After playing Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield at Nintendo’s booth at E3 2019, I just couldn’t wait to play the final games. Not only are these the first core Pokémon games to appear on Nintendo Switch (following last year’s more entry-level Pokémon Let’s Go), but there’s just so much that’s new in these games.

A new region, new Pokémon, new regional variants, new Gigantamax and Dynamax Pokémon forms, a new Wild Area—and, of course, the much-anticipated return of Gyms. Let’s explore these new games!

Pokémon Sword & Pokémon Shield Details

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Role-playing game
Modes: Single player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Welcome to the Galar Region

With each new Pokémon generation comes a new area to explore, and both Sword and Shield are no exception. This time we’re exploring the Galar region, which is loosely based on Great Britain.

Galar is home to a hugely popular Pokémon League, headed up by Chairman Rose. Soon into the adventure you’ll meet Pokémon League Champion Leon, whom you must grow strong enough to defeat and become the new Champion. Additionally, you’ll meet Hop, your rival, and the antagonist group Team Yell that stand in your way. For Pokémon fans, this is all very familiar territory!

Within the first hour, you’ll also get to choose from one of the three new Starter Pokémon. You’ve got the grass-type Grookey, the fire-type Scorbunny, and the water-type Sobble. There’s no real right or wrong answer as all three can evolve and grow to be powerful Pokémon—so choose whichever suits you best. Just remember though, the Pokémon you don’t choose could just wind up in your rivals hands!

A questing we will go

Pokémon Sword and Shield is a very streamlined adventure filled with a total of 8 Gyms to conquer and over 400 Pokémon to catch. Series veterans may be wondering where the other half of the Pokédex went (there are over 800 Pokémon in all), and well, this time Game Freak decided to focus on a partial list. For me, it was totally fine as 400 is a still a huge number of Pokémon to catch—and it’s even more when you add in the cool new regional variants!

As usual for Pokémon games, you must catch, train, and battle Pokémon to level them up. In most towns you’ll visit there’s a Gym filled with strong Pokémon trainers, and a Gym Leader you must defeat. Doing so earns you a Badge, proof of your achievement. Once you’ve acquired all eight badges, it’s then time to challenge Leon to see who is the best Pokémon Trainer in the land.

From a story perspective, one thing that really stood out for me is the strong characterizations of the Gym Leaders, rivals, and champions. Each main character you meet is full of personality, from Hop energetic attitude, to Leon’s bold talking, to team Yell’s devious tricks. I remained highly invested in the story all through the roughly 30-40 hour experience—a testamental to the phenomenal writing.

The call of the wild

New to Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield is the Wild Area, a vast open area filled with many activities. The first, and main activity is hunting for Pokémon: the region is divided into several zones each with their own creatures, which can also differ according to change in weather. Sandstorms, fog or rain can impact the Pokémon you’ll discover in each zone, making each trip exciting and fresh.

As well, Pokémon in the Wild Area can all be seen on the overworld map. Gone are the days of random encounters: now you can see all Pokémon, and can decide to confront them, or simply avoid them and flee. There is one exception though, monsters hidden in tall grass will signal their presence via an exclamation point. You then have the choice to confront them or not—it’s your choice. While this is a radical change from previous Pokémon games, I love how these games really respect your time and don’t pressure you into battling endless random encounters.

Also new in the Wild Area is Poké Camping, which offers a series of two mini-games. The first is to play with your Pokémon and chat with them to improve your relationship and strengthen your bond. The second has you mix berries of different kinds to create curries that can buff your Pokémon in various ways. Depending on how successful your curry making was, you may get bonus XP for your Pokémon, or restore their PP. Not only is the camp useful, it’s just a lot of fun!

Bye bye Mega-Evolution, hello Dynamax

In addition to finding Pokémon in the Wild Area, it also lets you stumble upon gigantic versions of the monsters. These “Dynamaxed” Pokémon make them significantly bigger and stronger—especially useful for winning tough battles. Dynamaxed Pokémon stay large for three rounds, and you can only Dynamax once per battle, so you have to use the new ability strategically. Mega-Evolutions found in previous Pokémon games are absent with the focus on this new Dynamax system.

A cool Dynamax variant also exists with some very specific Pokémon. Not only will some grow large and powerful, but they’ll change their appearance and sometimes gain new abilities. These ultra powerful forms are called Gigamax.

“Mega” quality of life improvements

As mentioned earlier, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield is an extremely streamlined game. There are so many neat little gameplay tweaks that all add up to big overall improvements. For example, early in the game you’ll until an air taxi service that instantly lets you travel anywhere you’ve visited before on the map. I thought I was going to miss the Pokémon riding from the previous game, but this new fast travel system is extremely efficient and saves time.

There are also more ways to visually modify your Trainer Card, such as having it match the appearance of your Trainer. There are new clothing customizations as well, and a bunch of hairdressers across the Galar region. If you enjoy customizing your Trainer and Pokémon, there’s a lot to enjoy here. If you’re into online battles, you can also share your Trainer Card with other players from around the world, neat!

Beautiful island by the sea

Graphically, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are a stunner. Having grown up with Pokémon since the Game Boy days, seeing my favourites in 3D is amazing. Major kudos have to be given to the game’s artists: the Galar region is bright, beautiful and lush. Perhaps even bigger kudos should be given to the Pokémon animators. Each of the 400 monsters look and moves with more realism than ever before. Furthermore, most Pokémon have new animations, too, so get ready for the most expressive Pokémon you’ve ever seen.

The Galar region features a variety of biomes, and each one looks amazing—from urban cities to rural countries, and everywhere in between. There’s more detail and scenic variations than we’re used to in Pokémon games. So, you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny just to soak in the eye-pleasing visuals. The Wild Area is especially nice to look at given the free camera movement—a first for the Pokémon series.

Pokémon Sword and Shield is a must have game for Pokémon fans

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are amazing evolutions of the series. The world is artistically beautiful, and the new generation of Pokémon are interesting and visually stunning. The overall formula remains relatively the same—you battle Gym Leaders, earn Badges, and ultimately become a Champion—but it’s nice comfort food for long-time series veterans.

From a challenge perspective, both games are not too difficult, perfect for newcomers. For those wanting a steeper challenge, the end-game has a few surprises (plus there are online battles!) As well, the new Wild Area offers so much fun, from the Pokémon bonding to the funny and useful curry cooking. The only real complaint is the odd graphical clipping and pop in that happens more frequently in handheld mode. Minor grievances aside, this is a good as Pokémon gets.

+ Awesome new Pokémon to catch
+ Stunning graphics
+ Wild Area is a great new addition
+ Lots of streamlined gameplay enhancements
+ The new Dynamax system
+ Charming story with interesting characters
+ Easy challenge, good for newcomers

– Occasional clipping and pop up

OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF POKEMON SWORD AND POKEMON SHIELD

Gameplay: 4.5/5
Graphics: 4.5/5
Sound: 4/5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5

Overall Rating 4.4/5 (88%)

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