Developer: GAME FREAK Inc.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download (Pokémon Shield)
No. of Players: up to 4 players
Release Date: November 06, 2020 (Worldwide)
Price: $89.99 USD
A Triumphant return to Galar as we revisit our previous review for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield and give it a well-needed update as we package in Expansion Pass details covering The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra. (Original review by Mike Scorpio with updated content by Solid Jack)
The year was 1996, Pokémon 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 Pokémon game since the Gameboy and has continued to grow in popularity with every generation. The latest instalment 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 games follow the same typical story arch. You play as a young individual beginning their journey to be a Pokémon Trainer.
Along the way, you must fight and catch as many different types of Pokémon that you can, with the ultimate goal, of course, to take on Gym Leaders with the hopes to make it into the Pokémon League of that region and become a Pokémon Master. Now, while Sword & Shield choose to ignore some of the steps taken in Sun & Moon, there are some formula changing steps elsewhere in the game.
Base Game Content: 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 ideal starter, 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 Poké Balls and 30,000 Poké Dollars (Thanks Mum!). You then set off on your grand adventure to become a Pokémon Master.
The Isle of Armor: For the players seeking something a little more than just becoming a Pokémon Master, they can head East on a mission to become a student to the man who taught Leon everything he knows about being a Pokémon Master and prove yourself worthy of training a different kind of Legendary Pokémon, all whilst exploring a stunning island with plenty of interesting locales.
The Crown Tundra: For even more added story, however, players are free to head South to the Crown Tundra, where they can team up with the explorer Peony and embark on three legendary quests that will see you rediscovering the Legendary bird trio, learning and meeting a big-headed Pokémon called Calyrex, whom desperately requires your head and wake sleeping giants, all before you can prove just how masterful you really are and take on the Galarian Star Tournament.
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: (Revised)
Base Game Content: 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 colour 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 400 Pokémon in the base game.
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, 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 Isle of Armor: Get ready for more of the same just in new locations as the first sees the Expansion Pass taking players to the Isle of Armor. A wonderous island seperated from the mainland and home to its own varierty of Pokémon that it even needs its own Pokédex just to keep up with them all.
Still, there’s more than a new island to explore, the entire landmass and surrounding waters are a Wild Area with the DLC area having its very own story geared up around a dojo for players to train out, fun missions to complete, two towers to choose between, some epic battles and the means to create Max Soup, a useful item for Gigantamaxing Pokémon capable of Gigantamaxing, which includes all final evolved forms of the Kanto starters and Galar starters. There’s also the means of evolving your Galarian Slowpoke into a Galarian Slowbro!
The Crown Tundra: Not to be outdone by the Isle of Armor, the Crown Tundra is the second DLC content-packed location that deserves just as much, if not even more praise. It might not be as warm as Armor, but this new part of mainland Galar is something to be admired. It’s biggest takeaway is how it expands on story with having a huge focus on capturing various Legendary Pokémon, but it also boasts its very own Pokédex and adds even more previously unavailable Pokémon to the game’s overall line-up. Not all 898 can be used in-game just yet, but we’re a lot closer to that number now than we were with the base game.
On top of more Pokémon, there’s also Dynamax Adventure, a fun side venture where players can team up in groups of four and take on a special raid den where they must win three normal Dynamax battles, in the hopes of doing a fourth battle against whatever Legendary Pokémon is at the end of it, waiting for them at the time and yes, you can shiny hunt. The only downside to this new mode, however, is the Pokémon you use, are not your own as you have to rent them, with the option of catching those you bet to better your chances and, and you can also get a Galarian Slowking now too.
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: (Revised)
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! and 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 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 behaviour 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, which is then corrected with the release of the game’s two DLC areas.
Thanks to the new locations, players are able to take in new sights with plenty more wild Pokémon roaming freely and it is an absolute joy to behold. The world of Pokémon is expanding and it makes us all the more eager to see what could possibly happen next.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield have been such a joy to play and it is difficult to find faults though we are that long-term Pokémon fans will certainly find a few issues. We’d 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 we aren’t too fond of are some of the design renders of certain Pokémon. A lot of them lack depth to a few of their features and look very two dimensional. Features like eyes, mouth, body segmentation lack depth and look like they were pencilled on. However, this is just a personal opinion and observation but it doesn’t really affect my overall thoughts on the game.
One area we must offer praise, however, has to be the Expansion Pass. Both The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra are absolutely beautiful. One area is geared up for exploration and the other is for story and both borrow the Wild Area element from the main game and endeavour to improve how best to implement it. The story of Galar was already an interesting one and now thanks to new characters, settings and stories, Generation 8 just got a whole lot more interesting.
For a few of us at Miketendo64, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield rekindled our love for Pokémon in a way that hasn’t been done in a long time. It might not be the complete game-changer many had hoped it would be, but it’s easily accessible to new players, has plenty for experienced players to become the best there ever was and instead of a third instalment, we can an incredible piece of DLC in the form of the game’s Expansion Pass. Both parts took the story and beauty of Galar to new heights and a welcomed addition, even though it comes at an added cost.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
To check out more reviews by the Miketendo64 Review Team, feel free to click here.Tags: Feature, Game Freak, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Pokémon, Pokémon Shield, Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass, Pokémon Sword, Pokémon Sword Expansion Pass, review, Switch Review, The Pokémon Company
This post was written by Jack Longman