Review: Pokemon Sword and Shield Versions (Switch)

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Leading up to Pokémon Sword and Shield’s release, I was covering the news for this game monthly as new information came to light. Now that the game has been out for a few weeks, I am finally able to cover my own thoughts about the game. As a longtime fan of the series I would like to mention everything about this game that comes to mind. There will be no story spoilers in this review, but I will cover the most important features of this game. This review is covering Pokémon Sword version, but much of the review covers the same ground for Pokémon Shield version as well.

A quick note, this review won’t cover much in regards to the national dex controversy, except for how it impacts the game. More of that will be covered later in the article. So, let’s have a look.

PokemonSwordStarters
You get to choose one of these Pokemon at the beginning of Sword and Shield.

Right off the bat, the first thing I noticed was that this game’s presentation is very strong, especially in comparison to older games in the Pokémon series. Graphically, this game is an upgrade. The music is quite good too, with some music tracks changing based on what is happening on screen during important battles. That being said, I would have liked voice acting, as some scenes have characters move their mouths, and it would have added some value to the game and its characters.

Despite this, there are still some issues with the visual presentation. Most noticeable is that some characters and objects simply pop into existence in portions where the game allows you to see far enough into the distance. Also, there are a few models with ugly textures, though I tended not to notice them as I was playing, I was that absorbed in what I was doing.

PokemonSwordBattle
A look at the battles in Pokemon Sword and Shield.

As for the core gameplay, it is all here. You still have turn based battles where you can capture other Pokémon to add to your collection. You can still trade with others for the Pokémon you don’t have in your copy of the game. Like previous entries, this helps add a sense of community to the game.

PokemonSwordWildArea
The wild area is a huge portion of the game in Pokemon Sword and Shield.

Particularly interesting is this game’s wild area, which is a large portion of the game you get to explore. This area features a controllable camera, a first in a 3D Pokémon game. Even more interesting is that if you go online in this area, you can see other players wander around. They don’t do much other than give items if you talk to them, but it is a neat feature nonetheless.

Also exclusive to the wild area are the new max raid battles. In max raid battles, up to four players cooperate to try and defeat a giant Pokémon. All players get a chance to catch it if they win, and are rewarded with some very useful items even if they don’t capture it. I managed to play with a friend recently, and we had a blast trying to take these tough opponents down. That being said, these opponents are playing by different rules in comparison to ordinary battles, and might be difficult to complete. Luckily, the game developers made some smart changes, such as reviving a player after one full turn after getting knocked out.

PokemonSwordRaid
A quick look at a max raid battle.

The next feature that sets this game apart is the dynamax feature. In certain fights, you can activate this feature to make one Pokémon gigantic for three turns. They get somewhat stronger, and their attacks become more powerful too. Dynamaxing can only occur in gyms, max raid battles, and in multiplayer matches. If you are just playing through the story, this feature will occur infrequently enough that it doesn’t become too repetitive. I have yet to try it out against other players as of this writing, so it is hard to say how this effects competitive play.

Story wise, this Pokémon game has the strongest human cast. There are very few absurd designs here, and most have a compelling personality in some ways. There is even a greater emphasis on the gym challenge, where the main story beats make your journey a spectator sport to the people of the game’s world. That being said, the story does fall apart near the end of the game, where there are a few things that don’t quite make sense, or some characters don’t do enough to add to what is shown here.

If there is anything else worth criticizing here, it is the level design of the game. Outside of the wild area, there is very little exploration. Sure, there are a few places to find hidden goodies, but they are short diversions. There is little room to get lost and find something neat. Additionally, there are next to no navigation based puzzles. Most of them appear in gyms, while the rest of the game just requires a certain bike upgrade to travel across water. That is about it. This makes the game feel short, even though it took me slightly longer than my Sun and Moon version replay I did for my review on this site.

Perhaps where this game upgrades the core formula the most is for competitive play between players. There are new and tweaked items to acquire that greatly speeds up the process of preparing a Pokémon for multiplayer battles. Any player that does this needs to know how the complex stat system works, which the game still doesn’t spell out to the curious players. There is, however, a lot more flexibility with these tweaks, so it should take much less time to get a team of six Pokémon ready. Additionally, if playing the game’s ranked battle mode you are rewarded with items that are useful for this purpose, which limits the time commitment even further.

Finally, the fact that a lot of Pokémon are missing from the game is one of the most contentious features. While it is a slight disappointment that slightly over half are incompatible with the game, it hasn’t impacted my experience much if at all. Most of the time when I play a Pokémon game, I’m using the Pokémon readily available in the game. None of the games have the entire cast unless you transfer or trade from other games. In some ways it is a relief that I don’t have to catch the entire cast of nearly 900 Pokémon. It remains to be seen how this trend may play out in the future games.

Overall, Pokémon Sword and Shield is a solid entry into the series. Yes, there are some odd limitations with this game, but Game Freak managed to show some steps in the right direction. Sword and Shield ends up showcasing the series’ potential with stronger technology, even if it doesn’t fully realize it in this entry. If you like Pokémon games, there is a high chance you will like this game too. This game has a lot to offer competitive players and those that like to fill the Pokedex. Give this game a look if it catches your attention, and judge for yourself if it is worth your time.

Pros:

  • Best visual presentation in the Pokémon series.
  • Good music, some of which is dynamic.
  • Familiar but solid gameplay.
  • Strong human cast (at least in terms of visual design).
  • Wild area shows the potential of the Pokémon games.
  • Expedited options for competitive play.

Cons:

  • Some graphics and animations are somewhat outdated.
  • Story falls flat near the end of the game.
  • Slightly over half of the Pokémon cast are missing from the game (a surprisingly small complaint, but one worth noting).
  • A somewhat short game (this could be good or bad).
  • Limited puzzle solving and exploration.

Verdict:

8.2/10 Great proof that the series has potential

This game is just barely better than Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, but falls into the typical range of 7.5 to 8.5. Some features, or lack of certain features may lower this game’s score for some players, but much of the core gameplay is still here, and it is still enjoyable. I look forward to seeing what is next for the series based on what was shown here.


So that was what I thought of Pokémon Sword and Shield. Did you like this game? Dislike it? What do you hope or expect is next for the Pokémon series? While I will allow comments on this post, please be civil towards other opinions, particularly when discussing the national dex controversy. Please note: any comment deemed too toxic will be removed. Also, anyone that spams these comments or starts a flame war will be blocked. With that out of a way, if you liked this review, click that like button. You may also subscribe via email to keep up with That’s All Games. Until next time, have fun gaming!

 

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