This is a review for Pokemon Sword and Shield. There may be some light spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned!
Pokémon has been around for over twenty years, twenty whole years, and ever since I booted up my Game Boy and saw the first introductory cutscene for Pokémon Red and Blue, I was hooked. The idea of battling, catching, raising and overcoming challenges with these adorable Pocket Monsters had enthralled me ever since I was young. And as I grew up and evolved as a person, so too did the franchise I know and love.
From battling the legendary Team Rocket in Gold, Silver and Crystal, facing ancient behemoths in Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, battling interstellar deities in Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, reflecting on the philosophical nature of enslaving these docile creatures in Black and White, saving the world from a fiery apocalypse in X and Y, and preventing a God from another dimension from stealing the light from our own in Sun and Moon, my expectations for the newest games were extremely high, to say the least.
Sword and Shield is the eighth generation of main-line Pokémon games, and the first pair of games to be released on Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch. Needless to say, the world waited with bated breath to see if the new games released by company Game Freak would match up to the standards that Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild had set with their beautiful graphics, fun game play and true leaps into the next generation.
Unfortunately, most people were disappointed.
After the first trailers and reveals for Sword and Shield were released, many of the hardcore fans of the series were utterly disappointed by the glaring issues with the game. Some people didn’t enjoy the designs of the new Pokémon, some people believed that Game Freak had cut corners with the game due to time constraints… Or out of sheer laziness. Over half of the Pokémon that people have grown up with have been cut from this game, and the removal of the National Pokédex, an item that allows you to “Catch ‘em All”, they seem to be out of the series entirely, until game Freak deems them worthy to be added back into the game at a later date.
Because the new Region where the game takes place, Galar, is based off of the United Kingdom, and the cuts to the Pokédex have sparked a huge amount of controversy across the community, the scandal was officially dubbed “Dexit”; a hilarious and topical pun for sure, but a glaring reminder that a community can be vicious when betrayed.
But this isn’t an opinion piece about how Game Freak may or may not be a lazy developer, how Nintendo is too interested in mobile games to keep track of their partner companies, or that Pokémon is a low-quality franchise… This is a review.
And my review of Pokémon Sword and Shield is that they’re good games.
I’ve put seventy hours into both versions, so I have a LOT of experience to back up my claims and opinions on the game, and the fact of the matter is that people have written off this set of games before even giving them a chance. Sword and Shield is another outing for the franchise with an interesting story, fantastic characters, great Pokémon, the best music and sound that this Franchise has had so far, and the familiar charm of the series that has remained constant throughout the decades.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Stories in Pokémon games have always been quite simple, although the later generations of games tended to pursue narrative over freedom to play how you want to play. In terms of the story itself, Sword and Shield is rather lacklustre. You go to town after town collecting Gym Badges from Gym Leaders across the Region, train and raise your Pokémon to battle stronger foes, before your hard work and dedication bears fruit when you defeat the reigning champion of the game and take his throne for yourself.
Unlike in the previous generation that followed the story of a second character and placed you into the role of an observer, or the fifth generation that had a fantastic story that rattled the very ideas of the franchise to its core with philosophy and ideals, Sword and Shield has a simple premise. Leon is the Champion, he’s never lost a single match, send him home crying and win the game!
Instead, the story and the charm that comes along with it are generated by the cast of characters that you meet along the way. The characters and their development as the story progresses are fantastic, and one of the best parts of this game. The aforementioned Leon is the Champion, the strongest Pokémon Trainer in Galar, and the target that you need to reach, Unlike in previous games, Leon is present from the very beginning of the story, and acts as a mentor and a source of encouragement for you as he dashes around the region doing good deeds and getting hopelessly lost.
Hop is Leon’s younger brother, and the first rival that you meet. He’s more friendly to you than the other two rival characters that you meet, but he’s the most competitive by far, with a passion for battle and a desire to beat not only you and the Gym Leaders of Galar, but surpass his brother and become Champion. His development is fantastic, going from an energetic and happy-go-lucky person to an anxious, almost-depressed individual after suffering loss after loss against you, desperately changing his teams and strategies as you butt heads before finally regaining his composure during the latter half of the game and proving that he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Bede is the second rival character you meet during the story, and a familiar one for the veterans of the franchise. Bede is a snarky, petty, almost venomous individual with an ego the size of a whale and a desire to win the league to prove himself to a character called Rose, the Chairman of the Pokémon League and the one who sponsored Bede to take part in the League in the first place. Bede is the bully character, the snarky rival that was prevalent in the earlier games and a person that you can always have fun knocking down when he talks big. As the game progresses, his character also develops, before becoming one of the most fun Rivals in the franchise after a surprise appearance during the waning hours of the game.
Marnie is the third and final rival, and the least-used of the trio. She takes the role of the intimidating character that’s hard to approach, only to find out that they have a heart of gold when you get to know them, like other characters in the series. Marnie is surrounded by her fans, the villainous team of this generation known as Team Yell, that are based off wild fans from football matches in the UK. Marnie herself is quite kind but has a serious nature to her that makes her a perfect third rival in the game.
