Pokemon Sword and Shield: Cute, Convenient, Complacent

This isn’t going to be my usual review where I go through the motions of 4 categories and make an average out of it. It’s kind of too late for that. Today, I’ll just note what has really changed, and if that may or may not work for you is something I’ll have to leave to you. So with that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

Pokemon is one of those titles that just has become universally loved as many of us grew up with them. I was played Pokemon Yellow, and maybe decided to emulate one or two down the road because I couldn’t afford to buy the GameBoy Advance or any of the ones that followed. So its arrival on Nintendo Switch ad Pokemon Sword and Shield was an exciting bit of news to me. Finally I’ll be able to reconnect with one of the titles that was a good part of my childhood gamer life. However, the good old nostalgia juice didn’t take long to show its age. A lot of what I experienced back in Pokemon Yellow did show itself again in the new game, but it with not a lot changed aside from a coat of graphical paint.

Sure, we all love how Sword and Shield have these wonderful characters that everyone and their mom has some jokes fanart and more with, but when you’re finally sitting down and putting in the time for your gym-badge collecting journey, the levels of fun to be had doesn’t exactly match. Unlike its peers like Legend of Zelda or Metroid, the title has failed to evolve. It’s still a turn-based rock-paper-scissors 4match that you can’t speed up, Ash Ketchum may have finally won a championship, but the game itself has seen little change, if  at all.

Talking about it with my other friends who are a lot more into Pokemon than I am, there appears to be more things that Grame Freak considered with the decisions they went with, so should it changed at all?

 

Well, there ARE some changes

The most impactful changes I noticed in this game is the effort they put into making grinding for levels not too tedious. One may be quick to notice how they’ve employed Poke-jobs to keep other, less-used pokemon up with the level creep you have to follow to keep pokemon you want around relevant or your upcoming battles.

Then there’s the Dynamax function where you get pokemon much larger, the moves the pokemon can use also changes and gets a boost in stats. While I’m not sure how this plays out in PVP, it seems to generally be a boss battle mechanic for the main game. Gym Leaders access this ability as their last resort when you take them on. Then there’s Dynamax Raids where four trainers can take on powerful, wild, giant pokemon and maybe attempt to capture them. Defeating them also rewards you with exp candies and other special items that can be used to evolve some of your roster.

Looking at these two features, we can see that not only have they made one of the most tedious things to do, grinding, easy and convenient, but also fun.

Wild areas are also implemented into the game that makes it have a more MMO-like feel. It also nicely sums up every area you may need to hunt for whatever pokemon you’re looking for. Though, the novelty quickly wears thin when you’ve gone through your 10th dynamax raid or so. They also feature a camping function which pretty much doubles up as a petting zoo and a curry kitchen, with upto 151 types of curry to collect.

Speaking of collecting, the pool of Pokemon to find has been cut by half. Some may take this as a problem, particularly when their favorites don’t make the cut. Functionally speaking, one can say it’s to keep creatures from overlapping each other too much. It’s a bit difficult to say that it’s to save on developing so many assets when in the same game there’s about 70 forms of a cake pokemon and you’re even adding legacy versions of some of the others. Then there’s the whole thing about 200 new pokemon being added in with the upcoming expansion packs, I’m honestly at a loss on how to react to this.

 

Then there are things that I wished were changed

While a lot of the new things in Sword and Shield are either nice to have or pretty convenient, I couldn’t say the same for the things they decided to keep the same.

For example, being unable to pick your who you start with when you get into a battle. While most of the game you can sweep areas and towns with just one or two minions to counter all of them, it would be nice to not have your starting and featured pokemon bound to the first slot of your roster. Or the game could at least tell you that that’s what’s going to happen.

One other thing it doesn’t tell you is how to evolve them. Sure, most of them are covered by simply leveling them up while in your possession, but ones that require extra steps or items are never really explained. You know, a hint could have been helpful, you’d think a pokedex would know have a bit more information regarding them.

 

Speaking of information, there doesn’t seem to be much in learning type-affinities aside from trial-and-error. And I think that’s fine if you have maybe 6 or 7 entries in your intricate game of rock-paper-scissors. But having a total of 18 types seems to be pushing what kids should be able to memorize. I tried looking for information to learn about it within the game, but couldn’t find anything.

While being able to depend on an online community that acts like a resource of information for all of this is nice, I don’t think a game should depend on doing that, especially for information where the meta of the game revolves around.

Finally there’s the battle format, the whole 1-on-1 turn based action really doesn’t feel fun once the nostalgia runs dry. Most of what you’ll be doing will be rinse-and-repeat, so after you’ve caught on for what works, you’re going to be wishing for a fast-forward button. The game also appears to be telling a lot less than what’s really going on, so you may be left guessing unless you’ve followed the game through the years. It’s clear that the story changes entirely once it goes on the more dynamic 2v2 format, which the main campaign could really have used more of.

 

Should it really be changed?

Straight up I’m not sure if the game really should go for an overhaul. On one end the core of the game is outdated and no amount of bells and whistles will make it a fresh experience. On the other end a drastic revamp could upset it’s current competitive scene. There’s also a whole ton of other spin-off games if you want to experience this IP with more modern game design.

 

Who’s this really for?

Back then, Pokemon was all about completing the 151 entries on the Pokedex. Now there’s a currydex, convoluted evolution rules, and an affinity chart that’s pretty daunting to take on. On top of that, there appears to be scattered time sinks that don’t really contribute to each other.

After claiming the title of Champion, and going through a bit of the post-game, I kinda lost interest. There’s a lot to do here, but seems to be generally for the sake of doing it. I’m sure there are others that can find great satisfaction in the variation of activities the game offers. But I have a difficult time recommending this.

But hey, if you’re into this for cute pokemon or cute trainers, you’ll at least be entertained for a good while.

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