We’ve all heard it by now. Pokémon: Sword and Shield (SwSh) is a sinking ship bent on an unforgiving watery grave. Well, I’m here to tell you to sit down, put your pitchforks away, and hear me out. Pretty please with a cherubi on top?
Most aspects of the game haven’t changed. Like other titles, it follows a young lad or lass whose mission is to catch ’em all (albeit in a place that resembles the United Kingdom). However, this game is more massive than ever (excluding the Pokedex, but I’ll get to that). The game has a new feature that allows a trainer to literally transform their Pokémon into gigantic rompin’ stompin’ monsters using the Dynamax and Gigantamax features. Do you wait to enlarge your butterfree or make ’em big right then and there? In short, these features create more opportunities for strategy and truly make you think during battles.
SwSh’s world is also large in size, and the game best shows this in the Wild Area, a location sprawling and ever-changing in which players may find Pokémon of all types and levels. Players may come across raid battles where they can fight and eventually catch various Dynamax and Gigantamax Pokémon, usually with higher leveled stats. If connected to the internet, you may even link up with friends to battle these Pokémon in hopes of catching something rare and honestly quite useful. The whole feel of the Wild Area is true to the heart of the game, in that it brings adventure and friendship to the forefront because not only are you encountering a whole new bigger and more expansive unknown, but you’re also setting up camp with your Pokémon. Camping brings trainer and Pokémon together in a whole new way. From cooking for your Pokémon to even speaking with your Pokémon, it’s a welcome change offering many more ways to interact with your team.
Customization is also something to be praised, since this time around you may change your character’s eye color, hairstyle and clothing. There are various clothing stores with an assortment of designer lines that each have their own flair and style. The amount of time I spent debating about whether or not I should buy yellow knee highs or kickass combat boots (so expensive though) should have been a crime but…that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that we have these small details which allow us to tailor our trainer to look more like us or, heck, more like whatever we want. This even includes gym battles where you may choose a battle gear, themed according to element.
Speaking of gyms, let’s talk about the return of gym battles and just how grand they’ve become. On the Switch, SwSh already feels bigger, but this particular console was an amazing choice in regards to gym battles. As a trainer, you’re sent to complete gym challenges (one of these challenges is herding Wooloos…*shrug* sure) before you actually fight the gym leader, but honestly the gym battle socked me right in the feels when my character strolled through the gym’s tunnel and emerged into a beautifully rendered Pokémon stadium (which, following the whole United Kingdom theme, looked quite similar to a soccer *ahem* football stadium). The sheer size and dazzling spectacle of it all honestly made my inner eight-year-old squeal with glee.
Now, please don’t think I’ve forgotten what SwSh has left out because, frankly, I understand. I get not having every Pokémon available to the player is a strategic tragedy, especially when a player has been invested in the Pokémon games since the very dawn of this series. I get that, competitively, it’s frustrating. Then, there’s the controversy about how Game Freak lied to the players, saying that they had to remake all of the Pokémon from scratch and that would have been too much on the dev team, when in reality the Pokémon models were taken from previous games.
Now, I want to believe the best in people, and hope that there was some kind of misunderstanding. There is a translated interview with the creators basically saying that they needed to make monumental changes to the Pokémon when developing the graphics for the Switch, and I’d like to hope that what they really meant was that they had a hard time adjusting to the Switch’s graphics. And truthfully, the player can see the jump from handheld to console graphics by the sheer amount of Pokémon animations in battle, at camp, and on the go.
Regardless (please, again, hear me out), I think it’s going to be all right. The Pokémon that are introduced in SwSh are intriguing, from Pokémon shaped like cream to basically a Pokémon version of a British rock star! Again, I get the outrage, but at the same time, as this translated interview states, the team made it clear that they wanted to focus on the new Pokémon and shy away from legacy Pokémon priority. By not including all Pokémon, it gives the players more opportunities to choose from new Galar region Pokémon, and that’s exactly what this interview is saying. They want us to enjoy fresh and exciting experiences along the way.
The other issue is that the game is extremely easy. Like, on a whole other level easy. Here’s hoping that Pokémon eventually gives the player an option to choose a harder mode, but even though that would be most welcome, I do understand that Game Freak is gearing this series towards children. Besides, there are quite a few small, much needed changes. You do get to fast travel early on in the game! Not to mention, the freakin’ camera is smooth as butter on a hot knife. PLUS, Pokémon eggs hatch a whole lot quicker this time around. (Thank Mew!) These quality of life changes give me hope that Pokémon will continue to grow and change.
Earlier this year, Pokémon the animated series finally had their main character Ash Ketchum win his very first Pokémon League Tournament, and I’d like to think that when I get to the final gym and I walk through the tunnel onto the stadium, I’ll feel the same kind of nostalgic tug. This Pokémon game is one of the most enjoyable Pokémon games in years, so no I don’t think SwSh is a leap towards ruining the franchise. Even if there are problems with it, I think that SwSh is a step towards a better tomorrow.