Pokemon Sword and Shield not only marks a new generation of Pokemon released to the world but it is also the first time the series has had a dedicated new RPG on the Nintendo Switch. Yes, I know, the Let’s Go series was also on the Switch but to be honest, those two were quite far from the series’ roots that they belong in their own genre alone. With a new Pokemon generation comes the excitement of exploring a new region, catching new Pokemon and becoming the very best that no one ever was and Sword and Shield go above and beyond to deliver what could be the best entry in the series since X and Y.
Pokemon Sword and Shield are set in the Great Britain-inspired region of Galar where you take on the role of an upcoming trainer who enters this generation’s league-styled competition called the Gym Championship. It works the same as past games whereas your goal is to venture to each town, fight the gym leader and get the badge before taking on the champion. In this case, the champion is your rival, Hop’s brother, Leon who endorses both of you.
While the flow might sound a little different, it is very much the same cookie-cutter Pokemon experience here and there is nothing wrong with that. After Let’s Go’s poorly-executed combat approach, it was nice to have a hardcore Pokemon adventure in place where your goal is the same as it has been for over 25-years now. Catch, train and fight your Pokemon to become the best in the region.
Anyone who has played a Pokemon game in the past twenty years knows how it all works. You start the game, read some dialogue, meet some people, choose one of the starter Pokemon available to the player and head off on your adventure. Sword and Shield are no different and within thirty minutes of playing the game, I was deep into the world, its characters (even though Hop is the most annoying person alive), and the range of new Pokemon to discover and catch.
Sword and Shield also bring its own form of Mega Evolutions, but not actually the same thing, called Dynamaxing. This strange occurrence lets Pokemon change its form and become giant skyscraper evolutions for a short period of times during specific encounters. All Pokemon can Dynamax but only a handful change their forms visually. It is a gamble whether or not your Pokemon will look different when using Dynamaxing in battle. For example, none of the starters change at all which was a big miss.
This Dynamaxing brings a new layer to the combat approach as Gym battles and Raids lets you perform the action once per fight. This means I had to hang onto it for when I needed it the most often leaving my opponent’s last Pokemon, which was the one they transformed, to battle it out against mine. Dynamax also transforms attacks into super-explosive versions of each element which is great to witness as your Pokemon shoots giant waves of energy or even a massive fist into its opponent.
With the power of the Nintendo Switch means the world has come to life in bigger and better ways. Galar’s regions are more immersive than ever with hills to explore, lakes of ice to cross and of course, the new open-world hub that is the best place to explore, raid in and catch the strongest Pokemon. This Wild Area spans across Galar’s map and acts as a large wild natural Pokemon biome that houses all breeds and levels of the creatures. This also means the strongest Pokemon can be found here too and they are tough. Larger evolved monsters like Steelix, Snorlax and other creatures you would often need to grind from a starter in order to obtain roam these lands and deliver a tough challenge.
The best part about this Wild Area is the raid system that lets you go up against random powerful raid Pokemon. You can team up with nearby or online friends to help you or do it solo. The raids deliver an entertaining fight as four Pokemon go up against whatever you find in the wells scattered across the wild areas. Later in the game, I found five-star raids which contained the toughest fights in the game. These were unbeatable mainly due to the AI’s poor choice of Pokemon and attacks.
No really. The AI during these raid fights ruin everything about the mode. Trying to fight a Sandaconda with an AI that has a Weavil out that dealt no damage and took away three of the four KOs was frustrating or watching the AI choose a buffing skill instead of dealing the final blow only to have us fail the fight. These raid battles are great but they are brought down by poor AI making each encounter rely on just you and a friend if you have one nearby.
The raids are also a great way to level up and obtain items as you gain XP candies, TMs and more from completing them. I spent a lot of time doing them and had enough XP candies to catch a new Pokemon and level it up to 30 so it was on par with my team. It takes away the grind of levelling up a Pokemon from scratch.
The Wild Area is also online so other players can be seen around you and you can set up camp and cook curry with them. Camping is a great way to interact with your Pokemon as you can throw a ball, chat to them and get to know them more. Often, Pokemon will request you break for camp so they can take a break and the overall experience is a nice way to spend your time.
Sword and Shield are quite linear compared to past games. The map of Galar sees you start at the bottom and slowly make your way to the top as you visit towns, explore caves and vibrant forests and fight Pokemon along the way. It is missing the variety of side objectives and areas to explore when you compare it to say, X and Y. Sure, each route has a few pathways you can venture off too in order to find a Great Ball or TM but there is definitely variety lacking here.
We then have the Pokemon which are the biggest attraction to a new game. Sword and Shield bring with it a massive roster of not only new monsters but returning ones too. It is hard to ignore the missing ones and the game sure does have a lot of them missing. However, the new Pokemon and the ones brought over from the past games really do pad the experience to the point where I could not care less if my favourite from X and Y was not in the game. There’s enough to discover, catch and evolve to keep you in awe as I found my new favourites.
Some of the Pokemon have some strange designs but the new PokeDex has a range of very cool-looking and detailed Pokemon too. Not to mention the older creatures that now have Galarian forms like Meowth, Mr. Mine and even Weezing. There’s also those that never evolved before and now do like Farfetched into SirFetched. The game is not short of variety and the discovery of new Pokemon carries everything you do be it running through the grass to see what pops up of fighting a Gym to witness a new Dynamax form.
A new Pokemon game means the opportunity to find new Pokemon, explore a new region, fight new gyms and become a Pokemon master and Sword and Shield does just that. The Wild Area could have used a little more excitement and the Raids a bit of polish but the overall adventure I had in Sword and Shield was everything I expected from it. I have new favourite Pokemon, and the Galar region will be one of the places I return to in the future to try and catch them all.
This Pokemon Sword and Shield review was based on a code sent to us by Nintendo
Available On: Nintendo Switch | Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch/Lite | Release Date: 15 November 2019 | Price: R999