Pokemon Sword/Pokemon Shield review


Pokemon Sword and Shield Art
Released 2019
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Game Freak (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category RPG
Collectible/Set Collection

It’s a brave new world for the venerable RPG. Just not too new a world.

Pokemon games have been around for decades. Starting with Pokemon Red and Blue on the original Game Boy, the formula hasn’t changed much in almost 25 years. You take the role of a young aspiring trainer and wander the land capturing Pokemon and building your team to become the best.

Pokemon Let’s Go (reviewed here) was the first significant departure to this formula in a long time. The main storyline and quests were still there, as they ultimately a remake of Pokemon Yellow. What had changed for the first time in a long time was the capture system. It bought in the Pokemon Go style ‘throw Pokeballs at creatures until you catch them’ style play. You could also for the first time see in the world the Pokemon wandering about.

Pokemon Red Blue Gameplay
The graphics have changed, but the core game has remained largely the same

To say the reception was divided would be an understatement.

Long time fans held there breath for the first ‘proper’ Pokemon RPG for the Switch – Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield.

You keep mentioning two titles. Which game are you reviewing?

The very confusing answer to this is “Yes”. Each game has an alternate edition that includes Pokemon the other doesn’t, so you need to find players of the opposing version and trade to complete your Pokedex. While I have only played through Pokemon Shield, everything I am going to talk about is relevant to Pokemon Sword.

Pokemon Sword and Shield – the basics

Nothing has really changed here since my first Game Boy Pokemon adventure. You choose your avatar and begin your quest to become the best Pokemon trainer around.

Your ‘rival’ in this outing happens to be the little brother of Leon, the unbeatable Champion of the Galar region and final story boss fight. What is the Galar region? It’s the area you are exploring, and this time around has been heavily influenced by England. Without getting wrapped up in Pokemon lore, basically, each region of the world of Pokemon has a ‘real world’ equivalent. In most games, you explore new areas, giving a reason for new Pokemon and mechanics to exist.

At its heart, Pokemon Sword and Shield are still light RPG adventures – depending on your definition of light. The path you take is fairly linear, but you can explore the world at your own pace. The story is far from complicated but serves to keep the game going.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Hop and Leon
That's you on the Left, Hop your rival, then big brother Leon

Instead of wandering the land looking for monsters to fight, you instead battle your Pokemon against other peoples Pokemon or even wild Pokemon. You can capture wild Pokemon to complete your Pokedex (your Pokemon checklist). You can also use some Pokemon’s abilities to complete quests during the game.

The first big change – Sword and Shield differ in a little more than just Pokemon!

That’s right – it’s not only a question of which Pokemon are in each version anymore. I am not going to go into details as I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a slightly different story path in each game. You do all the same things, but you meet two different gym leaders depending on the version you play. It’s not just the leader though, it’s also the Pokemon type they specialise in that is affected.

There are also slightly different items available in each game, but this only really affects your curries which I will talk about later.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Allister
You will only see Allister, the Ghost type trainer, in Shield

None of this is worth it for me personally to play both versions, but it is nice that Game Freak is experimenting with this feature and I hope it continues.

And now you can camp and cook for your Pokemon!

That’s right – you can camp and rest with your Pokemon now. Not only that, you have some Poketoys (what else?) that lets you play with your Pokemon at camp!

But not only that, you can cook for everyone as well. This little mini-game isn’t strictly necessary, but as you find new ingredients and get better at cooking, your Pokemon see in-game benefits.

It’s a bit of fun, but not essential. My Pokemon would sometimes complain of being tired and hungry, and taking care of them increased your relationship. If you treat your Pokemon well, they are more likely to critical hit opponents or hold on with 1 health point instead of being knocked out.

You will only see Allister, the Ghost type trainer, in Shield
Some of these meals I wish I could make so easily!

I have seen this mechanic in a few games now, and I had fun playing with my Pokemon overall. Sometimes it was nagging me to camp more than I wanted to (two-minute intervals sometimes!), but camping was executed pretty well overall.

The next change – the Wild Area

After coming to grips with the game, you are introduced to the Wild Area. This is a vast open area with all sorts of different Pokemon to discover and is easier to just run around and battle in than the original games.

After coming to grips with the game, you are introduced to the Wild Area. This is a vast open area with all sorts of different Pokemon to discover and is easier to just run around and battle in than the original games.

Pokemon of a certain level tend to hang around in specific areas of the Wild Area, but not always specific Pokemon. Depending on the weather and time of day (yes, this does matter in-game now!) different Pokemon will appear.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Wild Area
Bit of fourth wall breaking there 🙂

It is also an area with a couple of mini-games, such as the Rotum Rally. Winning these games do earn you prizes, but for me, they were not essential to play. So I will say they are there, and they are fun enough but know there are little games to play. Describing them makes them sound incredibly dull, and as they aren’t essential to the game, knowing they exist is enough.

Another feature of the Wild Land is the Pokemon Dens. Here you can find watts, a type of wild area currency. But the big payoff is the chance to capture a Dynamax wild Pokemon.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dynamax Raid
It's four on one - we can get it! Right?

Capture a dynawhatnow?

A change in combat mechanics in Sword and Shield is called Dynamax. Basically, you make your Pokemon really, really big for 3 turns of combat. They get increased health and access to special moved. You can do it once per match in specific areas.

It looks cool most of the time. There can be new animations and looks for the Pokemon, as well as unique special moves. My big issue with Dynamax is once you have seen it a couple of times, I got bored with it. Competitive play has banned its use. I am glad they tried something different, but for me, this isn’t something I hope sticks around.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dynamax In Battle
Some of the Dynamax Transformations can be a little terrifying!

