PLATFORM: NINTENDO SWITCH
RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 14, 2019
Pokémon Sword and Shield is the first main game in the franchise to introduce players to a new set of Pokémon since 2017. The last time players got to have a go at new Pokémon was in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, or, more recently, in Pokémon Go. Fans have also asked for a proper Pokémon game for console, and the Nintendo Switch was chosen for the latest iteration of the series. Despite recent news of disappointing factors such as not every Pokémon being present in the game, there are definitely enough features to justify the new game’s release, as well as a few setbacks.
The game’s story takes place in the new Galar Region of the Pokémon world. Inspired by the lifestyle and culture of Europe, the people of the Galar Region view the Pokémon Championship as its most popular sport. Leon—the brother of the player character’s friend Hop—is the current champion of the Galar Region, and after an especially fun battle between Leon and another Gym Leader, the player and their frenemy Hop set out on their adventure, seeking to enter the Pokémon Championship in order to beat him. Along the way, the player will encounter all sorts of Pokémon, as well as other trainers, all while uncovering some important pieces of history regarding the unique phenomenon which occurs in the region. Known as Dynamaxing, this peculiar spectacle causes Pokémon to turn into massive versions of themselves, and deal tremendous amounts of damage during battles.
The story in the game is interesting, with a great cast of supporting characters. Hop is the player’s rival, also serving as a great friend who wants to improve as the player fights him—and though Leon is who the player must ultimately battle in the end, he is also always there to help. Game progression involves the process of going to a new area, battling through the trainers on the route to the next town, completing the gym challenge to beat the gym leader there, and then moving on. Of course, in between all this, players will take on another rival, Bede, who wants to work in close proximity of Chairman Rose—the person who funds the Pokémon Championship. He’s a proper rival in comparison to Hop, as he harasses the player on a consistent basis, and always poses a challenge whenever he appears. In addition to this, Team Yell causes a ruckus whenever their idol Marnie is around. She has no real control over these fans, but appreciates the effort they go through to cheer her on.
There seems to not be a whole lot of depth to these trainers, as their motives don’t appear to lead up to anything special at first. After fighting the first three Gym Leaders, however, the story starts to ramp up, and can lead to some surprising developments—such as finding out the Chairman’s true motive for investigating Dyanamaxing. Getting there will take a while, but it’s worth it to see how everything turns out—especially since there’s a lot to do after the main game with all the included post-game content.
The gameplay is what fans might expect from a Pokémon game. Players can move along the overworld to interact with Pokémon and trainers with a fixed camera angle, much like the earlier games. Almost everything from the previous entries in the franchise remains, such as the Pokémon Centers which house the Pokémart, Pokémon Name Rater, and a new Rotom PC which has Poké Jobs to get experience points for Pokémon not in the active party. Things like clothing stores and shops are all clustered together, with Gyms close by. It’s all made with convenience to the player in mind, up to the point where players can skip most of the tutorials.
Battling and managing Pokémon is also similar to past games, with a few other conveniences in mind, such as an info screen for each move while on the Battle menu, a Pokéball button on the Battle menu, and showing whether or not the move is effective against the opponent. This can make many nuances of battle—such as trying to remember type advantages—easier for players to understand. As the game progresses, trainers who tend to use the same Pokémon can expect them to overpower their opponents with ease, often knocking out enemy Pokémon in one shot.. This can make capturing wild Pokémon pretty hard, along with causing rivals to look like fools. In addition, Dynamaxing is more of a way to make a last-ditch effort during the final parts of a Gym battle or exceptionally hard fight than anything else, with the exception of Raid Battles, which will be talked about further on.
The biggest addition to the game is the Wild Area, which is one of the biggest zones in the game, containing many sections which house different Pokémon. It’s a place where gamers can meet other player trainers online through the Y-Comm and see them running around. Players can set up camps for other trainers to join in order to rest up, or perhaps cook some high-ranking curry together. While it’s not entirely interactive, as player NPCs only give random items to the player themselves, these other trainers can join in on Max Raid Battles, which are found throughout the many zones in the Wild Area. Up to four players can come together and fight one Dynamaxed Pokémon. These battles play much like a multiplayer game boss fight, where gamers can control only themselves, but it is rewarding, considering the player can capture the powerful Pokémon in the end, as well as gain post-battle treasures. These fights increase in difficulty and can be pretty hard to win at higher ranks, so players should proceed with caution, and employ their strongest Pokémon.
The graphics in Pokémon Sword and Shield are mediocre by current gaming standards. The game runs at 30 FPS when there isn’t much happening, but when there are weather effects or an intense Dynamax battle in progress, framerates tend to drop by about 5 fps, if only for a few moments. This can be annoying during certain Gym Battles, which cause a lot of effects to occur at the same time. While framerate is one issue, unfortunately the graphics also seem comparable to a 3DS game at times, considering other titles which have launched for the Switch. The textures sometimes appear washed out and blurry in the Wild Area, while later regions look pretty unique and well put together. The game also looks less-than-stellar in the Wild Area when it rains, or when a blizzard forms—and that’s disappointing considering that sort of weather is an expected occurrence in a European-inspired setting.
The different types of trainers and Pokémon are all interesting to look at, especially the new Galar Region Pokémon. The designs for these new creatures are both really cool-looking and creative. A milk cream Pokémon called Milcery can evolve into a whipped cream ice cream Pokémon called Alcremie under the right conditions. On top of the new additions are reiterations of previous Pokémon in the series such as Meowth, which has turned into a Steel-Type viking Pokémon, and Fiery Ponyta, which has changed into a Psychic/Fairy Type. These interpretations of the Pokémon are interesting and innovative, but it’s unfortunate that only a handful of the monsters received this treatment.
The music for the series has always been a treat from game-to-game, giving each one a unique interpretation of battle themes, town melodies, and musical arrangements heralding the evil teams that show up. With Sword & Shield, however, it seems the music is as mediocre as the graphics. There’s nothing extraordinary about the soundtrack for Sword & Shield, as many of the fights from battle-to-battle sound far too similar to each other. However, when battling Team Yell, rivals, and Gym Leaders, the game starts to shine with examples of unique music, such as Marnie’s theme. Unfortunately, the most-heard soundtrack is the wild battle music, which can get annoying after a while, as it seems that there’s only one song for this, and players are expected to fight wild Pokémon a lot.
Pokémon Sword and Shield is a welcome addition to the Pokémon franchise, albeit with a few hindrances that don’t take much away from the overall gameplay. The game hits all of the marks that make it a proper Pokémon game, such as the amount of content available to play through. Unfortunately, the game’s graphical defects are intrusive and immersion-breaking during many points in the game.
Final Verdict: 8.0