Developer: GAME FREAK Inc.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Digital Version (Pokémon Shield)
Category: Role-Playing, Adventure
No. of Players: 1-4 players (Local Wireless/Online)
Release Date: November 15th, 2019 (Worldwide)
Price: $59.99 USD
The year was 1996, Pokemon Red & Green (Blue) first released to the world on the Nintendo Gameboy and became an international phenomenon. It spawned a trading card game, anime TV series and films, multiple spin-offs, eight generations of mainline titles and more merchandise than any other known franchise.
Practically every Nintendo console, both handheld and home console has had some kind of variant of Pokemon game since the Gameboy and has continued to grow in popularity with every generation. The latest installment to the series is Pokémon Sword & Pokémon Shield. It is the first in the mainline series to come to a home console and has since been met with a rather divided fanbase leading up to its release.
The mainline Pokémon series all follow a similar story arch. You are a young person beginning their journey as a Pokémon Trainer. Along the way, you must fight and catch as many different types of Pokémon that you can. The ultimate goal, of course, is to take on Gym leaders with the hopes to make it into the Pokémon League of that region and become a Pokémon Master.
Things are not much different in this game. Where Pokémon Sun & Moon and Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon dared to step out of their comfort zone with not including a league, Pokémon Sword & Shield return to the Gym and League formula and makes changes elsewhere.
Welcome to the Galar region, based on the United Kingdom. You play as the player character who is about to embark on their Pokémon journey. Your in-game best friend Hop becomes your friendly rival who lives in the shadow of his big brother, the undefeated Champion Leon. When Leon comes to visit his hometown of Postwick, he gives you the option to choose one of three Pokémon; Grookey, Scorbunny & Sobble.
After choosing your Pokémon, Hop will choose the one your Pokémon is super effective against. Leon will be left with the Pokémon that is strong against yours. The both of you begin to set off on your adventure when you find that a Wooloo has escaped into the dark woods known as Slumbering Weald.
The pair of you go into the woods and find yourselves surrounded by a thick fog. During this fog, a wild Pokémon in the form of a wolf appears, you try to fight it but your attacks do nothing to the beast. You and Hop then pass out and reawaken when Leon comes to find you.
After regaining consciousness, you have to head back to your house and say goodbye to your mother. She gives you some provisions for your big journey, including 5 Pokéballs and 30,000 Poké Dollars (Thanks Mum!). You then set off on your grand adventure to become a Pokémon master.
The main gameplay formula for Pokémon Sword & Shield is very much like any other Pokémon game. You have to find, fight and catch Pokémon to build up a team of your 6 strongest Pokémon. From there, you must take on each of the 8 Gym Leaders to earn their badges that will allow you to train and raise higher-level Pokémon.
There are 400 different Pokémon to catch and raise, which is just under half of the 800 0r so Pokémon over the series’ history. The lack of the national dex has caused a number of fans to turn sour against the game but 400 Pokémon is still quite a number that I have still yet to reach, though I am almost 3 quarters of the way there.
Pokémon Battles are the real focus, especially against other NPC trainers or real-life players. Each trainer takes it in turns to attack, with the fastest Pokémon in battle going first. All Pokémon can use one of four different moves that can directly attack, increase/lower stats and/or cause status effects. Players then go back and forth until one team has no more Pokémon to battle.
As well as attacking, trainers also have the option to swap out Pokémon, use items or Run (only possible against Wild Pokémon. When fighting wild Pokémon, if you get the opposing Pokémon weakened enough, you may get the opportunity to catch it providing you have Pokéballs. Some Pokéballs are more effective against different types of Pokémon. Net Balls are good against Water and Bug Pokémon, Dusk Balls are good for catching Pokémon at night or in dark areas, etc.
There are several towns connected by routes for players to visit. The routes provide areas for trainers to find wild Pokémon and the occasional trainer battle. As you progress, the level of the wild Pokémon will gradually get higher, which gives you a general idea of what level your own Pokémon should be when you reach the next Gym Leader.
