Review: Pokemon Sword & Shield

Pokemon has seen some interesting trendings on Twitter and YouTube over the past few months. It took a while, but we are going to review the most controversial Switch games of this year; Pokemon Sword & Shield.

Sword & Shield are the first main-line Pokemon games released for the Nintendo Switch collective. Fans expected a free-camera open-world game and a less linear experience overall. Is that what we got with Sword & Shield? No, not quite. Did we get a step forward from the 3DS? Yes, that again. This review will be slightly different, as we will not only look at the game itself, but also at the controversy and whether this criticism corresponds with reality.

A new story, right?

Pokemon is and remains Pokemon. You start out in a house where only your mother turns out to be, you meet your rival, beat gym leaders, beat the bad guy, win the Pokemon League and do some post-game content. So it has been, so it still is. However, there is nothing wrong with this per se. The formula works and was implemented a little differently each time with different enemies, different rivals and a slightly different storyline. This time you notice that GameFreak wants to stick to that formula, but still wants to do something bigger. This is of course possible because the Nintendo Switch also allows it graphically and technically. Until the 3Ds you were a bit stuck with a handheld system that doesn't allow much freedom in gameplay due to technical defects.However, the Nintendo Switch gave birth to games like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, two games that were linear and now wilder and freer than ever.
Pokemon Sword & Shield, on the other hand, are a bit disappointing. The story gives you more freedom, but far from enough to warrant a new console. This is where both sides of the coin come into the spotlight. Yes, the story is fun and there is more post-game content than ever before. On the other hand, the story is shorter overall and as streamlined as ever.
You can now completely dress up your character the way you want and even go to a hairdresser, which is fun and a nice addition. However, due to the linearity in the story itself, this does not come out well. So the story is certainly cool, despite a slower start with a lot of boring dialogues, but doesn't bring as much impact as Zelda or Mario. The coolest thing about the entire storyline is that approach to the gym challenges. All gym battles take place in a stadium and that makes for a bigger feeling than ever. There are, of course, other aspects at play here.

Wild Area

The Wild Area is the highlight of the game for me. You have a free camera and a large area to explore, find stuff, discover secrets and catch Pokemon. The Pokemon roam free here in high grass with some stronger Pokemon that can also be found outside the high grass. This is where the game shows what it should have been, beyond the graphics aspect that I'll get to later. Once you leave the Wild Area, it quickly becomes linear. The camera is locked and the game suddenly becomes completely different. The Wild Area is also an area that you will come back to more often, since it contains Pokemon from all levels, so you can't catch all of them immediately. It is an addition that is more than welcome and that makes the game much better.
In this Wild Area you will also find raid battles. This means that you and other trainers compete against Dynamix Pokemon and then catch them. These battles are not always easy and are a nice addition to the game.

Setting & Graphics

The Galar Region is a great area to explore. From sitting on the train to the alternately themed cities, everything is better than ever. There are plenty of different types of cities, each with their own theme. Every city and every route works super strong. Unfortunately, that experience is a bit withdrawn by the following…
Yes, the game has a great wide color palette and fun themes. In contrast, the graphics are not Switch worthy in some areas. For example, trees and certain textures just look old, almost like playing on the Nintendo DS. This didn't bother me personally, but I can see why people can't be satisfied with this. Other than that, the Pokemon models and attacks that already existed hadn't been redesigned from the bottom up, which was promised. Still, the variety within the Galar Region and the cool setting ensured that the game felt very vibrant and played well.
The catching system is also nicely done. This way you have more ways to catch Pokemon than just random encounters. In the tall grass you have Pokemon that you do see and also the ones you don't and that will attack you with a random encounter. This way you can better coordinate which critters you want to catch and you can travel through the tall grass faster than in previous parts.

battles

The battles are again the same, with some extra twists to the formula. For me, this formula still works great and allows for smoother gameplay, which I think works well. You can and should give yourself time to think of your next move and that works well, speaking for me.
The new Pokemon are very well designed except for a few pieces. This is the first generation in years where my team consists entirely of the new Pokemon and that is a good sign for the designers. However, a big aspect of combat is the new Dynamaxing.
Dynamaxing makes your Pokemon in Sword & Shield ten times bigger for a few turns. This gives your Pokemon new attacks, more HP and provides a new tactical move. Not only in Online Play, but also in PvE, this feature works better than expected. Besides that, it also looks cooler.

#GameFreakSong

You have probably seen the hashtag above often. Fans are angry, and rightly so. You can't catch all Pokemon in Pokemon Sword & Shield. The National Dex got a nice headstone this year. This didn't bother me that much at first, until the game made more information public. The fact is that the NatDex was not present, because GameFreak said that they had remade all the models for the critters, and that this would never work with more than 900 Pokemon. When I found out that many of these models simply hadn't been redesigned, a light went on for me too. GameFreak lied. This also counts for me in my final verdict for the game, and it caused a lot of controversy among divided fans.

Verdict

Pokemon Sword & Shield doesn't do much new, at least the expectations were higher. It's still a game that I've been able to and will enjoy many hours of fun, but it could have been much, much more than it has become. After a lot of discussions with my two opinions about the game I have come to the conclusion that this just has to be better next time. Yes, it is a step in the right direction and yes, it should and could have been much more. Oh, by the way, will you bring the National Dex back to GameFreak? Thank you!


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