So why is Dynamax in the Wild Area important?

Ahh, here is where it does hold my interest. In the wildlands, you can team up with up to three other trainers over the internet and do a specific Dynamax raid. You only get to use your first Pokemon, but if you win the timed battle, you get a chance to catch one of these special Pokemon.

The problem isn’t the Dynamax raids though. My issue with Dynamax raids is the glitchy online connectivity. But I will talk more about this later.

Even playing offline, you get three computer-controlled trainers to battle with, and the raid itself is still something different. Don’t want to do them? Don’t start a raid. It’s nice having optional combat choices in a game like this.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Camping Games
Anything is more fun than a loading screen. Like playing fetch with Magikarp!

And my favourite change, Jobs.

Previously, if you wanted to level up all of your Pokemon, you need to constantly battle with them. Now you can send your Pokemon out on Jobs and earn experience and items without playing!

This can sound cheap, but there is still a lot to it. You can’t just spam a job with the same Pokemon, you need to match the Pokemon you send to the task required. Sending Fire-type Pokemon to someone that needs help from water-types will not earn you much.

You also have to wait. You can send your Pokemon out for a full day, and I have levelled up Pokemon I haven’t used in combat pretty quickly. Later some jobs let you boost your Pokemon’s stats. Love a Pokemon, but they keep getting knocked out? Send them on tasks for a few days to increase their defence and health!

Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokemon Return From Job
When do well with a job, it's a party as your Pokemon return

That sounds alright, but you started complaining about online?

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but as a general rule, Nintendo has made some interesting online decisions. I use Nintendo Online mainly for cloud saves and access to the retro games. Tetris 99 is the only big multiplayer game I play.

When you activate online in Pokemon Sword and Shield, you are continually seeing other players phase in and out of your game world. This is annoying, but not terrible. Trying to get players to join your Dynamax raids is awful. Even if you can see another player waiting and asking for players to join them, rarely can I actually do it.

Most of the time, you sit looking at the screen for 2 minutes for the requests to time out, then you play with computer-controlled players. It has stopped me from even trying to be honest. It’s not the end of the world, as it is an optional mechanic. It is frustrating to see the start of a fun feature that should work in 2019 fail again and again.

What about the complaints I have heard about reused assets and poor graphics?

OK, here I am picking a fight with the internet. The Pokemon games got their start on the Game Boy, and have had their biggest run on the DS consoles. These handhelds, while technological marvels in their time, hardware limitations equalled simpler games.

The Pokemon games are formulaic. They follow the same general structure again and again. Think of EA’s sports titles the 2K series – you keep getting the same game over and over again with small tweaks. Pokemon has been doing this for a long time, and people wanted to see something different.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Metacritic
What do I mean by people slamming Pokemon Sword and Shield? Look at the difference on Metacritic

Game Freak has tried to do things in a new way with the series coming to the Switch. Some things worked, others didn’t. As I have only played select titles in the series, I didn’t realise when I was playing that the same sound file was used for various Pokemon in battle. I was playing, the funny sound played, I was happy.

In the wild area, the ‘generic tree’ doesn’t look great. Apparently, the textures were a direct copy from the DS Sun and Moon games. And it is the same tree over and over again – no variety in the forest.

Personally, it made it easy for me to differentiate a generic tree from a Berry Bush. Because ‘normal’ trees are supposed to be generic, I noticed the difference and moved on. It didn’t ruin my experience overall, it was all a momentary blip. Which I promptly ignored.

People that did notice this and raised it on the internet have a point. This was supposed to be a game built from the ground up for the Switch. Using previous designs/textures/sounds means that wasn’t the case. When this happens, it’s usually because the developers were running out of time. Fixing things like this means delaying the game, it’s part of what ‘Polish’ means when delays are announced.

How is this picking a fight? Becuase there is a lot of yelling from people that haven’t moved on about it. I have seen reviews that have slammed the game because of a tree image reused from the DS. Not poor online connectivity, not game-breaking issues, but because of a time-saving trick used in one area that means nothing to game working or not. Immersion yes, but not the game functioning.

My comment? Get over it. Yes, I noticed it. Yes, you have a point that ‘built from the ground up’ didn’t happen. These are negatives that should be addressed.

But to attack a game and declare it rubbish because of reusing sound files and a tree? Priorities people. The amount of overreaction to small things that don’t affect the gameplay at all has me stumped.

Don’t let people ranting on small issues pull you away from a fun experience. The game is not groundbreaking. I could probably suggest other games for you to try, sure. But hand on heart, you can do a lot worse than the Pokemon Sword and Shield, and if you enjoy Pokemon and/or RPGs, you will enjoy your time with the game.

JohnHQLD

Overall Thoughts

While not perfect, I really enjoyed my time playing Pokemon Shield. The game still had that distinctive Pokemon feel, while pushing the envelope in certain areas.

Some things I would have liked seen pushed further, some I hope to get dropped in future games. Overall though I am glad Nintendo and Game Freak are embracing the idea of change, just not as much as in other titles like The Legend of Zelda.

Not yet, anyway.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Gameplay lets new players in easily
  • Trying out new mechanics while holding onto the classic feel
  • Generally good graphical upgrades
  • Nintendo is embracing expansion by DLC for the first time

Cons

  • The gameplay is still very close to all the other Pokemon games
  • Online is spotty at best
  • The main story is very linear
  • Dynamax bored me fairly quickly