In the eight major towns, there is a Gym, a Pokémon Center or two and any of the following amenities; Boutique, Hair Salon, Move Tutor, Battle Café, etc. The gyms differ somewhat from other games in that each one has a Gym mission to be completed first. Some are in the form of puzzles, others can be in the form of a quiz. There are still gym trainers to beat before going up against the leader of the Gym and their type-specific Pokémon.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
When it comes to content, there is quite a lot of it in Pokémon Sword & Pokémon Shield. Features that have been staples in the other Pokémon games make a return like Berries, item holding, and breeding. Berries work like just like items but when held by a Pokémon, the Pokémon will automatically use it when needed, without using up a turn in battle. Pokémon can also hold other items that can give increase the power of certain moves, generate HP of hurt enemies when attacked.
Some Pokémon are not so easily found, especially stage 1 forms on later routes. If you have an evolved Pokémon that you want another first form of, or you want to get another first form Pokémon to trade with a friend. The Pokémon Nursery is the place to meet such needs. You can leave a male & female of the same type of Pokémon and can get an egg that will hatch into another Pokémon. Should you not have both a male and female Pokémon, Dittos can be used to substitute the one you’re missing.
Customization of your avatar in Pokémon Sword & Shield is the most expansive it has ever been for the series. You can customize the look of your character from hair and eyebrow color and styles to every piece of clothing that you can wear in-game; Shoes, Socks, Jacket, Hats, T-shirts, etc. Such accessories can be purchased at Boutiques and Hair Salons. You can change your attire any time you like at the Boutique for free but hairstyles and makeovers are charged every time.
A new feature is Pokémon Camp. This allows you to play with your Pokémon and interact with them. It also helps to build your friendship levels with them and cook curries for them to help them earn experience and regain HP and sometimes PP as well. There are about 80 different curries to make that use a blend of ingredients and berries. Some Pokémon can only evolve after they meet the correct friendship levels so you will have to camp out and make curries if you truly want to catch all 4oo Pokémon.
The last few generations of Pokémon Games have introduced some kind of unique feature or gimmick to mix things up a little bit from previous entries. X & Y introduced Mega Evolutions that allowed some of your favorite Pokémon to take on a temporary mega evolution in battles. Pokémon Sun & Moon and Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon introduced Z-Moves. This time around, Pokémon can Dynamax which makes them really, really Big.
Dynamaxing works with practically any Pokémon that you catch with the exception of a few that I won’t mention as to avoid spoilers. Dynamaxing can only be down at certain places including Raid Battle Dens and Stadiums where battles with Gym leaders take place. Some Pokémon also have the added luxury of Gigantamaxing. This makes the Pokémon change form, as well as size and a G-Max Special Move as well. Both Dynamaxing and Gigantamaxing last for only three turns and can only be done once in battle.
In the general center of the map, there is an area known as the Wild Lands. Here, you can find high-level Pokémon to fight and catch. However, you can’t catch Pokémon that are higher than your corresponding badge. If you want to catch stronger, higher-level Pokémon, you will have to beat the Gym Leaders until you get the badge you need to catch those tougher ‘Mons.
As well as tough Wild Pokémon, you can also find useful items lying around and red flower looking constructs known as dens. These dens can activate and possess Dynamax Pokémon for trainers to do Max Raid Battles against. Up to four trainers can team up online or via Local Wireless to take on the Wild Dynamax Pokémon. Players can opt to go it alone with AI trainers filling the ranks but more often than not, the AI trainers send out poorly chosen Pokémon with poor stats and a weakness to the opposing Pokémon.
In regards to playing with others online, as well as teaming up to participate in Max Raid battles, players can also have battles against each other or trade Pokémon together. You can battle strangers or people you know depending if you use a special pin code or not. If you use a code and share it with a friend, you will be able to connect with them much quicker. Of course, if you are actually with your friend, you can use Local Wireless instead.
Another feature that returns is Mystery Gift. This allows players to receive promotional items or Pokémon via the internet, with a code or via the Pokéball Plus. Speaking of gifts, if you are connected to the Internet, you will find other trainers roaming around the Wild Lands. You can’t battle them except the ones that are available to fight when offline. Instead, by speaking to them, you will get items or ingredients which you can either use in your curries or sell if you are a little short on cash.
