 800+ Pokemon into it would have made it too overcrowded. The Pokemon density in the game world is already overcrowded as is. It’s not a particularly big game world, but catching, hatching and evolving all 400 Pokemon is still going to keep you busy for weeks or even months. To me, 400 is just right and having every single Pokemon in the game would feel forced. It would require a much bigger game overall, which Sword & Shield simply is not. That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of things to do though. In fact, it has quite a lot of features to offer. There are Raid Battles, a Battle Tower after beating the story, Ranked Online Matches, trading Pokemon with Friends, the Wild Area where you can encounter and catch some high-level Pokemon, some little Side Quests and more. I didn’t mind that half the Pokemon in existence were missing, but rather it forced me to play with some Pokemon I’m not used to. It’s good to mix things up every once in a while.
Beating the story can be accomplished in about 12 hours if you were to put text speed to the maximum and turn off attack animations. However, the animations are really nice to look at so it’s something you probably don’t want to switch off, at least not until the Battle Tower by which point you’ve seen most combat moves a dozen times anyway. A relaxed run with a balanced team and combat animations turned on might take you around 20 hours, or longer if it’s your first Pokemon game and you’re unfamiliar with each elemental weakness/strength. My main gripe with the game is that it’s way too easy. I didn’t lose a single match from start to end. The main reasons for this are that automatic XP share between your Pokemon (thus you always have all Pokemon in your party adequately leveled) and you can always go to the Wild Area to immediately catch a Pokemon that’s near your level. There is no such thing as getting stuck on a Pokemon Gym, just go to the wild area to catch a Pokemon that’s strong against the Gym Leader’s Element and you’ll one-hit all the opposing Pokemon. I never even felt the need to go back to the Wild Area, aside from catching a Snorlax that I really wanted for my team. The game just feels void of any challenge. It’s still fun to catch all the Pocket Monsters, but the actual battles are way too easy. You can even use infinite numbers of Max Potions or Max Revives to fully restore/revive your Pokemon. The AI (Computer controller opponents) are also fighting very foolishly, they don’t switch out their Pokemon at all to match them to your type. Even when they have a move that would be super effective against your Pokemon, they often opt for a move that is less effective and doesn’t hurt you much. At least a little sense of challenge would have been nice. Raid Battles aren’t that hard either, because you are joined by Offline NPCs or other Online Players/Friends to fight the big Pokemon together.
If you’re mainly just in it to catch all Pokemon and not looking for a challenge with the combat, then you won’t mind these flaws.
*Overall Enjoyment Factor, Fascination with Game World, Level Design, Variety, Playability, User-Friendliness (Ease of Use / Readability / Controls / in-game Tutorials / Menus)
+ Some much needed and appreciated changes: it’s now a proper 3D game (no longer 2D), All Combat Moves have unique Animations, Weather impacts Pokemon spawns, Dynamaxing adds some extra tactical thinking, Raids are something extra, Forgotten Moves can be relearned for free at any Pokemon Center. A lot of changes that make the game feel fresh and more user-friendly.
– Bad AI
*Quality of the Campaign
The easiest, and possibly shortest Pokemon campaign ever. Doesn’t provide even the faintest sense of challenge. From winning one gym to the next it only takes about 30-40 minutes without any need to level up in between.
*Graphics, Texture Quality, Character Details, Lighting, Weather Effects, Animations, Loading Times, Number of Loading Screens, does it run smoothly
+ For Pokemon it’s a big step up over what it was before.
+ The graphics are good for the Switch, very colorful and feels just right for a Pokemon game.
– Environments and towns are a bit too small and simplistic.
*Amount of Content, Production Quality, Replay Value, is there enough content to justify a purchase
Just like other Pokemon games, you could spend weeks or even months playing this, catching and evolving all Pokemon. The Battle Tower after the story and the Raid Battles add replay value in the long term. While the story is a bit short, Sword & Shield does offer more features than other Pokemon games, so there is enough to keep you playing for a while.
|Extraordinary Score Increase or Deduction
*Reserved for extraordinarily good or bad features that the other categories don’t cover (such as game-breaking bugs). This score is directly added/subtracted from the final score.
Pokemon finally joins the 21st century by going off the 2D Standard and incorporates many long-overdue changes that make it a more user-friendly experience. Albeit void of any challenge, it’s a leap in the right direction, and worth checking out for all age groups.
A Review copy was provided for free by the publisher.
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