Review : Pokémon Sword and Shield

Sword and Shield introduce players to the new Galar region. Inspired by the UK, this region is characterful and utterly full of personality. It has a cohesive identity that affectionately caricatures British pop culture and speech, while each town and city that make it up still manages to have its own utterly distinct look, resulting in a region that’s a playful mix of modernity and mythology.

Pokémon Sword and Shield are not without their problems. But beyond the rubbish online play and uninspired late-game routes, and beyond the controversy surrounding them, they’re simply the most fun I’ve ever had with Pokémon. The story is wonderful, the creatures themselves are all fantastic and adorable, and Max Raids will absolutely never not be great fun. And if you can overlook the fact that these games aren’t the generational leap that some expected, you’re sure to find something special in them.By the time these games launched, taking a look at fan communities online would have someone who was out of the loop to believe that no one was buying these games.As a longtime fan of the Pokemon series myself, the news about the Pokedex was disappointing for me too, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of the criticism of the series as a whole.Just tell the NPC you know what’s up and they’ll get out of the way and let you get down to the business of catching and training – you can even catch Pokemon without being told how, and doing so automatically skips the tutorial. Likewise, travel across the map has been made fast and convenient, and even connecting with other people is as simple as pressing the Y button.

As always, the deep turn-based combat benefits from the crazy variety of these elemental Pokemon, from their vastly different and shamelessly bizarre appearances to the huge selection of moves they learn to the stats they inherently have. It’s just as wholesome and accessible as ever during the campaign, but hidden stat mechanics and a “secret” end-game of breeding and battling perfect Pokemon give those of us who want to get hardcore with it nearly limitless depth to explore. That’s a difficult balancing act Pokemon has been largely great at handling.A very typical Pokemon game. It innovates a bit, messes stuff that should have been left alone up, and leaves other things alone for better or for worse just like every generation before it. The core gameplay though is still just as fun as ever and the addition of exciting new Pokemon, a beautiful new region, new more organized multiplayer activities, and a fun new open-area to explore help push Pokemon Sword and Shield over the edge to being a game worth picking up for any Pokemon fan.

Game Freak was fairly tight-lipped when it came to revealing the new Pokémon that would feature in Sword and Shield. It was the right decision— this was the first game in a few generations that we felt a real sense of discovery when venturing into the long grass from the very start because we couldn’t predict exactly what we were going to see.Pokemon Sword is a good game that demands serious changes. Fights are too easy and the storyline is really dumb – Pokemon needs a dramatic overhaul in terms of mechanics. There has to be more tactics than “water beats fire”. Nostalgia is one thing but being archaic is another and far less enjoyable (even though it is extremely pretty).

With its diverse biomes and weather cycles allowing for adaptive spawning as well as its online social aspects, the Wild Area marks an exciting milestone for the series. The initial thrill of the area is never quite as strong on successive visits, in part because while the long grass is always densely populated, you can walk for quite some time before coming across the impressive sight of a strong Pokémon stomping around in the open. And even then it’s likely to be alone. But its appeal still holds.

Verdict

Games are an inherently creative medium, in terms of both making them and playing them, so at a certain point doing the same thing just because it works and the predictability is enjoyable is a disservice to both sides. It’s not easy to break new ground to welcome new players when you’re having to maintain a painstakingly honed and fiercely guarded garden of nostalgia at the same time, but Pokémon is clearly learning to strike a balance.Pokémon Sword and Shield are not bad games. But fun character arcs and inventive, creative designs of new ‘mon are often offset by poor pacing and restrictive world design. The world of Galar is charming, and is a Pokémon interpretation of Britain I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, but between gating what Pokémon you can catch behind Gym Badges, some half-baked route/City designs and a modest amount of post-game content, Sword and Shield can only be called ‘good’ Pokémon games… not ‘great’ ones.