Pokémon Centers have had a huge overhaul this time around as well. Instead of only healing your Pokémon and checking your boxes, the Pokémart is found inside the Pokémon Center as well. The Nickname Rater can also be found here who can rate and rename you Pokémon, as well as help them remember moves or memories. He is very helpful when you have caught a high-level Pokémon that has forgotten previous moves that you would prefer they had.
Pokémon Boxes can be accessed immediately by going to your Party and then pressing R. They can still be accessed the old fashioned way at Computers in the Pokémon Center but these computers have other functions now as well. They can be used to check out Poké Jobs, which allows your Pokémon to go out and do tasks in return for Experience. The Lotto ID gives you a chance to win prizes if the number matches any one of Your captured Pokémon’s ID numbers. You can also edit your League Card which is kind of like your Profile card that displays the information of Pokémon caught, Badges owned, Pokémon in your party, etc.
The Pokémon series has always had some great catchy tunes that help make up the heart and soul of the games. Sword & Shield still maintains that level of audio quality along with some songs composed by Toby Fox (Undertale, Little Town Hero). New additional tracks include when walking into the Stadiums and hearing the vast audience chanting as you step on to the field and battle the Gym Leaders and the sound of Bagpipes as you wander around the Wild Lands.
The Sound effects have not changed much since the previous games and you can still hear the distinct moan and cry of each Pokémon as you enter a battle. The Wild Pokémon that roam freely in the overworld can also be heard as well as seen and can give away the identity of whichever critter is hiding among the long grass.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
For those that were hoping that the next generation of Pokémon would be shown in next-generation 3D models, you will be disappointed. While most models do look like that have been ripped right out of Sun & Moon and Let’s Go, Pikachu!/ Let’s Go, Eevee!, they have been refined to look decent on the larger screen of the Nintendo Switch and on TV compared to the 3DS.
Pokémon battle animations also look like they have been recycled from previous games but that didn’t bother me too much. After all, I still drink my tea or eat my food the same way I have for the last 20 odd years. This is my behavior and I don’t it is going to change in the next 2 or 20 years either. The same can be said for Pokémon as well and why should the animations change simply because it is a new generation? They are still the same Pokémon after all.
The actual style of the game does well to capture the essence of the British isles from the quiet, lofty villages to the industrialized cities. From the trailers, it is easy to feel put off that it is not much different from other series entries but when you actually play, you will see both subtle and not so subtle differences that will make you appreciate the game all the more.
As regards to performance, I had a very solid experience. I never experienced any type of frame rate drops. Loading times between visiting different areas can seem a bit long but it helps for a smoother experience on the whole. I didn’t even mind when characters and Pokémon all of a sudden popped onto the screen. I know that these were all little tricks to help the game not have to sacrifice its frame rate and resolution quality. The game felt much better for it though I can understand why some people may feel a bit let down by it. The world never felt barren of life but at the same time, you wished that you could see even more Pokémon roaming around you.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield have been such a joy to play and it is difficult to find faults though I am sure that long-term Pokémon fans will certainly find a few issues. I do have a couple of issues though, mostly with the multiplayer aspect. When it comes to Max Raid Battles online, while it is much more efficient to play with other players, it seems that only one person can catch the Dynamax Pokémon during a raid. I tried multiple times to catch the Dynamax Pokémon at the end of a raid with an Ultra Ball, only to have the Pokémon escape immediately after.
I would have liked a bit more interaction when playing with others online in Max battles or whilst trading. You can’t specify what Pokémon you are looking for and more often or not, the other trainer will simply disconnect if they don’t like the Pokémon you are offering. A few simple commands like “Not That One” or “I Am Looking For…” would help make trading with unknowns much easier.
One thing I didn’t like too much is some of the design renders of certain Pokémon. A lot of them lack depth to some of their features and look very two dimensional. Features like eyes, mouth, body segmentation lack depth and look like they were penciled on. However, this is just a personal opinion and observation but it doesn’t really affect my overall thoughts on the game.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield has rekindled my love for Pokémon that I have not felt for the series since Red & Blue. It is easily accessible to new players and has plenty for experienced players to become the best there ever was.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*A download key was provided by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review.
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