With over twenty years of history, the Pokemon franchise has consistently provided simple and compelling role-playing experiences. Its seven prior mainline generations encompass unique designs, additional tweaks to the established formula, and bolstered online connectivity. As the new eighth generation, Pokemon Sword and Shield provide new surprises, quality of life improvements, and an amplified audiovisual experience. Despite sticking to the series’ core simplicity, Sword and Shield are nonetheless refreshing and worth experiencing. The entertaining interactions, breathtaking areas, and Wild Area mechanics result in a compelling Pokemon experience.
Sword and Shield’s exciting journey takes place in the England-inspired Galar region. From the country to medieval castles, and even to fairytale-like forests, the game has no shortage of grandiose locales. The games once again revisit the overall plot of upstart Pokemon trainers aiming to be the region’s Champion by completing eight Gyms featuring influential Leaders. This time around, however, the comprehensive stadium-themed motif frames the journey in an entertaining grounded way. The non-playable characters are surprisingly relatable as they demonstrate insecurities, boisterous ambition and curiosity, and even a bit of development along the way. Unfortunately, the plot’s pace is uneven, and the distant serious backstory becomes an afterthought. However, the characters nonetheless carry an experience in a joyous way.
Sword and Shield fundamentally follow their predecessors as they involve catching and raising Pokemon to defeat opponents, but a few tweaks streamline and modernize the overall flow of the game. Players encounter Pokemon on the field and can engage them at will. The fact that nearby Pokemon run, swim, burrow, and fly gives the game a sense of personality that is far more endearing than having random encounters. Sword and Shield also eschew dedicated dungeon navigation moves like Surf and Strength, which provides additional freedom to experiment with teams rather than forcing specific picks. Accessing the Pokemon Storage without having to return to town is also incredibly handy. Searching for particular species is helpful even if digging through search results is a manual process. Players can also freely swap out Pokemon moves without expending resources, which permits some freeform pressure-free experimentation.
One compelling feature is the Wild Area, an interconnected open-world experience. It consists of multiple vast regions that feature lush vegetation, elevation differences, and weather that changes every day. Traversing the vast landscape provides a wide-ranging Pokemon adventure, unlike anything the series has offered to date. Seeing other players moving around in real-time and even seeing brief chat snippets also further provide a sense of liveliness. Naturally, the landscape is full of Pokemon, and the fact that it contains evolved form pokemon, as well as over-leveled, can lead to some stark surprises. Furthermore, the landscape has plenty of discoverable items and occasional helpful NPCs, as well. While the Wild Area can sometimes feel arbitrary, it is nonetheless a fun addition that provides plenty of rewards and surprises.
Another addition is Max Raid Battles, which is Pokemon’s answer to Player vs. Environment combat. They involve four Trainers working together to take out a gigantic foe. Being able to enter friends’ and random players’ instances freely leads to fun cooperative battles, which is unlike previous games’ relatively hands-off functionality. While they are ultimately a simple take on PvE encounters, Max Raid Battles let friends help each other efficiently and play together in bursts. These battles have helpful loot drops that provide a different progression method from grinding Pokemon and Trainer encounters. The one caveat is that matchmaking with random players can be a haphazard hit-or-miss experience that leads to empty lobbies.
Other additions include Pokemon Camp, which allows players to refresh Pokemon on the field. Players can interact with their Pokemon in a few ways, which can lead to some amusing antics. The real diversion is cooking curry, which results in entertaining cutscenes and delectable over-the-top images. The curry cooking mini-game does feel basic, and it can be hard to gauge the impact of players’ actions, but the diversion is still worth the effort. Poke Jobs passively bolster Pokemon in real-time, and they provide uses for the vast Pokemon roster that players will inevitably catch.
Another addition is the ability to use Dynamax transformations to supercharge a Pokemon for three turns in specific battles. These transformations are more than cosmetic as their Max Moves lead to field changes and stat changes. These additional tactics slightly shake up Pokemon’s tried-and-true combat whenever they come into play. Certain designated Pokemon instead possess Gigantamax transformations that are quite strikingly crafted, but the implementation can be somewhat confusing at first and difficult to access.
On the other hand, online connectivity functions are a bit awkward to use. By default, the game state is in an offline local mode, and players must manually enter the Y-Comm Menu and connect to the Internet. After connecting online, players see a feed featuring actions from random players and friends. Trading with friends involves setting a four-digit code, which is rather detached compared to choosing friends in previous games. The lack of a Global Trade Station for searching for specific Pokemon seems oversimplified compared to the past four generations of trading online. Players can also share cards that feature their stats, trainer, and custom design, but the process of updating cards and sharing codes feels a tad cumbersome.
The games’ visuals are captivating as they feature great environments and vibrant scenery. Right from the get-go, the vegetation-filled player house, the early countryside routes, and the sheer number of props in each house exceeds the level of detail in previous Pokemon titles. With machine-driven towns, medieval castles, and ornate plazas, the game’s cities are some of the most memorable in series history. The route design can feel straightforward and streamlined, but in general, areas feel more naturally constructed than ever before.
While some previous Pokemon games feature a city with a comprehensive view, Sword and Shield provide some striking camera angles that showcase detail that stretches into the horizon. Players can also see some slick clothing brand and company logos alongside plenty of clothing customization options. Naturally, the new Pokemon enter some quirky territory. While still being solidly designed, the new Galarian variants of older Pokemon will undoubtedly surprise returning players.
With an eclectic blend of relaxing and high octane tunes, the audio design strikingly supplements players’ experience. The town of Motostoke features some bells before it launches into an upbeat jazz-like riff, which matches its industrial aesthetic. Similarly, Hammerlocke features a relaxing orchestral song that fits the area’s medieval nature. On the other hand, the gym battles’ tunes drop some hard beats that escalate throughout a battle. The way these tunes increase with arena-inspired sound effects is not only catchy but entirely appropriate for the Galar region’s motif. Players can also expect similar menu and attack sound effects that largely resemble those of past games, and the new Pokemon cries are functional and fitting. A minor gripe is that a handful of older Pokemon still uses their Game Boy-era cries, which can be slightly disorienting.
While Pokemon Sword and Shield yet again fundamentally involves catching and raising Pokemon to obtain Gym badges and become the Champion, the journey features some twists and turns that are a joy to experience. Its sports-inspired motif is well-constructed, and it truly coherently frames the adventure. Even though the plot is rather straightforward, even by series’ standards, the characters are relatable, memorable, and entertaining. By streamlining some aspects for increased playability. While on the other hand, by adding new features, the games compellingly uphold series tradition. Even though the main journey can be beaten in about twenty-five hours, features such as the Wild Area and Max Raid Battles can keep players engaged for far longer. With its vibrant locales and well-built audiovisual experience, Pokemon Sword and Shield will certainly delight players seeking a simple roleplaying experience.
Pokemon Sword and Shield Review
Pokemon Sword / Shield Review
Pokemon Sword and Shield stick to the series' simple roleplaying mechanics. The new mechanics, vibrant locales, characters, and eclectic tunes are incredibly compelling.