Other than them, the Gym Leaders ooze with personality. The Professor character isn’t as prevalent in this game, and is mostly replaced by Sonia, a young adult that is struggling to adapt to working as a scientist and is a fantastic reflection of a modern-day adult that struggles to find their purpose in life that many older fans can relate to. Chairman Rose, although he doesn’t appear often within the story, makes for a fantastic character with great motivations and human qualities.
Overall, the Story is a solid 6/10.
The gameplay within Sword and Shield is as solid as ever, with an extra added charm that makes the game even more interesting. A lot of older mechanics have been removed to streamline the game. The Pokédex and the Town Map are both stored on your Phone as apps that you can access. Fast Travel from town to town is now done through an aerial Taxi service, which has completely removed hidden techniques and HMs from the series. Running shoes that make you move faster have been removed, and now your character moves at a constant jogging pace.
The affection mechanic that has been around since X and Y is back in generation eight, and it’s better than ever. Pokémon Camp allows you to set up a tent and rest. All the Pokémon in your party are released from their Poké Balls and are free to run around and play with each other. You can use toys to play fetch and entertain your Pokémon, and the creatures can even talk amongst themselves, argue, fight and race with each other. The bond between you and your Pokémon will continue to grow as you play and care for them, and even give you bonuses in-battle.
Pokémon Camp is absolutely my favourite feature, just for how in-depth and fun it is to use. I never expected to enjoy it as much as I have, and its sucked hours of my life away as I make sure my team is well-rested and entertained. You can also feed them by playing a curry-making minigame. The curry game uses berries you collect through your adventure, as well as special ingredients that you can buy from wandering traders within the Wild Area. There are hundreds of different combinations to try and record, and it adds a nice challenge to those who miss collecting Pokémon in the older games.
Battling in this game is as solid as ever, with quality-of-life improvements littered everywhere that make battles more streamlined and enjoyable. Every Pokémon can have up to two elemental types, and each type has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Fire beats grass, grass beats water, and water beats fire. There is a total of eighteen types in the game, with moves of those types being split into physical moves, special moves and status moves. Each Pokémon can learn four moves before needing to forget one to teach it another move. Moves can be taught through levelling up, multiple-use Technical Machine items, single-use Technical Record items and through move tutoring at a Pokémon centre. Visit one of these centres to heal your Pokémon to full health for no cost, as well as to stock up on items for the journey ahead.
Overall, the battles are a breath of fresh air while staying true to the successful formula that has made Pokémon such a renowned turn-based game. I give the gameplay a 7/10.
There are 400 Pokémon in the Galar Pokédex, with 90 of those Pokémon being brand-new. Some are staples to the series’ formula, such as the three Starter Pokémon you can choose from, the bird, the rodent, the fish and the bug Pokémon that appear during the early game, but with a few exceptions, the designs of these Pokémon are all outstanding. The regional bird, Rookidee, is based on a blue jay, but evolves into Corviknight, a huge raven wearing a suit of black armour, based on European Knights.
Some Pokémon have more to them than meets the eye, such as the mysterious Falinks, a Pokémon that may RESEMBLE a giant caterpillar, but is actually a group of six little roman soldiers that march in a Line! The part-dragon, part-ghost Dreepy is a frail lizard that evolves into Drakloak, a bigger version of itself with a little Dreepy on its head that it babysits, before evolving into the powerful Dragapult, a lizard that shoots Dreepy out of the horns on its head like Mach-speed missiles, and is based on not only the B-2 Stealth Bomber but also the Diplocaulus, an extinct amphibian with a boomerang-shaped skull, just like Dragapult!
Older Pokémon return to the game as well, including fan favourites Charizard, Tyranitar, Pikachu, Eevee and Lucario, but some of these older Pokémon have changed; just like generation seven, some Pokémon have adapted to survive in Galar, and have new Galarian Forms that have changed their appearance and type. Corsola, a happy and sweet little Pokémon based off coral, can’t survive in such harsh conditions, and eventually went extinct after being hunted by its natural predators. This has turned it into a ghost-type Pokémon with a heart-breaking frown and ghostly appendages where its coral branches used to be…
Meowth is now a Steel-type Pokémon with sharp claws and shaggy fur, based on a Main Coon. The fiery Daramuka and Darmanitan can’t cope in such cold environments and adapted to become ice–types! And some of these forms can even evolve further and into brand-new Pokémon, a trope we haven’t seen occur since 2010. Galarian Farfetch’d, a duck with a massive stick that it uses as a club can now evolve into Sirfetch’d, a hardened combat veteran whose stick has now been sharpened into a lance and shield.
Not only that, but every Pokémon barring one or two exceptions can Dynamax, a new battle-only form that makes your Pokémon grow to the size of a stadium! Some of these Pokémon are gifted with new Gigantimax forms, a version of Dynamaxing that changes their appearance as they grow. G-Max Charizard becomes a hulking monster of magma and fire. G-Max Corviknight rides the wind and uses its steel feathers as remote-controlled knives. Orbeetle, a ladybug Pokémon, becomes a huge UFO that floats around at sonic speed!
