If there ever comes a day where I don’t care about a new mainline Pokémon game, ask me as many questions as you can, and try to see if I was hacked, because I don’t think there will ever be a day where Pokémon doesn’t have my heart, soul, and wallet all lined up in adoration.
And Sword and Shield, despite all the concerns raised since the first reports of the game came out, continues that time-honored tradition of stealing my heart and all of my free time.
First, I want to say that the complaints of low quality graphics seem to be unfounded. I know that was a huge gripe for a lot of folks when they watched the promo materials, but I have to say from personal experience that I found the graphics to be just fine. Plus, Pokémon has never been about hyper-realistic graphics, so I can live with some cartoony flavor in my life.
ANYWAY, that one bit aside, Sword and Shield have been, at their heart, a great time! Taking us to the Galar region at last, introducing the Dynamax phenomenon, and playing host to a new group of Pokémon, they’ve brought a lot of new features and faces to the table that I’m pretty pleased with.
For one, on a base level, the UI felt smooth. We no longer have to return to the Pokémon Center to use a PC, and renaming Pokémon or learning/deleting moves is free and accessible in every town. You can control whether a newly caught Pokémon goes to your party or a box, you can use the touchscreen to give them nicknames, and you can rearrange your menu screen to your liking (or just press your R button to reach the save screen, simple as that). It seems like an odd thing to praise first when there are NEW CREATURES to yell about, but I really have to admit I’m pleased with the way the UI works.
But now those new creatures. Oh man. THE GOOD STUFF. While I’m bummed we didn’t get another Eeveelution, and that the overall new Pokémon count is a little low, especially when you exclude new regional forms of existing Pokémon, I actually like a lot of the new designs! One of my personal favorites is Snom, the little snow worm that evolves into a pretty snow moth when you become BEST FRIENDS, and who can forget sweet, fluffy Wooloo, best of sheep? Or the entire Scorbunny line, which is a fiery soccer rabbit and therefore targeting my existence specifically? Or the gently confused but highly adorable Dreepy line, still working out this whole ghost thing? Or the fossil Pokémon, which are based on Britain’s whole “smash some fossils together until they make a thing even if it’s totally fake” deal? Or, or, or, or…
Seriously, though. While I don’t love every single design (no one ever does! yay for personal tastes!), I do like a lot of them, and I’m excited to have quite a few of my favorites on my team for Sword! When I start Shield, I expect I’ll be including a few of the nice version-exclusives on that team as well.
Also, if you have a Snom or Frosmoth with its Hidden Ability, hmu. Please.
DESPERATE BID FOR HA SNOM ASIDE, another amazing new feature of Sword and Shield is the Wild Area and the Dynamax battles that come with it. Someday, I’d love to play a Pokémon game that operates largely like the Wild Area does, with free-roaming Pokémon, and ways to specifically encounter stronger than usual Pokémon in the form of co-op raids. In my head, it’s like a cross between Breath of the Wild and Pokémon (which may also just mean I need to get back into BotW, but I digress). The important part is the Wild Area is fun to explore, the Dynamax battles even more fun to complete.
I actually think the raids you can participate in in the Wild Area are the shining heart of the new games. Far better in co-op than in solo (I do recommend having a Nintendo Switch Online subscription for max enjoyment, and recommend the $35/year family plan for up to seven people if you’re going to do that), the battles provide a way to get stronger Pokémon, useful items, and for the lucky few, Hidden Abilities and even shinies!
No, I haven’t found a shiny yet. I tend to have rotten shiny luck. 😢
These battles only get more intense as you progress through the game, too, scaling in a way that feels mostly reasonable to me.
As for the game itself, and the story and cast, I was mostly satisfied! For one, folks keep complaining about Hop, and I can’t see why. Scratch that, I can see that they’re allergic to a rival who actually has some self-confidence (even if it’s misplaced because when does the player ever lose tbh?) and finds joy in what he does. Plus, he actually deals with being in his brother’s shadow and becoming his own person, so in my eyes, he’s a far more interesting rival than Blue, who just kind of…is rude to you and leaves. Why do folks want that again? Remind me?
Anyways, Hop defense aside (HOP IS GOOD, THAT’S MY FINAL WORD ON THE MATTER), I liked the story as well! While it could have dug deeper (oh, Gen 5, how we miss the moral conundrums and deep diving storylines you presented), I loved the track it took regarding known history versus true history, and I enjoyed the roles side characters played. Sonia had a fun, simple arc, and I liked the tiny bits of history we got about her and Leon, who started their Pokémon journeys at the same time. Bede and Marnie were interesting in their own ways, too, each one weighed down by certain external expectations, and while they weren’t my rivals in quite the way Hop was, I liked battling them now and again.
Come to think of it, I think there’s only one big disappointment hanging over the game, and it seems to be a certain shallowness. Since it’s been one year since the Let’s Go games, and two since Ultra Sun and Moon, I can’t help but feel that Gen 8 was rushed out the door. The storyline, while fun, doesn’t dive especially deep, and the new lineup of Pokémon is missing some of the charm that make them…well, Pokémon, rather than generic monsters. Plus, beyond a single post-game quest, the post-game is sadly lacking, especially in the “explore new venues” department, and I can’t help but long for places like Emerald’s Battle Frontier or the island that played host to Platinum’s Battle Frontier. Somewhere along the way, I think things got dropped in favor of pushing this game out the door, and I’ll admit disappointment on that front.
The problem is, I think, that Pokémon will sell no matter what, and it’s probably more profitable to push a new game every year, especially when you can keep attracting a young audience. I can only hope that they’ll rethink and scale back in an effort to push out high quality content, but I also acknowledge that Sword and Shield is anything but low quality. There’s a lot to it that works very well and provides hours and hours of entertainment, especially for diehard Pokémon fans like myself.
On the whole, I’ve had fun with Sword and anticipate having just as much fun with Shield. They’re good installments to the franchise, even if they aren’t the very best, and I admit that I see Game Freak and Nintendo’s scheme to make a constant profit off of Pokémon even as I fall into it. What you do for the things that bring you joy, right?
But really, whether it’s your first Pokémon game or just your next, I’d say give it a try. It’s fun and runs well, and I have to say that finally playing Pokémon on the big screen, rather than on handhelds, is a joy my heart just can’t quite handle.
Tbh, the only thing better would be fuller storylines or real Pokémon, and the four-year-old in me will never ever ever stop wishing for real Pokémon. I want a Furret, folks. A long fuzzy friend. And, like, so many others, but that’s a list best left for another day.