Growing up when I did, I was lucky to see the start of the Pokémon phenomenon. I saw the launch of Red and Blue, dove into the Pokémon TCG, ate up Yellow and devoured the Pokémon Movie. If there was a pocket monster on the cover, I was all over it. Nearly 22 years later and the series perseveres with its eighth generation of games launching in the form of Pokémon Sword and Shield. For me, the series is a callback to my childhood and fond memories of simpler times, I get nostalgic whenever I play one of the games.
Over the last two decades, I’ve grown and become a different person. I’ve seen places, learned a ton of new things and became an adult (or as best I can be at one). Pokémon games, for the most part, haven’t changed much since the old days though, and somehow, I find myself returning with each new iteration every few years. However, my interest in doing the same things wanes each time a new game releases, and while this year’s Pokémon Sword and Shield signal the arrival of the series on Nintendo home consoles and some generally good ideas, many ideas are stuck in the past and I find them obtuse.
For starters, the overlying experience is the same as its been. You pick your starter Pokémon, meet your friend who is also your rival, and set off into the world to capture as many Pokémon while earning regional badges. In Sword and Shield, Hop is your rival and his older brother Leon, is the Champion of the Galar Region. You and Hop quickly set off to collect and train the team that’ll defeat Leon.
The launch of Pokémon Sword and Shield doesn’t come without controversy. For months, Game Freak iterated that the National Pokédex wasn’t included. This set the community ablaze in a rather nasty way as the news quickly became known as “Dexit.” Each iteration of Pokémon includes a regional Pokédex, with roughly 400 Pokémon to capture. Eventually, you’re able to trade your collected monsters with prior games, in several different ways, some requiring work before being usable.
Want to Catch ‘Em All
With Pokémon Sword and Shield, the use of the Pokémon Bank is necessary to carry over older captures to newer games. Yet, the newest generation of games makes transferring impossible and allows for only the Regional Dex to be traded and transferred. With a little over half of the available monsters in Sword and Shield, Game Freak confirmed they had no plans on adding the missing Pokémon.
However, as someone older and less inclined to invest more time than I have into one game, the Regional Dex is more than enough for me. The new Pokémon designs are wonderful and remind me of earlier generations, and the new forms of older Pokémon are just as good. But, the reminder that not all Pokémon may lead to some resentment while making your way around the Galar Region. Each game I’ve done my part and used the transfer and trade system to create the team of my dreams and for the first time, it isn’t feasible due to lack of resources and lack of development time.
Cheese the Food
One of the best moments in Sword and Shield is the first time you venture into the Wild Area, an entirely new feature of this generation. This expansive, open field is where you’ll catch the bulk of your roster, as you explore several biomes. Wandering around the Wild Area is easily the highlight for me, moving about at my own pace while discovering new Pokémon worth capturing. You’ll even come across higher-level Pokémon that’ll mop the floor with you if you end up somewhere you shouldn’t be. Weather plays a part in the Wild Area, often hiding Pokémon worth capturing.
Furthermore, there is quite a bit to do besides capturing wild Pokémon. I spent time learning about the curry system found at camps. There are over 100 types of curry you’ll be able to cook, and many are made with special ingredients found throughout the world. By using Berries, these adjust the flavours while ingredients change the specific type of curry. Also, by cooking your Pokémon have their wounds healed and revive them if they’ve fainted. It is worth exploring and discovering the variety of recipes available to you.
Gander the Wild Area
Pokémon Sword and Shield offer the best-looking games in the series. Taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch’s hardware Game Freak gives us incredibly detailed locations to explore. Every area brimming with tiny details that you’ll want to explore. Last year’s Pokémon Let’s Go served as a remake of the original games but Sword and Shield are wholly new adventures in a new region. Towns are bigger and better, full of influence from around the United Kingdom. A series born on a handheld often felt constrained by the very same technology but the move to a home console offers a fair amount of improvements. Seeing wild Pokémon in the overworld is still one of my favourite additions to the series, and so the removal of HMs.
For one, Pokémon come in all shapes in sizes and for the first time, that shows. You’ll come across an Onix towering over you that on a handheld didn’t look quite that large, or a Butterfree that somehow is bigger than you remember.
Through and through, this is a Pokémon game. You know what to expect in terms of gameplay and the beats are the same as any other title in the series. Battles are fairly standard offering one-on-one battles against gym leaders, trainers, and more. Gone are Mega Evolutions, replaced with Dynamaxing an ability that allows your Pokémon the ability to transform into a massive version of itself with inflated hit points and attack power. Others have the ability to Gigantamax, which adjusts their stats as well as their appearance in some interesting ways; Charizard, for example, gains a flame tail and wings, and unlocks a G-Max move – the downside is you only get three turns like this before returning to normal.
Another new feature is the Max Raid Battles, which is my favourite part of the new games. Max Raid Battles allow up to four players joining together and battling giant Pokémon. To win, you’ll have to work together to defeat the massive opponent and by doing so, earn special prizes and the opportunity to capture unique Pokémon. Joining with others is a blast and breaks up the regular wave of battles in an exciting new feature I hope continues into new games.
As for Gyms in Galar, each one is now a spectacle with a crowd waiting to watch you succeed. I prefer the way Sun and Moon treated gyms, but this is serviceable. The difficulty is about the same as you expect from the series but Dynamax battles offer some strategy.
Pokémon Sword and Shield inch us closer to the ideal Pokémon game. While not exactly what we’ve wished for all these years, Game Freak sets us in the right direction. I adore the new Pokémon designs and location and the Wild Area is a great addition, but the habitual storyline is less desirable. I’ve grown up and I want one of the most important franchises in gaming to do the same instead of taking two steps back for every one step forward. As fresh as these new games feel on Nintendo Switch, both have many of the same problems as the old games. Playing Pokémon Sword and Shield is a ton of fun and you know what you’re getting into even though the formula isn’t as revolutionary as we’d hoped.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]