Playing a Pokemon game is like hugging a Pikachu plush. It’s soft, cozy, and always there when you need it. That game loop of finding Pokemon, fighting them, capturing your favourites, training the critters up, and then beating trainers/gym leaders is incredibly addictive. And while easy to most, Pokemon Sword & Shield delivers that in spades.
To first criticize Pokemon, you must understand one thing: it’s audience is for children. Just look at the commercials. It’s designed to be easy, so the game is accessible for all ages, but at the same time, Pokemon Sword & Shield gives you that nostalgia of what it was like to be a trainer on the Game Boy or the Game Boy Advance.
The Wild Area is one of the biggest new features in this iteration of Pokemon. It gives you a large expanse to explore, so you can find new Pokemon which helps bring back the child-like wonder of delving into a new world. It’s also more immersive than the old games. Rather than having random encounters out of nowhere, you can see all the creatures flying around you, hidden within the grass itself, and swimming in the water.
Is it as immersive as Breath of the Wild? No. But as the series goes along, that dream will be closer to reality. I love seeing the big structures of the old English-style cities in the distance as well. Max Raid Battles also allow players to come together and catch challenging Pokemon along the way in the wild area.
Now let’s get to the elephant in this article: The National PokeDex. Personally, I don’t care. Every Pokemon game has a typical selection that you can catch throughout one playthrough, and then a majority of them can be found from previous titles and ported over somehow.
All I care about are the Pokemon in the actual game that make sense within the context of the Galar region and the general game design Game Freak has developed within Pokemon Sword & Shield. Also, do players drift off from a typical 10 Pokemon in their playthrough anyway?
The Pokemon in Sword & Shield are diverse, well-designed, and fit the context of an English-style culture and landscape. Cinderace is a rad (and adorable) fire type starter evolution that has a football-juggling special attack, and Corviknight is an edgy raven steel-flying Pokemon that stares into your opponents with its crushing red eyes.
The legendary Pokemon, unlike many other titles in the series, also have importance in the story and further deepen the rivalry between you and Hop. Zamazenta, Zacian, and Eternatus all have wicked designs that I wanted to add to my party. A Pokemon with a sword in its mouth? I’m in!
While I wish the towns and cities had more side-stories to dig into, I did enjoy the overall design of them. I love the cogs of steel in Motostoke, the cathedral-like buildings in Hammerlocke, and the open grass fields of Postwick. They are heavily inspired by English culture, from the brick houses to the countryside to the grand buildings in the capital, London (or in this game, Wyndon). It takes me back to when I lived in England as a kid!
Hop is a character often criticized by fans. In recent titles, Nintendo, The Pokemon Company, and Game Freak have steered away from bitter rivals to friendly ones. And while that nastiness has faded away, I feel Hop is one of the better developed ones. He may not be mean, but he has a real drive to better himself and match his older brother. He desperately wants to challenge you and never wins, but he keeps going. There’s even a point where he gets upset and leaves your character alone for a little while, but that last battle against him felt momentous. I actually got emotional as these two friends were challenging each other for the last time.
And with the main story, I felt like the stakes were raised. Rather than just a simple battle to beat the Champion and finish the tale, the world faced calamity and you had to save it. That is pretty cool. It played with your expectations, and I appreciate that in a typically predictable series. There’s also a fun post-game that has all of the gym leaders coming together to face a new threat; I liked how Game Freak had them more intrinsic to the story.
I haven’t even gotten into how they made gym battles more epic in Sword & Shield either. Having them take place in football-like stadiums is a genius idea. The integration of chanting from the crowds into the music, the cool gigantimax system, and the implementation of each leader’s personality all adds to the eventful nature of a gym battle. I hope they rollout this feature into future titles as well.
Overall, Sword & Shield is one of my favourite entries in the series. It might be easy, but the storyline is more developed than previous titles, the variety of Pokemon make sense with the surrounding area, and the gym battles feel more epic than ever before. This game gets too much hate, and if you’ve been dissuaded, ignore the haters and pick it up.