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So What Exactly IS New In Pokémon Sword and Shield?

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Fantasy animal cockfighting simulation

Two steps forward, one step back: this is developer Game Freak’s development philosophy when it comes to every mothership Pokémon game they’ve handled since the second generation days of the late 90s and early 2000s. Has that changed in the Nintendo Switch’s first-ever mothership Pokémon title that’s not on a fully-portable device?

Heck no. But if the lines for this game are of any indication, nobody seems to care that they’re potentially buying a rehash of the past two mothership games. 50 hours in, it’s safe to say that this isn’t the “next-gen” leap Pokémon fans have been waiting for.

It’s still kinda fun though.

Forest From Trees

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The core Pokémon experience is there and remains largely untouched, albeit now with a sports culture and sports fandom touch (think “ESPN” but with Pokémon). You create a party of Pokémon to combat other folks and gym leaders with their own Pokémon to covet the crown of best Pokémon guy/gal in Galar. You capture Pokémon with Pokéballs, fill up your Pokedex database, and form your ultimate Pokémon party to defeat your foes and wild Pokémon.

You can evolve them in a number of ways, though this time you can enlarge them via the DynaMax system, giving them new powers and a hefty size advantage. It’s not a “win” button; there’s still a   ton of strategy involved when fighting either in Dynamax mode or against Dynamaxed Pokémon; if your party cannot handle the latter, you just need to switch up your roster and get equipped with the best techniques.

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For some reason, the game doesn’t take ideas from Let’s Go Pikachu and  Let’s Go Eevee in certain aspects: in a vast area like Galar where camping is essential in keeping your Pokémon content and primed for battle,  it would make sense to ride the bigger ones as transport. Alas, players will only get to use the Rotom Bike; while serviceable, it’s not as cool as potentially riding a  Charizard across the Wild Area.

Speaking of which, the Wild Area features higher-level Pokémon that can one-hit your party, though it’s added so you can never cheese through the game and make you train up the hard way. And then there are the group-based  Max Raid Battles. Here, you play with three other people to fight ultra-powerful versions of existing Pokémon. Defeating them will give you a chance to capture them as well as reward you with rare TR-giving items and XP boosts.

Even with this “hardcore” addition, there are still plenty of ways Pokémon Sword/Shield made this Pokémon experience a bit more accessible and helps mitigate lost time for the sake of keeping the experience “pure”.

In Access

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For one, there’s EXP Share where ALL your Pokémon with you will gain the same amount of experience regardless of whether they’re fighting or not. You can access your Pokémon storage boxes at most times. You can use items like Feathers and Mints which changes your Pokémon’s base stats or nature. Or you can take Poké Jobs, where you send specific  Pokémon to do different tasks that yield a ton of experience points and bonus items/money.

All of these are totally optional; Game Freak did take into account its older fanbase who probably cannot grind and work on a Pokémon game as much as they did back in the  Game Boy Color days. The other quality of life changes -like the info panel- also help make the experience a lot more informative yet not too overwhelming for newbies and old-school players alike.

And then there’s camping, where you can rest up and beef up your Pokémon emotionally and physically by playing with them while out in the wilds and feeding them food. Why this wasn’t added in the earlier games where it could have made player’s lives a little less stressful is beyond comprehension. Still, it’s a welcome addition that adds not to the flavour of travelling and toughing it out in Galar, but also to prep for the next battle.

So Far, So Good?

Think of Pokémon Sword/Shield as the up-rezzed version of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. It’s no game-changer like Gold/Silver/Platinum, but it’s a tad more significant with its approach to getting newbies into the fold. There’s online play, but it’s pretty broken thanks to massive slowdowns in framerates when sharing the screen with other players. Everything feels like a slideshow upon playing it during this month of review. We do hope things change for the better in the next few weeks.

This Switch iteration is good clean turn-based fun that comes attached with some needed changes. True, most of the legacy Pokémon are not in this game and the game’s assets are suspiciously reused from the last 3DS game Pokémon Sun/Moon. But as mentioned before, Game Freak’s “two steps forward, one step back” approach is always going to be a constant in the company, much like the mothership titles that never evolved much to begin with.

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If you have a mild interest in Pokémon, you could do worst than this decent entry in the mothership titles. If you’re expecting a huge change in the formula, you’re not going to find it here. Think of Pokémon Sword/Shield as new leather on the same sofa you’ve been using for 20 years. It’s the kind of change Pokémon fans deserve: not too much of it, but just enough to shake things up and take notice.

Pros

  • Nice aesthetics & customization features.
  • New additions are nice.
  • New Pokémon are great to recruit & evolve.

Cons

  • Not a game-changing RPG title.
  • Endgame relies too much on grind.

Final Score: 60/100

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