Pokémon Sword and Shield took the Nintendo world by storm with its release in November of 2019.
The release marked the first time that any Pokémon game had been released straight to home console in the nearly twenty-year history of Pokémon. The announcement of Pokémon Sword and Shield left some fans concerned that this meant the death of the Nintendo handheld and others excited to see the possibilities of bringing these games to a larger format.
Pokémon has always been one of the shining jewels in Nintendo’s crown, making the company extremely hopeful for its release. The game sold a massive amount of units, but it still definitely shook up some of the elements that fans were familiar with.
Much to the delight of many fans, including myself, Game Freak kept the Pokémon format largely untouched. We still get our gym challenge, three unique-to-the-region starter Pokémon, and special legendaries to catch.
What is Pokémon Sword and Shield?
The game starts you off following the typical storyline in your hometown of Postwick. The new Galar region is largely based around the United Kingdom, which explains the abundance of Wooloo.
You start the game by getting limited customization options to make the character look more like you. This aspect was so limited that it was frustrating after X and Y, but, fear not! The moment you cross the Wild Area into Motostoke, you can change your entire appearance in the boutiques and hair salons.
What are the starters?
As is routine in Pokémon games, you get to choose from a sickeningly cute selection of starter Pokemon. Sobble, the water type, Scorbunny, the fire type, and Grookey, the grass type. Make up your first choice of Pokémon and they actually have decent evolution trees with the major disappointment that there’s no Dynamax form for their killer final forms. While they are supposed to “fix” this in the new expansion pass, this just seemed like a major oversight for the base game.
Game Freak did a great job with the play value of Sword and Shield. They flesh out the story to extend gameplay and give you a wide range of dynamic characters that grow and change with you while you are on your Gym Challenge journey.
Each version of the game offers a unique gym challenge by giving you two exclusive gym leaders per game version. Replaying the opposite version of the game now not only has worth for the exclusive Pokémon but for a different gym challenge experience.
Unlike previous versions of the game, your story no longer ends with the gym challenge and continues well beyond, thanks to an intertwined side story that your trusty friend Sonia is following through the entire game. To further flesh out the game, Game Freak gives you a peek into the lives of the futures of the other characters, including your rival, Sonia, and the former champion of the gym challenge, Leon.
Graphically, the game was beautiful if not an upscaled 3DS game. Compared to other Pokémon games, this game steps up their game, though, thanks to the move to the Switch. Your Pokémon can be more detailed and are more animated than in previous generations, making the game feel more immersive. Your character has more unique options to customize their look and your play style, allowing you to change and tweak everything from your clothing and hair to the color of your biking outfit. The move to the Switch also makes the world more interactive and expansive because there is a larger amount of space to play with on the cartridge.
Co-op and Max Raid Battles
Co-op in this new generation is also a definite plus for the system. The wireless internet access of the age and the Switch allows us to connect to surprise trade to collect more Pokemon and allows us to hook up to the Mystery Gift system and get exclusive Dynamax forms of Pokémon. Much like other generations, you can battle other trainers that are online or you can request to trade with your friends using a unique pin code.
The newest feature for co-op play is the Max Raid Battles in the Wild Area. Max Raid battles enable you and up to 3 other friends the chance to work together to battle Dynamax Pokemon and gain unique rewards.
All players have the opportunity to catch the Pokemon at the end of the battle and the reward of XP candies makes the leveling process a hundred times easier. The equity of this system is not only kid-friendly but friendly to those of us players who are still getting used to this new system.
Nintendo also does exclusive events for these Raid battles that allow you to catch exclusive Dynamax Form Pokemon, some of which are exclusive to either version of the game.
Even with all of the good this game has to offer, there were aspects of the gym challenge and the training that were lackluster for me as a player.
First of all for me as a player was that you couldn’t customize your gym challenger outfit at all. This game plays itself out so much like a true RPG that the lack of being able to do so was a little… odd.
After each Gym Challenge, you’re provided with the uniform that the specific gym leader has… yet, you have no ability to wear these within your next Gym Challenge. You can wear them around the world freely, but I was stuck the entire game wearing the Rotom color-themed uniform. I tried to write this off as it would require more intense programming, but, given that you are featured in trainer battles in the Galar region wearing whatever clothing you want, the programming is actually already in the game.
The grind of this Pokémon also seemed incredibly dulled down. While this is a game aimed toward a more youthful audience, there has always been a system to grind level your Pokemon, especially your low-level Pokemon. This game features EXP Share, which is something that has been featured since the second generation of Pokemon. Unlike all previous generations, however, where EXP Share was an Item that could be turned on and off, this time it’s a built-in system for the game.
For less experienced players or for players looking to speedrun the storyline, this is a great system. It helps you catch a level 5 pocket monster and grind it up higher without ever actually doing battle.
But… it largely took away from the challenge of grinding levels and steals experience from the Pokémon that are in battle. When you’re trying to grind your level 5 Eevee to be able to get a Sylveon, this is more than frustrating. You have to empty your party to be able to retain the experience and increase your grind. The system is great at the beginning of the game and almost entirely ineffective once you’re toward the end of the storyline.
Despite its flaws, overall, Pokémon Sword and Shield provide one of the best Pokémon experiences so far. The replayability of the game is what really sells me on recommending this to consumers. Much like a traditional RPG, there are hundreds of hours that you can put into the grind that is Sword and Shield. With the announcement that Game Freak has made a two installment Expansion Pass for this generation, it only looks like our experience will continue to get better (and longer) than ever.
Pokémon Sword and Shield