Better four months late than never! Since we’re still social distancing, what better way to eat up a little time than with a review on our favorite dog-fighting– er, pocket monster battling game?
Pokémon Sword and Shield debuted in the U.S. on November 15, 2019, but it took being forced to stay inside during a global pandemic for me to get on board with Trainers across the globe and embark on my own journey to become the very best, like no one ever was. A few days ago, on the brink of boredom and being this 👌🏽 close to banging my head on a wall, I remembered video games are still a thing and could be a great way to help the time pass while I’m expected to stay indoors. So while every one else in America was fighting over toilet paper and hand sanitizer, I panic bought a Nintendo Switch Lite and Pokémon Sword to keep me occupied. Best impulsive $268 I’ve ever spent in my life. #yolo (that’s still a thing, right?)
I haven’t played a Pokémon game from the very beginning since Black/White was released in North America back in 2011, so while the world of Pokémon isn’t new to me, I was a bit rusty getting back into the training game. I couldn’t remember some type matchups, and I had no freaking idea what a Fairy type was or how to even battle it. I’ve finished the game now and I’m still not completely sure what that’s all about, though I’ve got *plenty* of time to figure it out while we’re quarantining.
Now that I’ve defeated EVERYONE IN THE GALAR REGION, I have some thoughts on the game I’d like to get out, so here are all the grievances and all the things I loved about the most recent generation of Pokémon:
- The “rival” Hop: Rivals are an integral part of any Pokémon game. Their entire purpose is to drive you to be your very best: to challenge you, show no mercy, and kick the tar out of you any chance they get. So when our Sword/Shield rival, Hop, picked the Pokémon whose type was at a disadvantage to mine instead of picking the one whose type was stronger, I knew something about him would be very different from the rivals we’ve had in past games. And that something? He SUCKS! He’s weak, he’s way too nice, and actually showed several moments of weakness! He even concedes to defeat at one point in the game and starts to doubt himself! What’s that all about?! Gary Oak would NEVER! He’d kick your butt, call you an ugly sh*thead, win some more gym badges, and do it all over again! Not Hop, though. He just pouts and wallows in his own pity. What happened to the rival who actually pushed you to become a better Trainer because you hated their f*cking guts and wanted to beat the crap out of them and their team that bad? I didn’t have any of that feeling with Hop. He was just annoying. And his Pokémon were so underwhelming. A g*ddamn WOOLOO? Are you KIDDING ME?!
- Way too easy: Like I said, I’m no stranger to Pokémon. Sword/Shield is the fourth generation I’ve played, so I know my way around training and battling. However, upon finishing Sword, I think I only lost a total of two battles on my journey to becoming Champion. Two battles, that’s it. Opal, the Fairy-type gym leader, and Leon, the now former Champion of Galar. Those were the only two opponents who actually managed to beat me the first time we battled. And that one time some wild Pokémon caught me slipping. Even with the most extensive Pokémon knowledge, it shouldn’t be that easy to make your way to the end. Gym Leaders are supposed to be some of the most difficult opponents you face, yet only Opal really gave me trouble. I used to have to spend hours training up my team in order to face a Gym Leader, but with this game I just kind of hopped from one gym to the next without needing to train much in between because that’s just how easy it was to defeat them. One day I beat three gyms in a single go. THREE!
- EXP Share: This ties into #2, but making EXP Share automatic and having all the Pokémon in my party gain EXP and level up even if they didn’t partake in the battle meant I got to spend less time training my team. This made it easier to move from gym to gym since my critters were all getting stronger at the same time, even though I may have only been using one or two of them when battling. Initially, I didn’t mind that, I actually liked it! But once I realized I was progressing through the game exponentially faster than the others, it wasn’t cool anymore. To me, the automatic EXP Share cheapens the training process and cuts out a huge part of what makes these games so fun: the battling!
- Underwhelming legendaries: Apparently, Pokémon spoilers are a thing, so for anyone who reading this who hasn’t yet played, I won’t go into details about the legends we encounter this generation, but I did think their explanation and appearance in the game was underwhelming. It just felt lazy. They’re heroes from long ago who disappeared, which is usually how to the legend stories go, but that’s kind of it. After finishing the game, there’s still a LOT I don’t know about the Sword and Shield of Galar and it feels like shoddy storytelling is to blame. If anything, the legends just felt added to the story because it’s expected to have legends, but they weren’t flushed out enough to be compelling additions. The game focuses so much on the player’s battle against Leon, the Champion, that the legendary subplot suffers immensely.
…and now for the THINGS I LOVED (because the game wasn’t all that terrible):
- Graphics & Cut Scenes: Visually, this game was cool as sh*t to watch. It was like watching a little tv episode mid-game. Others on the internet complain about the number and length of the game’s cut scenes, but I quite enjoyed them. I don’t remember the other versions I’ve played having them, and they just added a little ~pizzazz~ to the whole experience. Instead of just reading everything, you got to watch, too! Plus, the graphics of the movements the Pokémon make for their moves during battles made battling so much more visually appealing. What the battles lacked in terms of difficulty, they certainly made up in being fun to watch.
- Dynamaxing: SO. FREAKING. COOL. Dynamaxing is basically your Pokémon on steroids. Using the power of a Wishing Star, you turn your trusty beasties in gargantuan freaks that are tons stronger than normal and make this already cooler, more visually-appealing battling that much more fun to witness. Depending on which opponent you were facing, as well, Dynamaxing your Pokémon could be the determining factor in whether or not you won your battles. While there were some opponents whose Dynamaxed Pokémon I was able to beat without choosing to Dynamax my own, this new feature definitely came in handy when battling stronger opponents.
- Easier travel: In earlier generations, the way to travel from town to town was either to walk/run/bike to your destination, or to teach a Pokémon in your party the move Fly and have it take you there automatically. In Sword/Shield, they’ve replaced the requirement of using your Pokémon to get you around with a Flying Taxi service that you can use any time to whisk you to any place you’ve previously visited. This comes in handy because you’re not forced to keep some boring bird Pokémon in your party at all times just to get around the region easier.
- Trainer makeover! Who doesn’t love the chance to make their little avatars resemble their actual selves or just make them look cool as sh*t with green hair and pink eyes? I love the opportunity to customize my game self and Sword/Shield offers that when no other generation has (at least not the ones I’ve played). It’s a small thing, but greatly appreciated.
So those are my thoughts on Pokémon Sword and Shield. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely fun! Getting through the whole thing in 25 hours wasn’t too bad for someone who hasn’t picked up a Pokéball in nine years and it definitely brought back the childhood nostalgia of spending of an entire day glued to a device that isn’t my phone. Now that I’ve finished the game’s storyline I can start working towards my goal, which is the one goal I have whenever playing Pokémon: filling up my Pokédex and making every one of my Pokémon as strong as it can possibly be.