I’ve dabbled in every generation of Pokémon at some point in my life, playing some until the cartridge battery ran out and I no longer, much to my horror, had the ability to save the game. Each time the tried and true formula bringing a familiar feeling but always filled with that wonder of the upcoming journey, with Pokémon Sword/Shield that feeling hasn’t changed and in some ways, it is slightly amplified.
The Switch finally gets its first mainline Pokemon title, this iteration is set within the new region of Galar, which is loosely based on England. You’ll notice familiar looking scenery, countrysides and industry heavy cities populate the map. Phrases such as ‘getting shirty’ are thrown about in conversations, it’s all quite striking compared to previous instalments giving the game a very unique identity.
It’s a typical Pokemon story, young trainer sets out to catch em all, a buddy rival ‘Hop’ to keep you on your toes, gym leaders to beat and some twists and turns along the way. It’s not going to be on the best of list for Pokemon stories, but it’s enough to keep you invested in the countless hours you’ll spend completing the Gym Challenge.
The new regional Pokédex is a tricky topic to approach, unique Pokémon are plentiful with their designs looking wholly unique and fitting for the region the game is based on. While it may disappoint fans that the National Pokédex is missing, they are still plenty of Pocket Monsters to hold captive for your collection. Some of which may even become series favourites. Those worried about the number of Pokemon you can encounter shouldn’t be, you’ll find around 400 Pokemon scattered about the region.
Sword/Shield’s Wild Area is my highlight for this game, these open areas offer a whole new experience in the Pokémon world. Wild Pokémon frolic in the ever changing weather, the ability to camp out and hang out with your Poké chums is a welcome experience. This had me using my Joy con to tickle my party or throwing poke balls to play fetch with them. Fan those flames, stir the pot and get graded on your cooking skills, you and your Pokémon will hopefully like the curry you’ve just brewed. A successful cook will offer some rewards for your effort. High levelled Pokémon roam the areas, offering quite the challenge if you are not yet powerful enough. Traversing this area offers a new feel to the franchise, with free control over the game’s camera. While this is limited only to the Wild Area, I do hope in future games it is used throughout.
Connected to the Wild Area and also new to the franchise is the Dynamax Raids, which look to take a leaf out of Pokemon GO! These battles can be done solo with NPCs or online with real players. These raids have you battling a powerful Pokemon who happen to be HUGE (Dynamaxed), with boosted stats making certain battles more explosive. As well as Dynamaxing, certain Pokemon have the capability to Gigantamax. Altering the look of these Pokemon, which also grants a special G-Move. Both of these new styles do bring something new to the table but doesn’t change the formula of battling which is the same as it always has been.
Gym battles unfold inside what resemble football stadiums, each battle against its leader is now a huge spectacle with scores of people cheering on, it’s a bit of a difference compared to battles of previous games often taking place away from crowds. It makes battling even more exciting, as you feel the crowd’s energy throughout. Before you have the chance to take on each gyms leader, you first complete challenges which vary from gym to gym. Some are puzzles, whilst others could be a simple challenge.
Sword/Shield features the series best options in terms of customisation, in fact, if you wish, all your hard earn cash could go on your appearance. You have to look fantastic whilst trying to capture Pokémon; it’s the law in this region. Pop into the local stylist to change your hair, makeup and your eyebrows. With all these options available, you can truly make your character your own, fully immersing you into the life of a trainer.
Pokémon games have never been too much of a challenge to play through, with it being a game aimed towards children, it would be unfair if it was too hard to pick up and play. Pokemon Sword and Shield seems to be a lot more accessible than previous titles, mainly helped by the XP share. Although this was a feature in the some of the most recent games, XP share is permanently switched on rather than optional meaning that you don’t have to keep cycling through each individual party member to increase their level. It doesn’t make it overpowered though, your first Pokemon will receive the major XP share whilst the others sip up the remains. It means that your party should be pretty equal levelled, allowing you to fully utilise each member without having defeat after defeat.
It’s not all positive though I’m afraid to admit. I was slightly disappointed in the game’s lack of optimisation for the Switch, now before I have abuse directed this way I will say it looks fantastic on the Switch. I had occasional slowdown in crowded areas, the framerate chugging away while I run to a clear area. Pokemon and NPCs would pop into existence when I got within a certain distance, really taking me out of the immersion.
Pokémon Sword/Shield is another great title in the franchise. Although it hasn’t tried stepping out of its comfort zone too much, the game’s additions still make the new generation of Pokémon worth catching and the region of Galar worth visiting.
Pro tip – despite Auto-save been a feature, I say do it manually just for old times sake.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*