I give the new Pokémon and regional variants an 8/10 for their originality and amazing designs!
The Music in Sword and Shield is phenomenal. There’s nothing else that can be said about it, really.
Well, there obviously is. Game Freak outdid themselves with this game’s soundtrack. From the relaxed and laid-back electric strumming of Turrfield, to the grandiose and victorious theme of Wyndon. The fun, energetic and more sporty sound of Hop’s theme to the serious, funky and slap-bass heavy theme of Bede, every new location has a new song to listen to as you venture around Galar.
The Gym Leader theme is fantastic for the dynamic sound it brings. If you knock out one of their Pokémon, the melody shifts up an octave and sounds victorious until they change their Pokémon. Likewise, getting knocked out results in the theme becoming muffled and deeper, something that genuinely threw me off-guard when I first heard it and created a tense atmosphere that words, or actions simply couldn’t create. I still had five Pokémon left while the Leader only had two, but I felt an overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety when the music faded away.
Not only that, but Sword and Shield utilises a fantastic source of sound; Wild Crowds. When you bring the Leaders of each gym to their final Pokémon, the music begins to ramp up in tempo, before the song goes from minor to major and the crowd begins to chant and sing in the stadium around you, egging both sides on to Dynamax and have an explosive finale. I personally couldn’t stand using Dynamax when I first started playing, but the song alone made me slowly learn to love using the mechanic and facing down the last challenge with all my strength.
From relaxing, to mysterious, ominous and downright intimidating, the music of Pokémon Sword and Shield gets a whopping 10/10!
And finally, the Wild Area.
The Wild Area is one of the most prominent parts of this game. If you aren’t battling gyms or saving the world from the obligatory evil beasts and Team that plague the region, you’re probably going to be in the Wild Area.
This Area is brand-new, and innovative for something that has only just shown up in this generation. The Wild Area is a huge three-sectioned location at the very centre of Galar, filled to the brim with Pokémon to battle and catch. There are Pokémon in the sea that swim across the surface, Pokémon lurking in bushes or sweeping across the sky, and even extra-strong Pokémon that roam out in the open. All of them can be fought, and some may even be stronger than you until you train a little bit more, but most of the Pokémon in the game can be caught in this area.
I had a blast in the Wild Area. It felt like what an open-world game should feel like, and I’m a little bit disappointed that the Wild Area didn’t stretch across the entirety of the Region instead of just the very center of it. Despite how boring it might sound to get chased around by a Pokémon twenty levels higher than you, catch Pokémon, make curry and set up camp for the night, it never felt tedious during the hours of play that I used to explore every facet of the Wild Area.
The Wild Area also introduces Max Raid Battles. Alongside Dynamax, this is the gimmick of Sword and Shield. You can connect locally or through the internet with three other players to battle a supersized WILD Dynamax Pokémon. If you beat them, you can have a chance to catch them an add a strong creature to your party if you’ve hit a wall, unlock experience candies to level up your party further, berries and technical records to give to your Pokémon, and even a chance to find a Pokémon with a secret ability, or even a Gigantimax form if you get extremely lucky!
Weather plays a huge part in the Wild Area. Depending on what the weather in the small location you’re in is, you can encounter different types of Pokémon. You can find more Rock and Ground Types during sandstorms, Ice and Steel types during snowstorms, Water and Electric during rain, Fire and Grass on a sunny day, Dark and Bug types during overcast weather, and even Fairy and Psychic types come out to play if you find yourself in a mysterious heavy fog!
Unfortunately, there are some problems with the Wild Area. The weather can drastically change from fog to sandstorm just by stepping through to the next area, and it can feel jarring and unrealistic at times. Although saying the term ‘unrealistic’ in a game with fire-breathing tortoises and smug ducks with leek lances, a genuine flaw of the weather system is that it resets every day and cannot be changed by other means, so if you REALLY want to catch them all, you need to swallow your pride and change the clock on your Switch Manually. Giving players a way to manually change the weather in-game without forcing them to use methods that may be frowned upon would be the biggest improvement for the Area.
Because of it’s may positives and crippling negatives, I give the Wild Area a 9/10. It’s a fantastic start, but it needs a bit of polish and improvement.
Pokémon Sword and Shield has gotten a lot of flak for the controversy surrounding its development and design choices. Like I already said in the introduction, this isn’t a rant about the company’s practices, but there is certainly a lack of polish within the game that could have easily been rectified if the game had been developed for just a little bit longer.
There are also a lot of great design choices that I hope won’t be abandoned when the next set of games release, but I also said that about the gimmicks that came before Dynamaxing, so I’ve essentially come to accept that those are just traits that make a specific generation more unique.
The story is straightforward albeit a tad lacklustre, the characters are great, the gameplay is solid, the Pokémon are (Mostly!) well-designed, the music is spectacular, and the Wild Area shows promise that the series could eventually break ground and rest at the summit of good Nintendo games alongside Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey.